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Cinema on the net

Four innovative Berlin-based film websites, in the words of their creators.

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Four innovative Berlin-based film websites, in the words of their creators. Critic.de: the caring critics Born: Sept 2004; staff: 15 regular contributors; traffic:150,000 visits a month When Frédéric Jaeger founded critic.de five years ago, he was still a film student at the Freie Universität in Berlin. Although he’s now only 25, Jaeger – who was born in Starnberg, near Munich, to a French mum – has already dedicated a good half of his life to the film business. By the age of 12, he was a regular Kino-goer and dabbling in criticism in his own, home-made film magazine – a bestseller among his schoolmates. He went on to host a München Live TV programme as a teen, then directed a documentary and, in 2004, became the youngest jury member at the Berlinale’s first “Dialogue en perspective” award. Jaeger never stops: today, he’s busy setting up critic.de’s Berlinale blog (a German and French forum where critics, “Dialogue en perspective” jurors and filmmakers will discuss this year’s crop of festival films), and developing the site’s new search engine, which will feature a special page for OV films.  Describe your website in a few words. It’s an analytical movie web magazine with a theoretical touch, where users can learn more about the movies currently in cinemas, on TV and on DVD. What makes your website different? The expertise of our reviews. We look beyond – to the acting, the plot lines and the cinematography, but also the background of the director. Many of our editors studied film or work in film theory and analysis, or they make films. We all bring our specialities to the movies. I think that is what our readership is looking for. Why do critics’ reviews and audience’s opinions often differ so much? Take the food critics: they despise fast food, but the general public loves it because they’re going to get exactly what they expect or what they’re looking for. And that’s also true for film: many movie-goers don’t look for a particularly good film, just a movie that will fulfill their expectations. The perspective of someone who takes a great interest in movies is going to be different. But reviewing is about much more than the taste of the critic. What makes a good critic then? A good critic has to see a film for what it is, be open-minded and know the context of the movie, of the genre, the director etc. One of the most important things in a critic’s job is to make its readership curious to experiment – and the readers should cut us some slack: we’re not here to give you a thumbs up or down (at critic.de, we’re against giving marks to films), but to give our very own perspective. What do you think of the current trend towards user-generated reviews? It’s a way for people to express themselves and also to compare their tastes… But it also means they will be able to compare their own writing to those of others, and in the process they might discover there’s a lot more to it. How do you feel about free movie downloads on the internet? I do believe in sharing movies in a legal way, which is one of the opportunities of the internet – that it can create a much higher consumption of films. Even if you live in a big city, you can’t get all the movies you want to see, so the internet has big potential there and I think that needs to be explored more than it has been up to now. The music industry has shown that there are ways to make money with downloads, so there is a potential there to exploit, but I think the film industry professionals haven’t been creative enough and have just been very afraid to try it. Are online communities helping or destroying independent cinema? Maybe a bit of both. Of course, it’s a big chance for that small movie made 10 years ago that nobody saw but is now available thanks to those blogs and websites. On the other hand, most people who make websites just want to make money, and they still concentrate on the biggest-budget movies. So there is some diversity, but mainly the internet is crowded with websites which just do the same thing over and over again. Moviepilot.de: the broadband democrats Born: 2007; staff: 20 employees, 10 interns; traffic: 1 million visits a month When Berliner Tobias Bauckhager asked his old friend and flatmate – Spanish-Swiss, Dortmund-bred Jon Handschin – to be the best man at his wedding, Jon agreed on one condition: they would both quit their current jobs and start their own business. Jon’s passion for films and Tobias’ interest in new media led them to create moviepilot.de. Initially a distribution company for small German films, the site has developed into a symbiotic viewing-recommendation system that attracts around a million visits a month. Describe your website in a few words. Moviepilot is all about revolutionary tools of movie orientation and navigation, and your personal taste is at the core of it. We do all the channels – video, DVD, cinema – so whichever way you want to consume a film, we’ve got the right answer for you. What makes it different? [On the internet,] you’ve got the choice of 10,000 titles at a time and suddenly you need new navigation, orientation and recommendation systems in order to find something that really suits your taste. The basic idea behind moviepilot is the power of word of mouth networks. We basically believe in the fact that if you know me, and you believe in my taste in movies, this information would be much more valid to you than having seen the trailer: it would really tempt you to go and see that movie. And we really took that principle to the next level. If you register on our site, you look at a 250 people “jury”, as we call it – the 250 people who are closest to sharing your movie taste. So you’re basically bypassing professional critics? Professional critics have their place on our site: they function parallel to the normal users. They see films before the audience does. Their ratings become a part of our personalized recommendations, but only if that critic shares my taste in films. How do you feel about free movie downloads on the internet? I think it’s a vanishing phenomenon. I need four hours to download a movie, and then I have to burn it on to a DVD, and then I have to go home and put it in my DVD player. It’s really complicated. You have to have at least a little