Over the past year, cinemas in Germany have been mostly closed - apart from a few weeks in summer and again in early winter, audiences in various stages of lockdown had to enjoy films from the isolation of their own homes. It was therefore all the more exciting for the 23 participants of the film criticism workshop held in participation with the 14. Lichter Filmfest in Frankfurt to come together via Zoom for five days of intense discussions about the diverse number of films in the festival’s programme. Bert Rebhandl and Carolin Weidner, senior film critics and festival programmers in their own rights, took on the task to guide the next generation of German film critics, giving them extensive advice on common writing and business practices, while also helping the young writers to connect to a number of local industry professionals.
After a short round of introductions on the first day, it was clear that the workshop’s participants all hailed from different backgrounds, with different levels of writing experience, already setting the tone for an interesting workshop to come. While some participants had already been able to gain some experience in journalistic writing, others had no experience at all. Similarly, some of the writers had already been using Letterboxd to log their thoughts on films prior to the workshop, while others were quite unfamiliar with the platform. This combined made for a pleasant working environment overall, as everyone was able to learn something from others. Since each participant had to write about two film critiques and upload them on Letterboxd using the hashtag Lichter Filmfest, most participants were challenged to spend all five days of the workshop constantly watching, writing and thinking about films to an extend and intensity which is often not possible outside of the film festival environment. It quickly became clear that, as a critic, one has to devote a substantial amount of time and energy to really take in all the elements of a film - analysing whether they work or do not work, questioning one’s own biases, locating the film within certain movements or genres, and subsequently forming a fair opinion based on all of these factors. In the end, one of each participant’s texts was intensely discussed in the plenum. Thanks to Bert Rebhandl and Carolin Weidner’s years of working in the industry with a vide variety of texts, the budding writers were able to receive helpful and constructive criticism. Overall, and most importantly, a safe space to learn, to fail and also to succeed, was created. Sharing texts in front of a group of peers, especially when one is just at the beginning of one’s career in writing and still trying to find one’s own voice, always requires a lot of bravery, and so it was all the more beneficial to be able to try one’s hand at some serious writing without being scrutinised if something simply didn’t work.
Apart from the daily writing and watching of films, the workshop participants also got to meet some of the guests attending the festival, as well as experience some of the aspects of a film festival not related to the watching of films. In this way, they got to talk to Gregor Maria Schubert and Johanna Süß, the festival directors, programmers and also creative directors of Lichter, who shared their behind-the-scenes insight about the joys and plights of film festival coordination in the times of COVID. Filmmaker York-Fabian Raabe, whose debut feature Borga was selected for the local feature film competition, also gave an insight into the ins-and-outs of the German film industry and the making of his film which explores the complex relationship between Germany and Ghana. Panel discussions featuring industry professionals are of course a staple of any film festival, and thus the participants also followed a virtual discussion on the future of film culture in Europe via Lichter’s YouTube channel. Finally, though most of the workshop focussed on writing for print media or online publications, Bert Rebhandl and Carolin Weidner were also keen to encourage different modes of creative expression, such as through filmed reviews for YouTube, or recorded podcast episodes reflecting on the festival. For those means, the HR1 radio station programmer Stefan Müller joined the workshop to teach the participants about podcast production for a few hours, encouraging them to experiment and try out the many different forms of media readily available to everyone at home.
The film criticism workshop was, all in all, a wonderful and much-needed opportunity for a group of cinephiles to come together and discuss films. That not one film emerged as a clear favourite in the workshop only speaks for the great variety of tastes present, as well as the wide ranging selection of films at the festival in general, providing a highlight for everyone no matter what films they usually watch for leisure. Despite everyone being sad about not being able to be at the festival in person due to Germany’s COVID restrictions, it was very exciting to see with what fervour the festival’s entire team worked to re-create the usual film festival atmosphere as much as possible, and that many participants watched at least two films each evening after a full day of Zoom workshops only speaks for the hunger audiences still have for new films, especially in times like this, when new films are difficult to come by in Germany.
What really stuck with me in the end is that everyone in the workshop stressed how much they miss the in-person cinema going experience, especially the communal aspects that come with it. The question whether young audiences would want to return to the cinemas again en masse after the end of the pandemic has been much discussed during the industry talks throughout the festival, and from the talks I had as a workshop participant with my peers, I’d say that young cinephiles definitely crave to be able to return to cinemas as soon as it’s safely possible - be it to see the next new blockbuster or the new arthouse film. What matters, in the end, is being together in a space made for celebrating the transformative magic of film - in the space of the cinema, undistracted by the world, and being able to simply share our love for film.
-- Charlotte Hafner --
Workshop of Critisism Team:
Luca Gerlinger (Yoji)
Moritz Leon Hingott
Direction: Carolin Weidner & Bert Rebhandl