It’s Just Like in the Movies (the Romanian Ones, That Is)
Being a film critic is more or less the consequence of several coincidences in my life. I chose to do a major in journalism as a confused teenager, thinking I would try out to be a culture journalist. I did not pass the exam in Bucharest, so I went to study in Cluj – where one of our teachers encouraged us to volunteer for TIFF (Romania’s largest film festival), as reporters for their daily newspaper. I did not care much for cinema at that point, but the whole experience made me curious about cinema – and I started watching up to four films a day from then on. Five years later, with volunteer gigs, then internships, workshops, contests and festivals in between, I guess that I have arrived here. My interactions with the international film industry have been getting more and more frequent – and very exciting. I have seen wonderful films and met amazing people across my participation at various festivals, and I'm sure that Berlin will offer the same.
I can't say that I am as excited about the situation back home though. Culture departments in Romanian newsrooms are vanishing and just a handful of critics are making a stable income out of their jobs – most of which cannot account for one's basic financial needs. Most film critics around the country are either giving up, trying to live on various gigs or, most worryingly, are entering PR jobs. This last aspect has a far-reaching influence on the quality of film writing in Romania: while PR jobs do indeed pay, they are stifling critical thought in favour of profit-oriented praises. If critics and film journalists do write negatively about something, they are either too well established to care, or they are not getting any money out of it. I have been on both sides of the coin – and neither is pretty. While many are turning film criticism into a spare-time hobby, the situation right now is rather bleak, save for a couple of really talented and uncompromising writers.
The same could be said of the Romanian film industry – starting with the audience numbers for local films, which have plummeted in the last fifteen years. Last year, in spite of the attempts of a progressive part of the industry to lobby for a new legislation, which would encourage more state-funded debuts and international co-productions, the new law proposal did not bode well for the Parliament, which is trying to impose an overtly nationalistic tone in Romanian culture, and they subsequently rejected it. This spells problems not just for those who aim at using cinema as a tool of social critique, but also for those who are trying to push our national cinema forward into new directions, as the formal rigours and thematic approach of the Romanian New Wave are turning increasingly stale. In spite of this, I feel that there is a young and talented generation of filmmakers who are pushing forward in spite of these adversities, creating films that are both politically and formally engaging – so here is hope for them.