Boyd van Hoeij (pronounced van Hoy) is a freelance film critic for huge trade publications Variety, Winq/Mate, Filmkrant, Cineuropa and is a member of the Sydney Film Festival Jury. We chat at length about Festivals, Film Criticism and why he answers that The Blue Lagoon is his favourite film.
Blake: Do you feel like the enemy in Juries full of actors/film-makers?
Boyd: Oh no I’m not the enemy, not at all. [Laughs] They might think of me as the enemy but it’s my job to be that hostile to anyone. I think the film-makers might perceive it that way sometimes. But I think that’s also to do with the fact that it’s a business and they want to sell their movie so they can get funding for their next movie. And obviously if they get negative or mixed reviews it might be a bit harder to sell.
Blake: What drew you to Sydney Film Festival or Festivals as a whole?
Boyd: It’s a festival that I’ve been interested in for a while, when Claire [Stewart former Sydney Film Festival Director] was still here because I’d run into her at other festivals and I’ve always been kind of curious, it seems to be the right size for me. Some festivals are too big, some are too small and here you have the big titles, like On the Road for example but you’ve got the room for discoveries like side bar things like the “Freak Me Out“ section. And there is an audience for these kinds of movies. It might be small, might be just 80-90 people, but that 90 people will be happy and they have the opportunity to see it but I think it’s important that these things exist.
Blake: Is this a dream job for a critic?
Boyd: I’m not sure what being on a jury is like for something else, like a film-maker or an actor. Yeah it could be worse I guess [Laughs] It’s nice but it’s also useful for me. It’s a good way to see movies that I’m not usually going to see. Because usually I just see the movies that I’m assigned to review. So here I’ll have to go outside of my comfort zone. Like I don’t get to review a lot of Asian movies and there’s a couple in competition which is good. I get to discuss movies with others.
Blake: Kind of like why I wanted to interview you particularly
Boyd: Yeah because as a critic you watch the movie you got to your computer and you send it off and that’s it. And there’s no one there to say – “What you’re saying is bollocks” you know. I don’t agree with this at all. So there’s a conversation that doesn’t happen in my day-time job that’s really nice.
Blake: Can you explain the festival criteria for the official selection?
Boyd: Each jury is different, it depends on the other jury members the festival president and the general direction of the conversation and also on the movies – we might be discussing different things. And then there’s the prize which influences the decision making process. Do we want to give it to the best movie, but what is the best movie? Or do we want to give it to the most innovative movie, or the most touching movie, or the movie that needs it the most. And there’s a lot of money at stake for this award and that’s something to consider as well, other movies have already won awards, I don’t know. I will not be say until after our jury meeting [taking place later that afternoon].
Blake: And not something that you’d ever have to consider in your regular review?
Boyd: No exactly but writing for Variety there’s more of a sense that the money issue and the business issue is important and if you’re writing for a trade publication, not just variety but THR and screen and these are reviews that help sell a movie or at least get distributors to come and see them and lead to a deal. In that sense we’re a …. In that sense if you’re writing for a regular newspaper or an internet website except for Indiwire (that’s a business targeted website) you shouldn’t really think about these things. But we have to; it’s our job to predict even, what the particular interest might be from the industry.
Blake: Can you describe your best festival film experience?
Boyd: Wow there are a lot. I mean I’m in a very privileged position. I watch a lot of the bad movies but I also get to see a lot of the good movies that don’t necessarily get distribution, it cuts both ways I guess. God what would be a good example? A couple of years ago at Venice the festival opening was Black Swan and everyone thought it was going to be a complete disaster at the time, and everyone walked out and went “wow, what was that?!” and similarly at the time the same year or a year earlier with the Tom Ford film A Single Man. No one knew anything and we were all like oh my god this is a guy who usually makes suits and sunglasses and he’s going to make a movie, it’s going to be terrible and we all came out of that movie and said wow that was really impressive. He didn’t tell anyone anything about the film, other than the fact it was based on the novel. There was no trailer, and I mean we knew it was going to look good but we didn’t know it was going to have so much emotional depth and resonance and such great performances too. So that was a nice surprise but it happens with small movies as well, and I’ve had that happen with totally obscure movies. I had that happen at Rotterdam as well with this Greek movie In the Woods which had not travelled a lot. It now has travelled because people talk to each other to find out what’s nice. I really loved that movie and I told one of my friends to go see it and she’s a programmer for a festival in Poland so she programmed it, and one of my friends who programs for the Hong Kong film festival saw it and put it in competition that’s how these things happen. There are so many movies and you have to constantly ask people what’s good. And it’s definitely not a movie for everyone. It’s a movie that goes for 90 mins and the whole movie is out of focus, so commercial prospect zero. [Laughs] And it’s about 3 kids, two guys and a girl, who wander into a forest, a kind of garden of Eden forest, it’s really sort of enigmatic and because it’s out of focus half the time you’re not even sure what’s happening [laughs] but there is something there with that movie. It’s one of those movies that tries to take the art form into a new direction and there should be room for those kind of movies. Obviously it’s not going to sell anywhere but I think festivals need to have room for these sort of movies that do something with the form that goes beyond any sort of commercial motivation. This guy shot it with a photo camera with a film setting and there’s a possibility that he shot it for nothing. He just went out in the woods with his friends um… but yeah festivals are important for these kinds of movies too. Obviously some people hate it. ON of my friends programmed it for a festival in Portugal and 80% of the audience walked out. [laughs]
Blake: They probably thought something was wrong with the projection – there needs to be a disclaimer “More than half of this movie is out of focus – please do not leave” [Laughs]
Boyd: Yes the 20% that stayed were so happy to get the chance to see that movie and the chance to see it in a cinema it’s a way different experience for movies that are sensorial in that way. Instead of watching it on a laptop or iPhone it won’t have any impact on you whatsoever. Festivals are important for those kinds of experiences as well.
