The State I am In

By Christopher Small

Talent Press 2017 participant Christopher Small

My country has been under the grip of austerity for more than six years. The UK Film Council was disassembled shortly after our centre-right government took the reigns of power. Our national cinematheque, the BFI Southbank, has been slowly pulped and tenderized by our government’s vast slashing of state-sponsored arts programmes. I’m told that a vibrant, diverse, bountiful place for cinephiles to congregate in communities has been massively reduced in scale. As is the story in many European, state-funded cinema museums, the funding is drying up. Though it’s still a special place, the big events that now dominate the schedules leave little room for discovery.

There is little choice but to seek these things abroad, to reclaim cinema as an international pursuit, to undertake an annual pilgrimage to lands with richer cinematic soil, as well as cheaper drinks, than the United Kingdom. What does this lead to? Cinema as a private obsession, as an expensive holiday in an exotic land, as an alternative to reality? Does this make the idea of taking film seriously something only possible in elite outposts distant from the world of jobs, friends, pets, bills, family?

Perhaps. But an unlikely consequence of all this depression and reduction is that the cinema has become, to me, private and international, simultaneously. The internet too, with its colossal reach, unites the disparate private worlds of critics, as well as the communities that coalesce around certain films and filmmakers and, in a certain sense, makes it easier to connect when the opportunity comes to forge connections in person.

Being a critic has its bonuses. I consider person-to-person connection vis-a-vis movies the most important thing about writing about film, other than maybe seeing the film and meeting your deadline. I have learned more about film criticism in person from these people—met largely at film festivals—than in any other environment, including film school. Being a critic also lets me see more movies for free; this is perhaps the best excuse I use to justify the truly dismal pay involved.

But I am a critic because I like movies. The day I stop being interested in the way films make me feel, and in the ideas they propose, is the day I will lay down my pen. I am also a writer: I get pleasure from the material act of translating my thoughts into words, filtering them through a vocabulary and a syntax that I consider worthwhile and interesting in and of itself, though there are certainly many egotistical benefits to living inside my own head as well.