What is the role of the film critic in the digital age? To some it's the same as it's always been; others see criticism as the 'vinyl to the bloggers' iPod'. What do you think?
Last night's Guardian Film Forum at Bafta in London took as its subject "the role of the film critic in the digital age". Against a backdrop of internet enthusiasm for all things cinematic (which goes back practically to the inception of the world wide web) and old media's equally enthusiastic embrace of blogging (what you're reading now would not exist otherwise) - we ask the question: where does that leave the film critic?
Panellist Sam Nichols, head of distribution for UK indie outfit Momentum was very clear on the positive effect of film blogging on her work. "It is a community we're embracing," she said, "We're not discouraging it at all." Nichols explained that she increasingly works with "elements" of a particular film - clips, trailers, video diaries - that will feed the buzz and get bloggers excited before the finished film is delivered.
The Guardian's film critic Peter Bradshaw, the next panellist along, welcomed the rise of the blogger. "I envy the blogger's freedom," he says. But in terms of what he writes, he says, it's not changed the pressure. "You have to fight your corner. It's the same as it's always been."
Nick James, editor of Sight and Sound, took the intellectual high ground, pointing out the difference between "reviewing" and "criticism" - the former being a consumer service, and the latter a lengthy analysis of a film - and saying that he saw no reason to despair for the future of criticism: he wanted Sight and Sound, he said, "to be the vinyl to the bloggers' iPod".
Hannah McGill, former critic of the Herald and now director of the Edinburgh film festival, was blunter in her approach to the blogging critic: "It's like talking to people you meet in a bar: some of them are great, others are just shouters."
Once discussion was opened up to the floor, things got a tad more heated. Bradshaw opined that the critical establishment was suffering what he termed "karmic justice ... the newspapers were a one-party state for so long but the web has brought that to an end. Critics have got to come to terms with that."
The bloggers' point of view was put forward by Tom and Marek from the nine-month old Solace in Cinema. Tom explained they were trying to build a community with their blog. "We read things, and post them - my feeling is, let's start talking about it." Merrick was a bit unnerved at what he saw as hostility from the mainstream media; it was about "democratising the process" he said, a theme taken up by Mike from The Londonist. "It's all about citizen journalism," he said. "If no one read us, we'd probably just shut up."
The strongest counter to blogging's ethos of self-empowerment came from David Gritten, a film critic from the Daily Telegraph. He cited the example of proto-blogger Harry Knowles and the embarrassing collapse of credibility his Aint It Cool website suffered: "As soon as the studios stopped excluding them, they were immediately in the studio's pocket." He suggested that the fact the film industry didn't like the mainstream media was itself a virtue: "We are the only part of the process they can't control."
This was a point that no one on the blogging side could refute convincingly. As if to back it up, the last word came from Steve Hunt, who works for the British arm of the Hollywood studio Paramount. "Blogging is, for us, just another carriage, a way to get through to our audience."