Film Criticism as a Migratory Practice, or Why We Are All Immigrants

by Savina Petkova

I remember reading film criticism for research purposes during my Philosophy degree. My desire to follow that path was no doubt fueled by the medium itself, in the face of Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth (2009), which has endured the interrogation of my three dissertations. In a way, back then I wanted to comprehend more of this screen-world, to articulate how it made me feel, and why I found it meaningful. Fast-forward to 2018, when I heard similar wording from my mentors at the Young Critics Workshop in Ghent. Resonance and threads coming together, that is how I’d summarise it all.

It took an improbable chain of events that led me to spend 24 hours in Cannes to equip me with the necessary courage to start writing. Contaminated by this particular festival, I understood what belonging tastes like. Films make one feel at home, and writing taps into that same emotion. Film criticism crosses borders as boldly as films do, and I could argue in favour of the migratory origin of cinema as an instrument of connectivity rather than divides. Inclusion and empathy are the core of the conceptual apparatus I employ when looking at films, and I believe this has to do with more than being an immigrant myself, always in between (at least) two homes.

Even though I write and read predominantly English-language film criticism, I regard both London and Sofia, Bulgaria as “my country”, and their situations are hardly comparable in terms of industry potential and media outlets. Laying out their differences and being attuned to a non-hierarchical outlook, I find them both vibrant and invigorating, regardless of the financial scale. Bulgaria, on the one hand, has been strongly present in the European festival circuit over the last decade, and the export of co-productions has risen to the point where local cinema has become Eastern- or even pan-European. One of the main production and funding events for European projects, Sofia Meetings, takes place each year in the capital city. I’d like to paint a rather optimistic picture, and reality (awards, distribution, etc) is in my favour. As far as criticism is concerned, regularly updated outlets are way too few to reflect a shift in the discourse, and the massive age gap between established and up-and-coming critics points to an encroaching and significant change in demographics. Even in the southern end of Europe, the future is ready to burst through pages and screens.