MIFF 2011 – The Gripes

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I was amused and then disturbed by a column in Crikey the other day in which one of the 6 bloggers chosen by MIFF to review 60 films in 17 days complained about their treatment in not being invited to the opening night film or the closing night party!

Each blogger received a free Festival Passport (worth $350) in exchange or their ‘unpaid’ work. But apparently, this was just not good enough.

“None of the six MIFF bloggers were paid anything for the job,” wrote Luke Buckmaster. “We were not entitled to priority lining at MIFF venues or the 10% discount at the bar for MIFF members. If we wanted to change or cancel a booking, we were charged $2.50 a pop. And – perversely – most of the team did not receive an invitation to the opening night feature.”

He also pointed out that one of the bloggers paid their own fare from interstate and their own accommodation (so?), that one of had the flu and another food poisoning.

Hey guys, welcome to the real world! A world in which almost everyone else who goes to the film festival has to pay.

Festival Director, Michelle Carey, did thank the bloggers in her closing night speech (not that they were there to hear her) but did this amount to ‘shabby treatment of a team who worked hundreds of pro bono hours’?

Is this a classic case of biting the hand that feeds the reviewer? It seems to me that most of us would be ecstatic at receiving a free Passport entitling us to free entry for every film, bar opening and closing nights. (For the record, I received a mini-pass from MIFF). I also purchased two other mini passes at $125 each and I paid $85 to be a member of MIFF. (In the past two years I have purchased the Passport but this year knew I would not be able to attend as many films). By the way, I also did not get an invite to the opening or closing nights, not that I expected one.

The bloggers – all of whom seem to be working in other jobs, as I am – were able to become members (and I suspect some are) but obviously at least one of them felt that they should be provided everything for free.

I suspect that Buckmaster’s column was written in exhaustion brought on by 16 long days sitting in dark, mainly uncomfortable cinemas on erratic diets and too much coffee. No doubt the bloggers and their blogs did create additional publicity for the festival and it was an amazing effort to complete so many reviews. But were they promised anything more than a Passport in exchange for their writing? No.

On the Top 100 Mistreatment Of Critics list, Buckmaster’s complaint would come in somewhere near the very end and it is one for which few festival-goers would have much time.

Yet, I do have some empathy for his view – even if it is an outlook that is produced by losing sight of why you are involved in writing about the arts in the first place.

After an Easter working almost full-time on the Rhythms Q&A tent at this Easter’s  Bluesfest in Byron Bay, I also wondered why I had volunteered to do this in exchange for a festival pass. I could have gone to the festival, relaxed and enjoyed the music.

Then I recalled an essay by Jon Landau (who went on to manage Bruce Springsteen) titled ‘Confessions Of An Aging Rock Critic.’ He wrote it at the ripe old age of 24. I have often thought about it in the years since I first came across it (and I will refer to it at length at a later date).

In the essay, Landau claims that critics usually start writing about music because they love it and want to convey that to others. Then as they become professional, and have access to almost unlimited amounts of music, the acquisition of the music becomes more important than the music itself.

A few years ago I heard a writer, who must get at least $1000 worth of CDs every week, complain about the fact that the music magazine for which he wrote was a little late in sending him a cheque (of less than $100) for a review. ‘But what about all the CDs you get?’ I asked. ‘They’re not worth anything,’ he responded. I knew then and there that he had crossed over to the dark side.

I take out Landau’s article and read it every so often to remind myself why I started writing about music and presenting a radio program in the first place. Buckmaster should read it too.

Brian Wise

Brian Wise was the Editor of Addicted To Noise‘s Australian site from 1997 – 2002. The site won two ONYA Awards as Best Online Music Magazine in 1999 & 2000. He has also been Editor since its reincarnation in 2013. He also presents the weekly music interview program Off The Record on 102.7 Triple R-FM (rrr.org.au) in Melbourne. It is networked to 45+ stations across Australia on the Community Radio Network and is a four-time winner of the Best Music Program Award from the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. In 2012, it was nominated as a finalist in the Excellence in Music Programming category. Brian was also the Founding Editor & Publisher of Rhythms Magazine and is now its Senior Contributing Editor.

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