Judges and their credibility

A forum for sharing views on the art of film, video and AV sequence making as well as on competitions, judging and festivals.
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Dave Watterson
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Re: Judges and their credibility

Post by Dave Watterson » Thu Jul 22, 2010 10:15 pm

Col ... I expect you have realised that there was a slow response to your comments on judging because this topic has been the rounds before.

For what it is worth, my view is that there is a difference between club-level and top-level competitions.

At club-level (and often local or regional level) competitions are often part of the learning/teaching process which help us get to grips with the techniques of movie making. Here matters of technical detail are more important.

At top-level what matters is the result, not how it was achieved. Films are made for an audience and what audiences care about is whether they are enthralled, entertained, moved or taught something. Technical issues only matter if a fault gets in the way of that.

That is why a great many - probably most - top-level judges do not like marking schemes like yours which lay the emphasis on technicalities. It is also why they often do not comment on such details. They will try to explain what they got - and failed to get - from your film. The judge who said he or she did not understand your film is giving you important information. For them the film did not work. And bear in mind that they will have been concentrating on the film and bringing to bear a wide experience. It is still a personal view and others may understand ... but it should serve as a warning sign that the work is lacking something.

The notion that only fellow film makers can judge is a common one. Why? Someone who has been there and done it will certainly sympathise with the sheer hard work behind any decent film. But what does that have to do with anything? Do you worry about the mental health of a painter, the politics of a composer or the handicaps of a novellist? Most of us do not. We consider - and judge - the painting, the music or the book. The blood, sweat and tears that went into the work of art are irrelevant. We all know cases where someone works extremely hard but produces poor, dull results. We may know one of the lucky few who seem to be able to produce first class results with little apparent effort. But outside classrooms and learning situations no one gets gold stars for effort ...

The strongest message that comes from many people is that the evaluation is not so important as the comments. My own main criterion for choosing a judge would be whether she or he can communicate well. Lots of fine film makers and enthusiasts find it very difficult to express themselves well in spoken or written comments.*

-Dave

* I write this knowing that one of my own comments, intended to be kind and helpful for a young film maker, made the child very upset. In that instance I failed to communicate well.

tom hardwick
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Re: Judges and their credibility

Post by tom hardwick » Fri Jul 23, 2010 7:09 am

It makes me think that Salman Rushdie was probably pretty upset when critics of his book (who hadn't even deemed it necessary to read, by the way) announced that he should be killed as they considered the book was in such bad taste. This is literary judging that's done by imagination and premonition, a skill that's denied to most of us. The same group of individuals killed Theo Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker, so beware of some judges I say.

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Dave Watterson
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Re: Judges and their credibility

Post by Dave Watterson » Fri Jul 23, 2010 7:47 am

Er ... what?

Are you suggesting a new BIAFF award ... 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and death star ?!

- Dave

ned c
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Re: Judges and their credibility

Post by ned c » Fri Jul 23, 2010 4:31 pm

I have just (over the past weeks) sat through 130 documentaries as a member of the pre-selection team (there were three teams!) for our local festival. The awards judges will make their pronouncements during the Festival, our task was to separate the wheat from the chaff. Some thoughts for all film makers:

1. Cut to the chase; don't spend 30 minutes setting the scene.
2. Know what the film is about, amazing how many documentaries lose the thread and wander off the main theme.
3. Any documentary longer than an hour must be absolutely brilliant to keep the viewers attention, there are very few of them about.
4. If there are interviews to explain points then believe that the audience will be wise enough to get it the first time, the third and successive interviews covering much the same ground just drive them away
5. When your film is finished show it to a completely uninvolved audience and listen to their comments. It is obvious that many film makers share their productions with cast and crew and friends who remember just how tough it was to get those brilliant but irrelevant shots so they must stay in.
6. Clearly understand what the film's objective is, if it is a piece of self indulgence with little or no audience appeal then keep it very, very short.
7. People are fascinating; things are not.