technical knowledge. It’s really still a nerdy thing. Illegal downloads will always exist, but it’s a problem that will be solved. The solution is not to prohibit it: it’s pushing new technologies and new services out there on the market, where people can say, “This is legal and it’s cool and I like it.” Are online communities helping or destroying independent cinema? Definitely helping it. I think we are an exchange point – that’s what moviepilot is about. It’s not about only promoting big movies. If you’re a 14-year-old kid and you only care about Twilight, you can be perfectly happy on our website, but if you’re a guy who knows everything about Japanese horror movies from the 1980s, you’ll be able to find people to talk about that as well. Realeyz.tv: the indie missionaries Born: Sept 2009; staff: 11 employees; traffic: undisclosed Born in California, Natalie Gravenor moved to her mother’s hometown of Berlin in 1977, while in the third grade. After her studies at Universität der Künste, she worked as an expert on eastern European music videos. She’s now one of the three partners behind EYZ Media, which provides audio-visual services for non-profits. Their latest brainchild, realeyz.tv, stems from the company’s work with NGOs at film festivals like One World. The new online distribution channel aims to create awareness of international indie productions, while fostering an active cyber-community of film fans. Describe your website in a few words. It’s a combination of online cinema, a blog that’s updated daily, and a community: you can register a profile, make friends and discuss films. What makes your website different? It has the interlocking nature of a blog, combined with community and film areas: our ‘virtual couch’ concept, and the whole idea of creating a social online film discussion experience. There is also the possibility of interacting with directors and we market individual films – we don’t  just provide a general catalogue. Is everyone qualified to be a critic? We need professional critics who have been trained to put films into historical contexts etc. But in the meantime, as people have more and more opportunities to discuss and review films, their discourse becomes more refined. Our users not only have the space to discuss films with one another and share their views, but also [the facility] to do this with the professionals who post on our website. What is your mission, the ethical drive of this site? do you choose the films or do they choose you? We have high standards. We want to present films that are simultaneously aesthetically worthy and politically challenging-films that might cause you to look at the world in a different way. Many of the films that we choose to feature come from our festival work: the website is a platform for these films, so that they will be available beyond the festival, internationally. As word got around, we have had filmmakers approach us as well. How do you feel about free movie downloads on the internet? It depends. Some directors – take Michael Moore – are doing it themselves, which I think is savvy marketing. But when the directors aren’t involved – the illegal cases – it´s a can of worms. Remuneration is important for filmmakers, but the crackdown on piracy is overblown: it’s an excuse for the major film industry to try and regain their lost ground. They have missed out on a lot of the technical developments when it comes to how people watch and think about films. Are online communities helping or destroying independent cinema? I think they are simply changing it. They are changing the equation, making things decentralized. Film distribution through the net can be really successful. Cine-fils.com: the slow-film bon vivants Born: Jan 2009; staff: four “active” contributors; traffic: 950 newsletter subscribers The self-professed “green behind the ears” (an expression made famous by President Obama before his election) 22-year-old Felix von Boehm actually appears to be anything but. A native of Heidelberg who was raised in Paris from the age of nine, this film and philosophy student emanates a charming confidence that complements his earnest boyishness. His website cine-fils.com is a monthly online film magazine that features video interviews with some of the world’s best directors (all in OV with English subtitles), each complemented by a critical essay (in German). So far, von Boehm managed to weasel his way into the presence of such luminaries as Michael Haneke, Wim Wenders and Mike Leigh. He’s currently working on an ARTE documentary and developing his own screenplay. Von Boehm carries about five DVDs around with him at all times – when we met him, he pulled them out of his bag to prove it. Describe your website in a few words. Hopefully amusing and certainly nerdy. What makes your website different? We are not a commercial venture; we have the luxury of not having advertisements. A new interview and essay appear monthly, and I love being slow on the internet, because everything there is normally about being fast, immediate. What is cine-fils.com’s most important feature? The essays. They are there to link the subject of the interview with the director – “Why did we interview this director about that particular topic?” The interviews are also exclusive material: the idea is to give filmmakers a say outside of the PR factory, so they may say something there for the first time. Cinephiles love filmmakers, not just actors, and these interviews provide a certain intimacy. Is everyone qualified to be a critic? Everyone can make their own ‘film museum’ from the films he or she likes/dislikes, and everyone can be his or her own film critic. I like reading other critics too, though. Film criticism doesn’t need to be learned, every brain is capable of the necessary emotional reaction: you don’t need a special education or vocabulary to be a film critic. How do you feel about free movie downloads on the internet? There are pluses and minuses. A minus is the circulation of illegal copies – that’s horrible. I personally cannot understand why people won’t pay to be entertained. It costs money; [paying] is part of the game. On the other hand, the plus is that via certain platforms like YouTube, films that haven’t been distributed can be effectively disseminated. Maybe in a utopian world you could share films on the internet – like in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, when the characters shared books.