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Accreditationgate: Should reviewers pay for the London Film Festival?

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The London Film Festival (or LFF) is a staple of any UK cinema lover’s calendar. With access to a wide selection of the finest British and International films well before their UK release dates, film critics cry with glee when the first email circulars arrive. But this year, something has happened. Something which may hinder some critics from spreading the good (or bad!) word about those films. This year the BFI will be charging a £36 fee for all journalists asking for accreditation to the event – be they from The Times or LiveForFilms.com – so that their respective outlets can be the first to post the latest news and reviews straight from the event.

This news has hit the writing community hard and many of them have taken to Twitter in a bid to voice their opinion. Below, LiveForFilms.com contributors SLD and Stephen J Bowron hash out some of the pros and cons of this turn of events.

Stephen’s case FOR the fee:

[My opinion mostly surrounds film bloggers and freelancers, as career journalists will barely be affected by the new charge.]

I work full-time, earning peanuts and I very rarely get paid to hit my keyboard like I am doing right now. I am by no means a professional journalist; I am the 99% [of online film writers]. So why am I so blasé towards this newly instituted fee? Three simple words: I love film.

Every month I pay £16.99 for my Cineworld Cinemas Unlimited Card and £7.99 to LoveFilm so that I have the opportunity to watch just about as many films as I can every month. That’s far better than the £8+ I used to spend every time I wanted a cinema ticket (before all this 3D hoo-ha jacked that up) so £36 for accreditation to this year’s LFF does not bother me, and should not bother most, in the slightest – what is that anyway, two bags of popcorn and a large coke?

Yes, people will have to pay for travel and sustenance on top of this fee, but is it really that huge of a cost? I have seen far greater than 100 films for free since moving to London over two years ago. There are people I know who attend well over that number annually who don’t want to hear anything of this fee. They receive free access to hundreds of hours of film a year and they don’t want to forfeit £36 of their hard-earned cash for two weeks of the newest goodies? I have zero sympathy for those writers oozing with self-entitlement.

It is true that we writers act as a proxy for studios to advertise their films for free and I understand an accreditation fee could pose a potential loss of diverse opinions and critiques at the festival, but just like the reason we get all those bloody film sequels and not enough original features, festivals like the LFF are a business and if pinches of its arguably most important assets are lost because they need to make ends meet then so be it. The LFF is hardly going to suddenly cease to be a thriving festival because of their loss. Ultimately, amateur or professional, it is up to the writer to cover the cost of their job expense or hobby, and most professional journalists will claim back the cost in expenses. But we writers being made to pay for a bit of exclusivity for once? It’s the only time I’ll ever almost agree with Kevin Smith on something.

Sarah’s case AGAINST the fee:

Well, yes I also love film. Do I love film more than Stephen because I baulk at paying for the right to advertise films for free? I think not. I also pay £9.99 for my monthly Netflix account and I love the range of films it offers me. But for me this isn’t a purely fiscal issue, this is about the complex relationship between online journalism and film marketing. As Stephen says,  the majority of film reviewers do the  job for love (and free screenings), but not for money. The BFI itself is a charity and will hopefully use the hundreds of £36 fees it receives to show more screenings, host more inclusive events for the public and so forth. But just because the BFI affords a charity status, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a business. What would happen if all reviewers boycotted this fee? There would then be little or no objective film criticism. Perhaps the LFF is worried about negative reviews? If I review a film negatively will that impact upon the LFF? I doubt it. The LFF will run again in 2014, however the producers of a heinous film slated world-wide may not get another chance to exhibit.

I truly believe that what we do as reviewers adds value, for those who choose to seek out our opinions. Every reviewer I know works exceptionally hard to create  meaningful and helpful content about film. The world is now deluged with more movies than ever before and with big movies with humongous marketing budgets – it’s mind-blowing. This week I have read that Robert Downey Jr is rumoured to be paid $75million for the next instalment of the Iron Man series while the entire Independent newspaper arts team have been axed. Both of these pieces of news came to me via film websites that I could access for free.

Of course the LFF may be worried that the average Joe will take advantage of a free pass and use it to see films for free! But Joe has a life, a job, a family – they do not have time to decide which one film to see a month, let alone give up three weeks to ponce around London watching 35 obscure Bulgarian melodramas and some soft porn. Serious reviewers are not as prevalent as the LFF may believe – and they feel obligated to provide a considered opinion on everything they see.