If you want to have a visit to a great Festival and a staggeringly beautiful part of the USA then be here September 16-25. Info at www.docutah.com

ned c

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Willy
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Re: Judges and their credibility

Post by Willy » Sat Jul 24, 2010 10:17 am

Dave Watterson wrote: For what it is worth, my view is that there is a difference between club-level and top-level competitions.

At club-level (and often local or regional level) competitions are often part of the learning/teaching process which help us get to grips with the techniques of movie making. Here matters of technical detail are more important.

At top-level what matters is the result, not how it was achieved. Films are made for an audience and what audiences care about is whether they are enthralled, entertained, moved or taught something. Technical issues only matter if a fault gets in the way of that...
. But outside classrooms and learning situations no one gets gold stars for effort ...
-Dave
So BIAFF, Guernsey, ... are top-level competitions... I agree with this. As I already told you I was in Normandy last week and I didn't have my camera with me. I could have made a film at club-level, not for BIAFF or Guernsey. Maybe that's what I could still do in the future.

The time of pure travelogues is over. I remember that I won diamond awards (at that time they were called international medaillions) with my travelogues "An Irish Moment" and "Breizh" (2001 and 2002). In my opinion the next ones were much better : "Together with Yoda" and "Guernsey, I Love You !" (co-production Peter Rouilard) for instance, but these films were less successful. My documentary "Breendonk" didn't do it either at BIAFF. It was successful at AMPS and in Belgium. Again ... ! I was not disappointed at all. I enjoyed making them and I knew that people from the Cotswolds and from Guernsey enjoyed these films very much. "Breendonk" is the only dramatized documentary about this concentration camp near Brussels and the old prisoners-of-war had tears in their eyes while watching that film. In some way I was happy with their tears because it proved that I had achieved my goal.

So what do I think now about travelogues and documentaries ? The audiences and judges are only enthralled when they can see something extraordinary about something they know very well. One of my best films was called "Wildebroc". It was about my own town Willebroek. After 6-7 years they still ask me to show that film in Willebroek. I never showed that film at BIAFF. A technically fine film about Egypt will only be appreciated by people (audience and judges) who once sailed on the River Nile. They recognize all temples. The film is a good souvenir for them.

Now I am making a film about Wensleydale in the Yorkshire Dales. I still have to go there a second and third time to film more scenery and the things that I still miss for my "Say Wensleydale Cheese !". Perhaps the audiences and the judges at Guernsey and BIAFF won't enjoy it so much, but I am enjoying it and so are my friends who are helping me.
Willy Van der Linden

ned c
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Re: Judges and their credibility

Post by ned c » Sat Jul 24, 2010 2:25 pm

Hi Willy, successful travelogue films are about people rather than places. The reason Travels with Yoda was successful was that it was really about a man and his car and his dog who, by the way, toured the Cotswolds. In recent festivals we have received a plethora of films about antarctica now that there are regular cruises there. Seen one penguin then seen them all, the reason nature films were successful was thanks to David Attenborough, now the animals are anthropomorphised as is the case with meercats; not very successfully. Its the human condition we are fascinated by not the old steam train staggering by.

ned c

Lee Prescott
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Re: Judges and their credibility

Post by Lee Prescott » Sat Jul 24, 2010 3:42 pm

:?

Are you discussing Judges or Judges comments apart from video/film genre?

Tom writes about the manner in which Rushdie was treated...
Dave then condenses this to "Death Star" After making some valid points for consideration as does Ned.

Willy then states that the days of the "Travelogue" are now over! Is that "Travelogues as we know them"??? Or does Willy mean The "Holiday Film" masquerading as a "Travelogue"?

I have made several DOCUMENTARIES set in other parts of the world and have entered them, over time, with varying degrees of "success" as Documentaries. However, certain organisers et al have seen fit, at times, to change my "genre" to Travelogues....WHY? To do that is quite wrong. There's a world of difference between a Travelogue and a Documentary as I feature and describe.

