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Four ways to respond to film criticism

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“Archbishop Desmond Tutu has a quote attributed to him. “Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.”

Simplified, it translates, “don’t get loud and angry to convince, calmly state your case with more facts and evidence”.

I think that is a fantastic thought process to apply to any dispute or difference of opinion, instead of the alternative – temper lead to temper and each leaves annoyed and resolute in their positions.

Creatives are defensive of their work (and rightly so), especially when it comes to criticism they feel is harsh, unfair or lacks objectivity. The popular response has been Ad Hominem: “Which one have you made” or “Go and make your own let’s see,” “Shut up you’re jealous,” and others of the like.

While understandable, that response yields nothing; the critic learns nothing and the creative paints the picture of being unable to hear anything else but praise. The artist’s own words paint them as a tantrum thrower and who stay pissed off in addition to risking their health with all that anger.

I think that response should retire for a new one. Before I share, permit me to remix the Archbishop’s quote: Improve your argument; present a logical & factual case instead of raising your voice, bringing in sentiments or insulting the other person.

Easy? No, but what’s the alternative? Stay pissed off? That’s not healthy.

So, if you feel your film has received an unfair review and the author didn’t understand your choices, their views lacked objectivity or they just had an axe to grind, here are suggested ways to respond:

1) Ignore. Many celebrated filmmakers, with billions of dollars in box and also critical acclaim haven’t read a review in decades; these are some of the most influential directors of the last 20 to 50 years. They just choose not to read reviews (or selectively read).

No matter your level of success/acclaim, even a bit of criticism stings and out of the rave reviews, its human psychology the nasty and hurtful are stuck in the mind. So why fill your mind with it? Some are trolls looking for a reaction, don feed them.

2) Find something valid. If you want to read, see if there is any validity in what they say buried somewhere in that review, even if it’s just 1% . They paid to see your film so maybe they have something you can take away from their thoughts.

3) Know they aren’t your market. If you make a product for everybody, you’ve made a product for nobody, as Marketer Seth Godin says. “As soon as you’re willing to say ‘it’s not for you’, you’re freed up to make art.” Maybe they didn’t get it and they aren’t your target market.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the highest grossing franchise in film history; more successful than the Stars Wars, James Bond or Harry Potter franchises.

Yet, there are people who can’t stand the films; who would never watch the films even with free ticket and popcorn, they consider the MCU the death of cinema and a reason real films don’t get made.

For lifelong fans, the MCU is a dream come true and they relish every release, as they have waited, some up to 40 years, to see these characters on the screen. Some films are about relate-ability and regardless of artistic merit some love it; if a person can’t relate, then it’s not for them. Not everyone will get it, and that’s ok; once you see it that way, you avoid a lot of stress.

4) Rise above. Ok, let’s assume they were categorically wrong and made inaccurate readings, fuelled by prejudice or pre-conceived notions and you need to clear up the misreading.

If you must re-direct your energy and time from creation, into responding; you are a resilient person who put together a film in a country as creatively frustrating as Nigeria. That is no easy feat, so let them see that creativity. Let it be an intelligent response, contrasting what you feel theirs lacked without personal jabs or condescension.

If you feel the review lacked enough understanding of cinematic storytelling/film language to discern your choices, this is a chance to enlighten, so they can do better next time and review from a more informed place. They aren’t going away, so you might as well make soup with their bitter leaf.

Let the defence be based on facts, stating the creative/technical intents behind those choices. If nothing else, your calm and informed response will show your strength of character and probably gain new fans who respect how you handled negativity.

The younger generation, yet to discover a drive to make films, need to see that we can respond without insults or emotions and can rise above it all.


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