Reaction vs Reflection: On the Immediacy of Festival Reviews
by Alex Billington
September 8, 2010
My travel partner and friend Peter Sciretta and I have been involved in a very interesting discussion over this weekend about a side of the business that we don't often talk about. At an event at the Telluride Film Festival, filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, who brought his film Black Swan straight from Venice, told us not to review it immediately after seeing it, to let it soak in and give it some time before we rush to our laptops to preach the good word. But of course we couldn't wait, not only because it was an incredible film and we wanted to tell the world how great it is, but there's an inherent need to get the word out as soon as possible.
Peter wrote an article called The Problem With Reviewing Films at a Film Festival today addressing this interesting issue (which may seem trivial, but is actually important) and he quotes me and specifically references our discussion on Danny Boyle's 127 Hours from Telluride. He actually accurately describes my shift in opinion about the movie and he's dead on with the problem of how it's nearly impossible to balance the desire to wait and let it soak in versus posting it to get it out there first. And it's not just about being first all the time, because nearly all of the major critics from all outlets run their reviews as soon as possible, too.
Here's an excerpt from his post introducing the issue and talking about my evolving opinion on 127 Hours:
"The age of blogging and the internet has brought a bigger emphasis on being first. You may disagree that this is important, but being one of the first reviews out of the gate can mean the difference in hundreds of thousands of readers. The result has critics and bloggers cranking out their reviews in record time following each film festival screening…"
"Alex also had some strong opinions about the humor used in some sequences of [Danny Boyle's127 Hours], which he just didn't believe belonged in the story. That was until he met and talked with Aron Ralston, the man the movie was based on. At a party, Ralston assured Alex that the humorous moments actually occurred while he was stuck under a boulder for days in the canyon…"
"Within ten hours of filing a review and video blog, Billington's opinion has evolved and might no longer fully reflect what is on the front page of his website."
This is the same issue we have at every film festival we attend - Sundance, Cannes, Toronto - they're all the same. It's the want and need to get a review out there right away, especially if it's really good, but I wish we had the capacity to take some extra time to reflect (and it's not as easy as saying "but you do!" because it's a lot different being in my position). And actually, we do get some time to reflect, which is why I'm thinking about 127 Hours more every day and will be writing more about it once I get the chance to see it again. I'm already predicting I'm going to have a different reaction the second time around. In fact, with most movies, I always want to watch them twice to fully understand my feelings before I write a review or even an editorial.
I titled this response "Reaction vs Reflection" because this issue is really about the difference between writing what is more appropriately a reaction versus a review based upon reflection (I wish I could do both, but I'm already overworked as is). And I use the term "review" often during festivals simply out of formality and because it's something that captures the attention of readers, when truthfully those write-ups are more my reaction. Everything I ever write is always my completely honest and genuine opinion, so that's not any issue. And all of the reviews I've written from Telluride still stand, especially because they're based on my very raw, instant reaction the moment we walked out, and I think that is just as valid of an opinion anyway.
This is a very tough topic to discuss, mostly because I'm still sitting in the middle of the evolving discussion as is, since Peter and I just arrived in Toronto and we're about to kick off yet another film festival. What he brings up so eloquently is just the problem, and there's no real solution (yet), because we have to do our job and I have to get my reaction out to you guys. And there's no benefit in waiting days or weeks to see it again and reflect, because I want to be able to tell everyone immediately if a film is great. But as he says, even if my feelings evolve, "my review is already filed and on the site, forever to be found with a Google search."