The "thing" here is that not only judges often are at fault but organisers also. They frequently cannot rationalise between these.

Refering to Dave's "5. 4. 3. 2 .1...Death Star" Well there could be Highly Commended, Commended and Lowly Commended!!!

So, IF The "Travelogue" is now to be considered "dead in the water" - how long will it be before all the other genres are too? To say nowt about Documentaries.

Please remember also that many people do not have the facilities and obtainable abilities and finance to make much else! Also the fact that to chop these down or out will reduce your entries into Festivals and Competitions.

Cheers..... :( Lee. :?

Michael Slowe
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Re: Judges and their credibility

Post by Michael Slowe » Sat Jul 24, 2010 11:01 pm

As many of my film friends know I abhor the fact that non commercial film makers sometimes resent the presence among us of anyone tainted with the brush of 'professional'. This is really against our interests because the more connection we have with the professional film world our standard of film making will inevitably rise. We unconsciously (or some even consciously) measure our film making against the material we see on television or the cinema and what's wrong with that? If semi pros enter our competitions that can only be a good thing. I have actually been asked by TV channels both here and abroad whether they can use some of my films and I agree (of course!) but donate the money they pay to charity to escape the charge of professionalism that may come my way. I don't want to make money from film making, I do it for love and artistic satisfaction, surely the true definition of amateur. I still want to remove the word amateur from the IAC title but that is all on another thread.

The suggestion of Col Lamb about the qualification of judges I read whilst abroad and couldn't reply (postings would not work from abroad for some reason) but I do want to say that I thought what he wrote was rubbish. Judging films is the most subjective activity you could possibly imagine, and some of the very best have, to my knowledge, never made a film in their lives. Dave and Jan Watterson come into that category and they are the best, here and abroad. Point scoring for each technical skill is also ridiculous, the film either works or it doesn't and it won't work if the technical skills are lacking.

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Dave Watterson
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Re: Judges and their credibility

Post by Dave Watterson » Sat Jul 24, 2010 11:17 pm

Blush, blush. Thanks for the kind words Michael.

You and I agree about the way major competitions should be judged, but I do think Col was voicing what a lot of competition entrants think. He is far from alone in his views, which need to be aired and discussed now and then.

As I read this thread I find myself wondering more and more about the people who do not enter competitions.

The major comps (BIAFF and Guernsey) offer a degree of anonymity. Send your films there and you get a grading, plus comments ... which may be helpful. At least you will see what a judge who does not know you thinks about your film. In an odd way it seems to be that entering a film in those top-level events is less embarrassing than taking part in a club, local or regional event.

At present there is no other easy way to get such an "independent view" of your films. Family and friends are unreliable critics ...

Why do relatively few people take part in the two big comps?

-Dave

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Re: Judges and their credibility

Post by Willy » Sun Jul 25, 2010 10:12 am

Dave Watterson wrote:
The major comps (BIAFF and Guernsey) offer a degree of anonymity. Send your films there and you get a grading, plus comments ... which may be helpful.
-Dave
I mean holiday films, Lee. In my opinion they are only good for club-level (and often local or regional level; see message Dave). In the golden sixties, seventies and eighties many people could (already) afford a journey to Australia, Mexico, China, India ... At that time most filmclubs came into existence. We watched colourful films with tourist attractions (killing piglets in the jungle, jumping Masaai dances in Africa, etc...) The audiences and judges were hypnotised by the colours and the things they could not see in their own country. The Taj Mahal, Chichen Itza, Luxor and Aswan , ... A lady walking down the street in a English high street. Compare it with : a lady in her colourful dress walking down an Indian town. What a difference ! The photography is the same, but the colours are different.

