24 March 2009

Dereliction of duty.

Speaking of New Directors/New Films, and at the considerable risk of pissing off three friends of mine, I have to say I'm very disappointed with Time Out New York's increasingly negligible coverage of this key event on the city's film calendar. When I worked at the magazine from 2000-2004, the film staff (which consisted of an editor and two full-time writers, then as now) made an effort to see every film in the program, with the intention of being able to recommend at least a half-dozen specific films to our readers. Unfortunately, the articles from most of those years don't seem to exist online anymore—the TONY website torched most of its archive years ago (thanks buds), and I couldn't find much in the Wayback Machine (which is tough to navigate unless you have the precise URL you're looking for). But even in the final rundown I took part in, five years ago, which was relegated to a half-page box (as opposed to being the section opener), we were still doing our best to tell folks which films in the series were worth their time and money. (Funny coincidence: Two of the six films we highlight were directed by Ursula Meier and Ondi Timoner, who are both in this year's lineup as well.)

By dispiriting contrast, the current issue (which doesn't yet seem to be available online), while it devotes a full page to ND/NF, merely offers brief interviews with three directors. No assessment of any kind is made of any film. Which is probably because, as far as I can tell, TONY's film staff hasn't even seen the films. I didn't catch sight of David Fear, Josh Rothkopf or Keith Uhlich at any of the press screenings I attended. (Lest somebody suggest that a full-time critic has no time for such things, I saw A.O. Scott at literally every single screening.) Granted, I missed the first week and a half, so they may well have checked in at the beginning, but it doesn't much matter if they're not passing word along to their readers. I mean jesus, even the capsule on Treeless Mountain in the listings section is pathetic: "Two children are shuttled between family members after the mother abandons them." That's it, guys? For a notable film that's been kicking around since Toronto? Has none of you seen Treeless Mountain yet? Seriously?

I bitch because I care. Right now I still have access to press screenings, but one of these years I may not. If that happens, I'm gonna be looking for some guidance. And if a weekly magazine specifically devoted to New York events, with three professional film critics on staff, can't be bothered to do advance scouting on a major series like ND/NF and offer specific recommendations about which films deserve attention, then it's no wonder publishing is going to the blogs. With all due respect to my pals at the magazine, this year's coverage is unworthy of your talents and stature. Please try to do better.

ADDENDUM/RETRACTION/OOPS: It's been brought to my attention that many critics nowadays, rather than attending the press screenings (and, ahem, seeing the films properly), get ND/NF to send them screeners that they can watch at home. That was apparently the case here. So I apologize for suggesting that David, Josh and Keith didn't even bother to see the films. However, as noted above, that doesn't materially affect my complaint, and in fact the coverage in this week's issue could have been written as is even if they hadn't seen any of the films. (The opener, apart from a one-sentence plot summary for each film, consists entirely—every word—of quotes from interview subjects.) Which is absurd, frankly, given that the very function of Time Out New York is to help New Yorkers determine what to do this week. How helpful is TONY's ND/NF coverage in that respect? A: Totally un-.

AND ONE FURTHER NOTE: Just now saw the Village Voice's ND/NF rundown, which is almost as useless. Plenty of interviews but precious little opinion or analysis, from a paper that used to run a capsule review of practically every film. If it's genuinely comprehensive coverage you seek—coverage that might help you decide whether it's worth blowing $12 and two hours on any of these films—look no further than Slant, though of course as always you'll need to adjust for its film staff's tendency to be totally wack.

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