The Critics Interviews: Anna Smith

The Critics Interviews is a Much Ado series in which we interview film and cultural critics about the industry, social media, responsibilities of a critic, and their advice for young writers. You can find all of The Critics Interviews here.

Our third interview is with Anna Smith, the president of The Critics’ Circle and film critic for Time Out, Sky, BBC, Metro and The Guardian. Enjoy!

1. In this day and age, how do you think the rise of social media is impacting film criticism?

It’s been a help and a hindrance. On the one hand, it’s a wonderful way to share the love of cinema and to bring great criticism to the public. On the other, there’s a mass of voices reviewing films and many of them don’t have the discipline, experience, analytical skills or ethics that make a good critic.

2. There has been a lot of debate recently regarding the responsibility of the media in wider culture, for example, concerning the portrayal of minority groups, or the work of known abusers. Do you think that films, and by extension film critics, have a moral responsibility to the general public? Is this something that critics should be commenting on, or is the role of a film critic purely that of artistic merit?

This is such a tough one. We have to take it on a case by case basis. I recently went on BBC Radio 4 talking about Woody Allen. Do I think we should boycott his films? No, particularly because he hasn’t currently been convicted of anything. But do I think his films represent an outdated view of gender relations? Definitely. Not just that, but they feel past their sell-by date. Those are the more important questions for a film critic. It would be pointless to destroy every Harvey Weinstein produced DVD in the library, and harmful to the other storytellers involved in great work. But moving forward, of course, editors can choose who or what to feature and a strong message is sent out if convicted abusers are shunned.

With regards to the portrayal of minority groups, that is a very different question. Representation of gender, sexuality, and race, both on screen and behind the screen, is a huge issue – and while it’s not necessarily the responsibility of the film critic to care about these things, I do and I know many others do too. Personally, I always try to tackle my unconscious bias as well as that of my editors, and in some cases, they have thanked me for it. I also take part in several groups involved with Women in Film and Diversity, and as President of The Critics’ Circle, I am committed to various schemes to tackle these issues within our ranks.

3. Whenever a filmmaker or artist directly responds to your criticism, how do you typically react? Do you ignore it, or try to inform the artist on why you feel the way you do. If or when this has happened, has the response been reasonable, or have there been artists who take more hostile approaches?

To be honest it hardly ever happens. I’ve never had any hostility or even anything direct.

4. What would your advice be to a younger generation of critics?

Make sure you are a journalist first and a critic second, and always make sure you are paid for your work.

5. Was there a moment or a film that made you decide to become a critic?

I was working at a women’s magazine, Minx, when I was asked to go to a screening of The Faculty. Not the greatest film ever, but lots of fun, and fun to write about. Sitting there, it struck me that this was my calling, rather than fashion or music. I couldn’t believe no-one else wanted to do the film reviews. That was that.

6. Where do you think film criticism is going as a business? What are the changes that are needed in the business to improve the standards in which we review films?

There’s poor film writing out there, but no shortage of good critics. It’s up to newspapers and broadcasters to continue to place value on quality film criticism – and for audiences to respond to them. Profit from print is dwindling, so it’s becoming increasingly difficult for some papers to justify the space for entertainment writing – and yet, it provides a valuable service. If you enjoy film criticism, tell our bosses! And universities and journalism courses need to continue to offer the right kind of training, which I believe many currently do.

7. What is a film that you always go back to for a rewatch?

Back To The Future. Where we’re going…

 

Anna Smith writes for Time Out, Sky, BBC, Metro, and The Guardian and lives in London. You can find her on twitter @annasmithjourno and check out her website here.

If you’d like to be part of our series or want to suggest a critic you’d like us to interview please contact Dilara Elbir on twitter or mail her at dilaraclemelbir@gmail.com

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