Blake: Especially in a barn like the State Theatre, when you’re watching something intense I’ll talk something out of competition say AMOUR – Michael Haneke’s film when there’ a collective harrowing experience you feel the energy of the people around you.
Boyd: One of the nice things about cinemas is that you get to share it with those unknown strangers in the dark. And that’s why I think cinema going will never go out of fashion. It might become less of a thing because so much is available. On the internet everything’s almost being released day and date now. So even if you buy it legally you can but …. There’s something about sharing that same experience or not [laughs] there are movies that I absolutely love. I’ve had it happen with a Spanish movie. A Spanish director that I really love, forefront of the Avant Garde Jaime Rosales, has a (who had a film in Cannes this year – Dream and Silence) film called Bullet in the Head about Etta Basque Freedom fighters in Spain. 2 and half hours and you can’t understand what they’re saying, muffled dialogue. It’s a movie about observing you have to make sense of the story in another way. So it’s obviously super avant garde because it’s not something that you usually program and lots of people left. 2 and a half hours is a long time for any movie and to work that much you’re not used to it.
Blake: It stops being a passive experience at that point – you’re in it.
Boyd: Yeah but at the end of the day it’s a movie about how you can use your eyes to pay attention to certain things and with the whole bask terrorism angle it is really about how surveillance works and people try to pick up on visual signs. I though it was great and it started out with maybe 150 and in the end we were 2 – me and one other guy [Laughs] but for us 2, it was one of the best movies of that year, it was very very interesting. That’s the nice thing about festivals, that these movies have a place for exhibition.
Blake: What are your favourite films?
Boyd: I get that question all the time and I never answer, for years I said The Blue Lagoon. [Laughs]
Blake: Did anyone believe you?
Boyd: Yeah they did.
Blake: I suppose that after listening to how you enjoyed a 2 and a half hour avant garde film about Spanish terrorists I don’t think that I’d believe you.
Boyd: You know sometimes that because I’m into these avant garde movies people think that I’m not into blockbusters but that’s total hogwash. I still try to catch most of the blockbusters. I’m not there on opening day, because they’re not that big of a priority for me but I do try and see most of them. One does not exclude the other. You have to be into musical from the 40s, you have to be into the melodramas from the 50s and you have to be into super mega avant garde video art that’s being made now, otherwise I don’t think you’re a true cinefile. I mean you have to sort of try. And that’s one of the nice things about festivals that there are so many things that you get to go in cold (I don’t know if you have that expression here in Australia)
Blake: Yeah we do.
Boyd: You have to try out new things, but some of them you will hate but some of them you’ll be rewarded with something that you would have never seen.
Blake: If you won’t answer your favourite – Do you have a guilty pleasure movie, a ‘go-to’?
Boyd: I do they aren’t good movies; they are comfort food or the cinematic equivalent. For example I love the High School Musical comedies [laughs] they’re just so light and in terms of craft they people don’t realise how much goes into the production. And keeping a light movie light isn’t as easy as it sounds. That’s it they aren’t great movies by any standard but if you just sat through a 2 and a half hours Basque terrorist Avant Garde drama with muffled dialogue it’s a really nice movie to watch after that.
Blake: Who are the critics that you read?
Boyd: Tonnes, probably my favourite critic is STEPHANIE ZACHAREK bar none. [She] used to write for Movie Line but was laid off two weeks ago. And who I hope will find a home somewhere else, because she’s the best critic working today. And there’s Manohla Dargis of the New York Times I love her, as a writer I don’t know either of the two. I tend to find writers that offer me something that isn’t part of my own experience, me being a white male critic; it’s very interesting to read critics who come from somewhere else, female of different age groups and backgrounds. And the internet is great because a whole bunch of these people are more accessible.
I love some of the writers at the village voice and Ed Gonzalez from Slant Magazine he’s a very filthy writer, but very good. Roger Ebert of course he’s the most famous of all film critics. He’s still very good at talking about movies in a technical way but keeping it accessible. That’s one of the reasons why I respect him so much he will go into technicalities and certain shots and how them help underline certain things in a movie but he doesn’t make it sound technical at all, which takes a particular kind of talent.
Blake: And a talent that’s been cultivated for 40 years.
Boyd: But if you read his reviews from the 70s when he was getting started that was already there. That’s something I aspire to when I write for mainstream publications. Because I think that too many mainstream publications now focus on the story and the acting and then they might say that the camera work looks lovely, but it’s your duty as a film critic that you have to pick the whole film apart. You shouldn’t be afraid why the camera work is great.
Blake: What do think about critics being cut loose from print media?
It would be weird if I said that I liked it [laughs] obviously I think that it impoverishes the critical conversation. What I hope is going to happen, and what is partially happening already is that some of these people find outlets online that are starting to make money and pick up some of the slack, I’m not happy about it the more professional critics we can have the better as a critic you’re just one opinion you cant get a conversation if there’s more than one person talking and each critic comes to the film with their own back ground they have different backgrounds to have multiple voices instead of 1st world white male critics talking about what they like.
Blake: Boyd thank you so much for taking the time to chat to us.
Boyd van Hoeij follow Boyd on twitter here: @filmboyd
Read Boyd’s reviews here.