(Bulgarian) Film Criticism in a Constant State of Transition

The place of film criticism in current and future context has been the subject of discussions since its inception. New technologies and media are constantly challenging the profession and inevitably altering its appearance. Very often the professional film critic has been threatened by the dismissal of his position as useless for the contemporary viewer. Even in a country like the United States where the world’s largest production facilities are, and the film market is enormous, there has been recent retreat of film criticism from the press, which proves its reduced market value.(James 2015, 225) The massive invasion of the Internet in all spheres of life once again brings professional film criticism to a crisis. The Internet network quickly introduces new principles in the distribution of films and new behaviors by choosing and recipient spectator. So it does and for films’ commentator. (Naidenova 2013, 396-397)

The Internet has changed life entirely, but the most rapidly changing reality is the media sphere, with ever-appearing terms that have to define instantly new, unfamiliar situations – „blogosphere,“ „media ecosystem,“ „video streaming“ and so on. This development is being studied extensively in the parts of the world where film criticism is still perceived as a profession with high prestige, strong image and has its real positions on the media market. The directions, in which the debates go, vary and cover a wide range of subtopics: from the multitude of „crises“ experienced by the profession since its inception, in order to put the current transformations and upheavals in historical context, through the permanent establishment of film writers on websites, electronic publications and blogs to the latest trends, such as online video critique and actively tied consumption of audio-visual content or connected viewing. (Holt 2014)

The numerous assessments and views of the world are part of the information noise that intensely and continuously accumulates and spreads in space in a different form: web pages, e-publications, blogs, e-mail messages, forum comments and opinions, social networks… Sifting a personal set of information feeds is a very laborious and time-consuming process of customization. A matter of personal choice, (informed) taste and familiarization with the Internet. Writing (talking) about cinema is part of this chaotic kaleidoscope. In the digital age, film criticism is constantly  changing along with its subject. It is precisely its transfer to the medium environment of the Internet that gives rise to heated debates.

An illustrative example of the extremely rapid change in the status quo, that literally happened before our eyes within less than five years, was the interference of the streaming platforms Netflix and Hulu (and the like) and the information giant Amazon in the production of audio-visual content. Originally motivated as a cheaper means to fill up the niche market this business move very quickly transforms all similar companies into real alternative production facilities.

Moreover, the very users are becoming content producers through sites such as YouTube, Vbox, Vimeo and so on. As a result of these factors the media ecosystem changes in a multilayered and mixed way. In video sharing platforms, another interesting trend in film criticism is also promoted – video reviews and video essays by professionals, but also by ordinary users, who by creating their own channel have the opportunity to comment, analyze, evaluate or advertise audio-visual content of all kinds. This audio-visual content offers users an alternative to written critical text. The wide range of opportunities provided by this new type of critique is the subject of another study and is yet to be thoroughly analyzed. In Bulgaria, this process has already begun with the doctoral work of Yancho Mihailov at the Institute of Art Studies at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

Obviously, the crisis of modern times requires transformation and adaptation, as well as a certain balance in the attitude towards reality. Time has proven that the results of the complete rejection of technical and above all thought-based innovations are almost always detrimental. At the same time, it is clear that a prestigious profession, such as film criticism, must retain its image (as well as that of its subject) and preserve language and analytical thinking, besides the other missions it carries.

The witty remark of a foreign critic about the people, working in mass media for cinema, increasingly not having any concern with their own ignorance of anything that happens outside of Hollywood, as if mostly applies to countries similar to ours. In the big and prestigious daily newspapers of the countries, that we are increasingly referring to as „white“, the style of the writings for cinema, although of course, updating, is still steady  and respectful with its competent analytics. (Naidenova 2013, 396) This also applies to the few remaining specialized print publications, of course. The perspective of Terri White, current editor-in-chief of Empire, one of the world’s leading cinema magazines – published on paper since 1989 – Our eternal, some would say a noble mission, is to get you closer to the world of cinema and personalities that matter.(White 2017, 6) Here, one of the world’s leading specialized print publications perceives its existence as a mission. By the way, magazines which have stood the test of time, such as Empire, and still have some positions in the print market, are also struggling by all sorts of means and tricks. They transform the publication’s pages, filling them with interactive capabilities. In this way, they make it contemporary adequate and attract “the internet generation.” In addition, the magazine, naturally, has a website and forum as well as an electronic version of each issue.

The practical example of Empire illustrates the realization of trans-media dialogue in the digital age. In order to meet today’s expectations of its readers, the transformation of print media into electronic is running concurrently with the implementation of its distinctive features. As I have noted many times, the media market in Bulgaria is not potent enough for the maintenance of specialized print periodicals on cinema. The actual operative critique in Bulgaria is carried out by a narrow circle of specialists who, anyhow, do not have a wide choice of place to appear on the print market. For this reason, the reflection for cinema (films, TV, video, computer games, etc.), professional or amateur, in our country also is being transferred to the Internet, in search of new horizons and ways of showing itself to a broader audience. The early and mid-1990s are the years in which the Internet is beginning to gain increasing use in everyday life. At that time Bulgaria was still at the beginning of its transition from a totalitarian to a democratic state. The penetration of the Internet in all spheres of life coincides with the final phases of this transition (2000-2007) when Bulgaria is already a member of the Atlantic Alliance (2004) and the European Union (2007). These historical and temporal coincidences inevitably connect the network as an integral part of the post-totalitarian context. In Bulgaria, Web 2.0 gains popularity and daily application after 1999-2000, together with the development of adequate infrastructure to reach the broadest consumer mass. At the beginning of the millennium, specialized print publications for cinema are still a vital part of our market. As we have seen in the previous chapter, a small number of them are trying to interact with the network, not to mention the transformation into online media.

After 2000, however, in already a post-celluloid world, part of which Bulgaria is as well, the rise of digital media began. Specialized pages for cinema appear, as well as blogs with a different thematic focus. This process has undergone development with elevated intensity and improvement of quality over the past ten years, and they are increasingly finding their place in the public sphere, increasing their popularity and building a base of consumers and followers, which is a prerequisite for their interaction with practice. Their nature will be the subject of my present ongoing study. For good or bad, after enduring the transition from planned to a market economy, Bulgarian film criticism will have to survive and transition from paper to the Internet. Clearly, the word transition is becoming a key – both metaphor and literalism. A permanent state to which the people of art and culture in Bulgaria as well as in the world uniformly have to adapt. Therefore, adaptation is also becoming a constant process for the modern man, mainly due to the rapid development of technologies and means of mass communication. The analog world is going digital: spectators, readers, listeners are now users and followers…

Holt, Jennifer and Kevin Sanson, editors. Connected Viewing. Selling, Streaming, & Sharing Media in the Digital Age, New York and London, 2014

James, Nick. Who needs critics? In: Film Criticism in the Digital Age, (eds. Mattias Frey and Cecilia Sayad,  London, 2015

White, Terri. This month at Empire. – Empire, 2017, No 336

Найденова, Вера. Българско кино. По следите на личния опит. [Naidenova, Vera. The new also old prerrogatives of film criticism. Bulgarian cinema. Following the personal experience]. Sofia, 2013

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