I Am an Impostor
A Literary Critic Trying to Survive a Film Festival
Have you heard of the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland? It’s one of the most renowned film festivals in Europe; its full of famous actresses, directors and producers, full of experienced industry professionals, well-known film critics.
And then there’s me.
I’m Karin, and I don’t know a single thing about cinema.
I don’t know the names of famous actors, can’t tell the difference between directors, screenwriters, and producers, didn’t even know that John David Washington is Denzel Washington’s son. I also wouldn’t have known Denzel Washington is an actor, if I hadn’t just googled it. I don’t care about the latest movie releases, know nothing about the history of cinema, visual design, or anything that might be related to movies at all.
In short: You know nothing, Karin.
I have a leopard print badge around my neck that says “press”, so everybody knows I am a legit film critic. Which I am not. I am just an impostor. And yet I am here, covering the Locarno Film Festival 2021 in international media outlets such as Indiewire and Variety.
How did I end up here, then? How did I end up an accredited journalist, covering the entire festival, with all of its ins and outs, its most anticipated world premieres, in international media? How did I end up in a group of experienced film critics who know what they’re doing and have already done it for several years?
The short answer to these questions is: My study advisor made me go. I am here because I needed some last-minute university credit to finish my Master’s degree. Somewhat, I am obliged to do it.
But now that I’m here, I think: Maybe I was meant to be?
It’s not like I’m having any fun at all, though. Quite the contrary: I am feeling ashamed all day every day because I don’t know the first thing about film. My group of fellow critics consists of movie nerds from all over the world, some of which are film critics for The Guardian or other international media. They know what they are talking about. And then there’s me, and when I sit at a table with them over lunch, I can’t follow 99 % of what they’re talking about. I can’t even follow the discussions in our Whatsapp group.
Imagine being at a table with ten people and someone asking “Have you seen [insert famous movie title here]?” and everybody nodding their heads, except you. You have not even heard of this movie, have no idea what it’s about, so you grab your glass, take a generous sip of wine and hope for no one to look at you.
This is what it’s like for me, every single day of this festival.
And yet I am here, and yet I have to write reviews and essays, interview famous people I have never even heard about, record podcast episodes. I feel like I am the most invalid film critic in the world.
But then my peers write 12'500 character essays about transcendence, naturalism, the inner, unspoken struggles of some protagonist escaping the bourgeois environment she came from, and I don’t understand a single word.
And guess what: Neither do their readers, the regular people who are merely trying to decide whether or not to see a certain movie.
They don’t care about the twenty-seven historic movies this particular film might or might not have taken inspiration from; they don’t care who John David Washington’s father is; they don’t care if the winner of competition X or Y or Z is a worthy winner.
They want to know one single thing: Is this movie worth my time?
And who should to tell them that, if not me? Who should tell a lay person if a movie is any good, if not a fellow lay person? I am not trying to invalidate my professional colleagues here, I am merely saying that their writing is mainly geared towards a very specific, movie-loving audience.
But isn’t the point of cultural reporting to break through the bubble of movie nerds who will go see the movie anyway, just so they can join in on the conversation? Isn’t the point of cultural reporting to make culture accessible to the general public?
Sure, the movie industry needs a certain level of professional discourse to develop, it needs experience and professionalism to determine who wins which price.
But in times of unlimited, immediately accessible media online, what people need is a gatekeeper, someone to tell them which movie to invest their time in and which not to.
And I feel like I can do that, at least, even though I am merely an impostor.