In Conversation with the Critics (A #docchat Recap)

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Film journalists Christopher Campbell, Anthony Kaufman and Tom Roston recently joined #docchat to share their insights about the state of documentary criticism and advice for filmmakers seeking to get their films reviewed. Check out the full video and some highlights below:

Getting Through the Gatekeepers

The critics said they are experiencing a “glut” of documentaries in theaters and festivals, so they have to be selective about how they spend their time and what films they consider. This is where gatekeepers come in. Which ones hold credence?:

Publicists. Get a good one. The panelists said they have relationships with certain publicists who they will pay more attention to. Emails from less well respected publicists will go quickly into the trash. Some publicists are better suited for certain films, but don’t go for the cheapest ones. Research who they’ve worked with to test their credibility in the industry.

Film Festivals. Screen your film at the highest profile festivals possible. The panelists won’t review a film outside of the most prominent festivals for documentaries, which include Sundance, Toronto, Full Frame, New York Film Festival, Tribeca, True/False, DOC NYC and Camden. “Full Frame usually has good stuff that no one has written about,” Campbell noted. “I will go there and discover films like Scenes of a Crime.”

Crowdfunding Sites. Campbell likes finding documentaries to review through Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites. This is an early indication that the film is worth following.

Film Criticism in 2013

Much of what film journalists write about is what they can make a living on. Conceivably, they can write about anything they want, but film journalists must cater to the needs of the publication they write for in terms of building traffic and garnering an audience. Interviewing filmmakers used to be considered outside of the realm of the critic, but now is more commonplace.

These critics have also turned to the web, where, as Kaufman notes, “there’s more of a palpable interaction; you feel like you’re contributing to the dialogue.” Campbell sees his new site, nonfics.com, as a testing ground for what audiences want to discuss about documentaries.

Champions for Compelling Films

In a crowded marketplace, critics are still hungry for well made, ambitious and creative work to write about and support. Having a compelling subject and form is key — if there’s an amazing subject, it will resonate with certain people and communities. If you build excitement and community around your film, people will start talking about it and then hopefully, the critics will come.

Join the conversation! Attend our next #docchat about web documentaries on Tuesday, December 3 at 12:30 PM ET (9:30 AM PT). Send a tweet with the hashtag #docchat on Twitter. If you can’t make it, share your thoughts ahead of time using the hashtag.

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Shannon Carroll
Shannon Carroll
Shannon was Digital Community Associate in POV's Digital department.