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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com

“I Work For Documentary”: Sean Farnel Leaves Hot Docs After 6 Years

Sean Farnel, John Grierson

Since its inception, Hot Docs has become the second largest documentary festival in the world, after IDFA in Amsterdam. (I consider it a privilege I’ve attended the past four instalments.) While now-former programming director Sean Farnel doesn’t offer a roadmap to what comes next, his blog entry about leaving Hot Docs offers much about what’s come before: “I’ve watched over 4000 documentaries over the past twelve years. I still have notes on most of them. That’s a lot of reality. Another reality is that there comes a time to change course.” I like what Cameron Bailey tweeted tonight: “Sean Farnel worked 6 years at TIFF, 6 years at Hot Docs. One of the best in the business: taste, grit & humility. A Canadian.” [More at the link.]

[Photo: Sheffield Doc/Fest, November 2008; cradling Margaret Brown’s Youth Jury Grierson award for The Order Of Myths. © Ray Pride]

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“To be a critic is to be a workaholic. Workaholism is socially conditioned: viewed favourably by exploiters, it’s generally ruinous to a worker’s mental health. When T.S. Eliot said criticism was as inevitable as breathing, he failed to mention that, respiratory problems notwithstanding, breathing is easy. Criticism is reflexive before reflective: to formalise/industrialise an involuntary instinct requires time, effort and discipline. The reason we seek remuneration, as opposed to the self-hatred of being a scab, is because all labour should be waged…

“Criticism, so the cliché by now goes, is dying. None of the panel discussions on its death agony, however—including those in which I’ve formally participated—come at it from the wider perspective that the problem surely needs. They defend the ways in which criticism functions in relation to the industry and to the public, but they fail to contextualise these relationships as defined by ultimately rotten and self-harming imperatives.

“Criticism was a noble profession so long as only a few could practice it for money; when the field expands, as it has with a so-called ‘democratisation’ of our practice, those few lose their political power. Competition grows and markets are undercut: publications are naturally going to start paying less. Precarity is both cause and effect of a surplus workforce: the reason you’re only as good as your last article is because there are plenty of other folks who can write the next one in your place. The daily grind is: pitch, or perish.

B”ut criticism, so a counter-cliché goes, is not dying. An irony: this is an elite sport that is no longer elite in terms of who is able to practice it, but in economic terms it’s clutching to a perverse and outmoded hierarchical structure. It’s more meritocratic than ever, now: which is to say it isn’t meritocratic at all. That’s a paradox in bad need of a resolution…”

~ Michael Pattison Manifestoes Film Criticism

“It’s easy to forget when you’re reading a critic every single week or multiple times a week, that most of us who do this job, and have been doing it for a long time, understand that this is basically a parasitic profession. I don’t mean in the sense that we’re evil bloodsucking creatures, but we couldn’t exist if we didn’t have something to analyze. And I’m always conscious of that. So whether I like or don’t like a particular thing you do, my point of view is always that of an appreciator. I just like to be in the world that you create.”
~ Matt Zoller Seitz To Sam Esmail

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