In that period I wrote numerous texts for friends who made films about those wonders of the world. I was not a filmmaker at that time. My friends were very successful at film festivals, but now they are not anymore. But do you really think that such stereotypical holiday films or cliché films are still appreciated by the audiences and judges at festivals like BIAFF and Guernsey ? I have my doubts. Maybe I am wrong. Please, do not think that I am against such holiday films at festivals. The last few years I saw some very good ones made by the Frenchman Jean-Pierre Hué, though they were more documentaries. A solution could be : a seperate competition for holiday films at our festivals. BIAFF, Friday night, 5 holiday films : one about Egypt, one about Britain, one about France, one about Mexico, one about ... Globetrotters will enjoy such an evening.

I am not against documentaries at international festivals either, but I think they must be of extraordinary quality or power nowadays this to enthrall the audiences and judges. We must admit : we are all too spoilt. These films must be even shocking and unusual. I miss Bernhard Hausberger. His documentaries were fantastic. Some weeks ago I saw his film "Oldie Garage" again. I also enjoy John Astin's films. But then ...

You are right, Dave. BIAFF, Guernsey (and also AMPS !) still send judges'comments to the filmmakers. But I fear for the future. Will the organisers in a few years still be able to find good and enough judges who can hold a biro in their hands or use a computer or typewriter to express their ideas in a diplomatic and encouraging way about the films they have seen ? Me too, I still recommend the British and American festivals. But again, I have my doubts about the Festival of Nations for instance. One of my friends was there. He said to me : "If you had attended the festival, your film would have been shown and maybe you could have won a bronze or silver bear !". Sorry, but I am not interested in cuddly bears. I just want to know what the judges and the audiences think about my film. Now I still wonder : Have they received my entry ? Have the judges even seen my film ? I think there were more than 1,000 entries. The more entries there are, the less time judges have to evaluate films.

Some years ago I was a judge for the Mersey Ten Competition in Preston. I could watch the 24 films at home. I enjoyed it. After the Guernsey Festival last year I had enough time to write reports at home. However, I knew that some friends had to watch more than 100 films in the preselection of the festival ... Can you imagine ? More than 100 films ! I admire these friends and I wonder if they will be able to do this the following years. I think I am not a defeatist, but a realist. I hope you don't have the impression that I take a gloomy view of everything, but I don't want to see things through rose-tinted glasses either because that would be wrong.

Yes, Michael, me too, I am against a wide gap between professionals and hobbyists, but we must still do our utmost to respect hobbyists in the first place. Me too, I don't like the word "amateur", just like Ned and other friends. (See other thread). But professional filmmakers can take part in different festivals : in Montreal, Venice, Berlin, Cannes. That's what Douglas Boswell did, one of my former clubmmates who became a professional.
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Willy
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Re: Judges and their credibility

Post by Willy » Sun Jul 25, 2010 10:25 am

Willy wrote:
Dave Watterson wrote:
But then ...
.
Of course there were many other holiday films and documentaries that I enjoyed at BIAFF and Guernsey.
By the words "But then ..." I mean that not many other ones received a top-award, like these made by Bernhard Hausberger for instance...
Willy Van der Linden

Ian Woodward
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Re: Judges and their credibility

Post by Ian Woodward » Sun Jul 25, 2010 12:00 pm

Just a thought…if Willy is “not against documentaries at international festivals” (which means he probably is!), and others are arguing that that the days of the holiday-cum-travelogue film “is over” and is no longer of interest for non-pro, non-commercial film festivals, what categories are we left with?

Just mini-feature fiction films for aspiring Martin Scorseses and budding MGM clubs? In that case, perhaps we should rename and redefine BIAFF as BIAFFF – the British International Amateur Fiction Film Festival.

But this would mean that entrants would be offering films that cater for trends and the subjective whims of judges.

My feeling is that non-pro film-makers with a passion for the subject should ignore this particular thread entirely and continue to make films that interest them and fire their imagination.

If they want to submit their efforts to a film festival, good; if it gets noticed, even better. If it gets nowhere, bad luck, but don’t take it personally: it was the making of the film that gave the pleasure, and that will always be the case in creative pursuits, as serious film-making undoubtedly is.