It is an honour and a privilege to gain access to film first, but it is the studios and production houses which make money from the movies, and they have private motivations. I can sincerely state that when I review a film I tell the truth – albeit my truth. And writing up reviews takes time and effort – not financial expenditure, but actual blood, sweat and hand cramps. Plus London is expensive. Those who are travelling from further afield have to pay extortionate train tickets and £5 for a pint! Reviewers large and small still have deadlines and their opinion only counts when put in context and timed correctly. The BFI need not worry, I have seen screening after screening, year after year (at a hefty charge to Joe Public) sold out, so it isn’t as if reviewers are taking candy from an innocent baby.

Like many others – including as mentioned in this great personal piece about Accreditationgate from Laurent de Alberti, I am lucky to have another job to fund my love of art. The internet has been a blessing and a curse for the film reviewer. Where there was once Roger Ebert and Barry Norman there are now many more. I believe this to be a good thing, but it is creating a ripple in the fabric of critique – what defines a good reviewer? Creating an audience or getting paid to air your subjective views? A person cannot become a good reviewer without perseverance. Noone can short-cut their way to a career by paying £36. Below is a quote from Chris Fyvie who says if you don’t get paid for something then it’s not a job, it’s just a hobby. I do not agree. Reviewing is more than a job, it’s a livelihood, it’s an art, it’s a need. We can’t all be paid critics for big magazines, but we can all contribute. Let’s hope this fee doesn’t curb the greatest skill all writers have – utilising our own unique talents to create new art (and knowledge) from existing art.

Comments from the Film community:

LiveForFilms.com Editor, Phil Edwards says: I find it mad [that the BFI] want to charge when the press are giving the event free advertising by reporting on it. The other thing about the charge is how will the filmmakers and studios feel about the LFF charging for the press accreditation?  It could result in fewer journalists attending which means fewer news stories, reviews and online buzz about the films.

Craig Williams: “Some perspective – the public have to pay £20+ per ticket for the LFF. My sympathy about the accreditation fee is limited at best.”

Andrew Jones: “Just on that LFF thing, last year part of my press accreditation got me doing Argo red carpet stuff. 0 [zero] interviews. Cold night. £30 this time”

Katie Khan: “It’s standard practice at Berlin, I believe. And it’s not an unreasonably large sum for 2 weeks of screenings.”

Daniel Aston: “£30 for LFF press accreditation more like stress accreditation am I right?”

Catherine Bray: “If you monetized the value of coverage from some attendees, I think you’d find the LFF are being pretty generous.”

Ben Mortimer: “Hmmm… The LFF are charging £30 for press accreditation this year. Because film journalists make loads of money and can afford extra costs.”

Mairéad Roche: “I’m completely fine about paying the accreditation fee for LFF. They need the support & I love film so why not give back a little.”

Mike P Williams: “Obviously those who write in a paid capacity can get the accreditation fee reimbursed, so it’s the ones who do it for free I feel for.”

Nia Childs: “Bloggers- grow up! MOST of you aren’t qualified journos and your getting an incredible experience that’s worth much more than £30 LFF

Shaun Munro: “To be fair, if I lived in London, I probably wouldn’t give much of a toss about the LFF fee. But then it’s all relative, innit.”

Chris Fyvie: “And sorry, but if you don’t get paid for writing, it’s a hobby. Moaning about LFF is like moaning about being charged to go bowling.”

And always measuring the correct temperature of this type of debate….

Matthew Turner: “Much more upset about the LFF press screenings being held in the Cineworld Trocadero than being charged for accreditation. Horrible venue.”

BFI: We did ask them, but no comment to date.

[Edit: The guys over at Little White Lies managed to speak with the LFF artistic director, Clare Stewart on the matter; she had this to say: 

“The BFI, like all cultural organisations in the UK, is facing funding cuts. We invest very heavily in the industry and press screening programmes for the festival. That comes with quite hefty administrative costs and this is partly a way to help us defray those. And if we’re talking  in terms of what that might be for paying to see films, £30 that’s, what, two trips to the cinema? […] I think change in any context, whatever it is, always creates a response and I’m not afraid of change.”

@contrarah @sjbowron

Are you planning on attending the London Film Festival this year? What do you make of any of the above? Sound off below.

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