Monday, January 26, 2009

Film Festival Violence Goes Critical

Posted By on Mon, Jan 26, 2009 at 12:00 PM

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Here is the L's Henry Stewart, with a think piece from the Sundance Film Festival his computer, where he reads about the Sundance Film Festival.

It's getting near impossible these days to hold a film festival in North America without a film critic resorting to physical violence. At Sundance on Wednesday, Variety's John Anderson punched publicist Jeff Dowd — no less than the inspiration for "The Dude" from The Big Lebowski — in the shoulder, chest, chin and lip. This comes only a few months after the New York Post's Lou Lumenick smacked cancer-stricken American Sweetheart Roger Ebert at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Dowd harassed Anderson while the critic was trying to eat his breakfast. Anderson had admitted that a screening of Dirt! The Movie, some sort of environmentalist-minded documentary that Dowd was pushing, had underwhelmed him, and Dowd wanted him to reconsider the negative review he was getting ready to write. When Dowd wouldn't leave him alone, Anderson struck the "producer's representative" twice. You can read the whole convoluted, he-said-he-said story, which involves a cameo from The Howard Stern Show's Jackie the Jokeman, here.

We've got the beginnings of a trend here.

The entire critical establishment is officially on edge, and the sleepless nature of festival coverage is pushing some members past their breaking points. Anderson, of course, can't punch his problems away. But you could understand why he and Lumenick and plenty of other critics are pissed — and it's not because of publicity hounds or, as David Hudson playfully suggests, because Anderson saw the hyperviolent Bronson the day before.

It's because at least 47 film critics, at print publications across the country, have lost their jobs since April 2006, according to the Salt Like City Tribune's famous list. Most recently, Ella Taylor lost her job at the LA Weekly (which means you won't be seeing her byline in the Village Voice anymore) and Melissa Anderson was let go as Time Out New York's film editor. Many embittered critics are desperately clinging to their place on the masthead as newspaper and magazine subscriptions lapse and readers get their news and reviews for free on the (practically) ad-revenue-free web, where everybody (even me!) is a critic.

John Anderson knows this better than most. He was writing for New York Newsday when colleagues Jan Stuart and Gene Seymour accepted buyouts, and he too was pushed out of that paper shortly thereafter. If these kinds of cuts continue, expect more film critic fisticuffs in the future. The 47th New York Film Festival might be eight months away, but I've never been more excited for it — and the tantalizing stories of critic-bloodied lips it's sure to bring.


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