Schubert wrote nine symphonies, and none of them were deemed “good enough” or of “interest enough” by promoters (ie self-styled judges) in his lifetime, either to be performed in public or to be published. But he never gave up composing – and today, based on the quantifiable yardstick that is the sheer popularity of his wok, we know that the impresarios/judges were wrong and Franz Schubert was right. He simply enjoyed the creative process, no matter what others thought of his work.

Amen.

Ian Woodward

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Dave Watterson
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Re: Judges and their credibility

Post by Dave Watterson » Sun Jul 25, 2010 1:15 pm

Relax!

No one is prescribing what should or should not be sent to BIAFF or any other festivals. Indeed BIAFF is, so far as I know, unique in accepting movies of any length and on any subject. It - and the Guernsey Lily - actually spend most of their energy on grading all entries into categories or standards. Those festivals are as important for their rankings as for the top prizes. Most of us will never get a cup or a medal, but we might progress from 1-star to 2-star, from commended to highly commended.

What has been said by several people here is that audiences in general (not specifically judges) are no longer so easily pleased as they once were by simple holiday films or by simple travelogues. All types of film will be assessed by audiences (including judges) who are familiar with the very high standards seen on a lot of television and in cinemas. If you ever hire any of the older movies from the IAC library, it becomes painfully obvious that we have moved on. Many of them seem slow, almost insultingly plodding in telling and showing us things ... and often well below the technical standard that beginners can achieve today.

-Dave

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Re: Judges and their credibility

Post by Dave Watterson » Sun Jul 25, 2010 1:39 pm

Willy mentioned The Festival of Nations ...

This is my own favourite festival - both as a spectator and a judge. This year it received well over 1,000 entries. These were scrutinised by the pre-selection jury in their homes or in the club of the festival organiser.

The pre-selection jury selected 157 of those as worthy of showing in the main festival.

(The festival requires films between 5 and 30 minutes for the main contest. It also has an evening of "shorties", which are films under 5 minutes, a session of films from schools, a guest session, this year films from Croatia and in a separate screening room longer films mainly from Austria. Those plus the festival outings mean there is plenty of variety for audiences.)

Although the festival runs from Sunday - Friday there is not time to watch and discuss all 157 films. The pre-selection team pick a handful which are of such a high standard they will certainly be shown. Of the others ... priority is given to films where the film maker is present. After each block or two of films the jury goes on stage and discusses them all. If the author is present she or he takes part as do the audience.

That is why they give preference to films by people who are present ... those authors will hear the comments. Of course it also makes for a livelier festival when film makers attend.

So, Willy, the film you and Peter sent was selected among the 157. If either of you had been present it would have been discussed and you could have taken part. Since it was not shown the jury could not give it an award.

Truly at this festival the point IS to hear the comments and the prizes (cuddly teddy-bears) are not a major attraction. And remember there is no fee for entering this festival!

- Dave

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Re: Judges and their credibility

Post by ned c » Sun Jul 25, 2010 3:43 pm

Travel films are just one of the various film genres judges are faced with, some of the best travel film makers work I have seen is that of the New Zealanders, Pat and Brian Deakin, their skill lies in combining very high quality technical work with great narration and thematic constistency. A successful travel film must be more than a catalog of local attractions, it demands some level of research and some clear thematic element, this does tend to blur the boundary between travel and documentary, but many travel films are basically "my hols in wherever", great for the family but not really suitable for more general viewing. We had this problem last year at AMPS with Michael Gough's entry about a vist to Mexico but themed on the various historic religions; travel or documentary? We decided travel was the dominant element, a fine film but really suitable for either category.

The divide between the best n-c film makers and the rest of us will always be there; the problem faced by Festival organizers/judges is how to give recognition to the majority who plug away and represent most of the entries. Any suggestions?

ned c

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