Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France


Perhaps the second most frequent question I get about this web site is: How do you manage to see some movies before anyone else, even before they have been released? (The first most frequent question probably is: How come you’re always writing about movies that everyone has seen already?)

This is a topic worth dealing with, since my previous missive at once took to task and defended hack critics who sell their souls to the studios to publish slavish reviews of bad movies because they got some kind of freebie. People have a right to know whether I am talking out of both sides of my mouth.

I can truthfully report that I have never taken anything from anybody to write a favorable review of a film. That is mainly because nothing has ever been offered. I may be above taking bribes, but until someone actually tries to give me one, I suppose it is all academic.

I generally pay my own way into the movies I see, just like anybody else. I do get occasional invitations to see sneak previews of new movies, but these aren’t really free since I usually get them as a perk for making contributions to the organization that produces the Seattle International Film Festival. I have always bought my own pass for all film festivals I have attended (with one notable exception), which is how I get into all festival screenings and press screenings associated with the film festival. I have yet to seek a press credential and so don’t normally get into press screenings unless I happen to get an invitation associated with my Cinema Seattle membership.

Occasionally, filmmakers offer to arrange a screening of a movie they are hoping or planning to get released, but for some reason this rarely pans out. In fact, the only such case to date where I have had my own personal preview of an unreleased movie was Michael Radford’s Dancing at the Blue Iguana, which I believe is supposed to be released sometime soon, if not already. (More such previews are welcome if you have a tape and can get it to me.)

The one case where you could make a serious argument for my having a genuine conflict of interest is the annual Irish Reels Film & Video Festival. Not only do I get to see all the films in that festival for free, but I get to see many, if not most, of the films submitted (but not accepted) as well. As if that weren’t enough to make a critic feel beholden, the festival directors are very good about providing copious amounts of pizza, wine and other treats to the festival staff, of which I am one. And the last time around they even gave my web site a free ad in the festival program. One might well wonder if this heavy involvement on my part (not to mention all the perks) isn’t enough to make me color my reviews to encourage the highest possible attendance rate.

The best way to deal with that question is for people to read my reviews of films in the festival and decide for themselves if there seems to be some bias. A simple star count will show that, on the whole, those films don’t get any more stars than most films I see. Besides, as I mentioned last time, I don’t think people should go to film festivals because every film they see is going to rate five stars. They should go for the adventure of seeing films that they wouldn’t otherwise get to see—good, bad or mediocre.

As for all the perks I get, I figure the labor I put into the festival is adequate repayment for those. The wine and pizza are nice, but they aren’t worth my self-respect. And nobody has ever suggested or hinted or even joked that I should juice my reviews with positive comments to build more enthusiasm for the fest.

But Scott, you may ask, don’t you want this festival for which you work so hard to succeed? And shouldn’t that make us skeptical of your reviews? Yes, of course, I want it to succeed. But I want every film festival to succeed. Particularly those I attend, but also ones that I don’t even attend. And even ones that I don’t participate in the planning and execution of. Should you be skeptical of what I write? Definitely. And you should also be skeptical of everything anybody else writes, as well.

-S.L., 4 October 2001

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