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International film critic Klaus Eder sat on the Brisbane FIPRESCI jury and loved what he saw. On his way home, he stopped briefly in Sydney and talked about the big picture of film criticism, with Andrew L. Urban, and admitted that rating films with stars caused him pain.

Klaus Eder locks eyes and takes a moment to consider his answer: “it causes me a lot of pain,” he says finally. He is a large man with a confident air, with the eyes of a man who is not afraid to say what he thinks. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that any aspect of film criticism might cause him pain. The object of his torture is apportioning the ubiquitous five star ratings to films. “It’s terrible…” he adds with emphasis, sipping his flat white at Sydney’s Cosmopolitan café in Double Bay. 

But like so many of his movie critic colleagues, Eder is obliged to rate the films he reviews out of five stars – on his editor’s orders, who joins an army of editors wanting to pander to lazy readers. Having proudly and defiantly told Eder that Urban Cinefile doesn’t use the star ratings, it’s possible to detect a cloud of jealousy pass across his broad visage.

"one of the best programs"

As its Secretary General, Klaus Eder has presided over the international film critics organization FIPRESCI (Federation Internationale de la Presse Cinematographique) since 1987; he was invited to Australia as a FIPRESCI jury member at the Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF) last week, and under the auspices of the Goethe Institute he also appeared on a film critic panel in Sydney on Tuesday (August 9) to talk about film criticism with local critics – and the public. 

He is full of energy after Brisbane, having thoroughly enjoyed the festival. “It has one of the best programs,” he says in excellent English with a slight accent. “The focus is on the Asia Pacific, on South Indian cinema, Korea, and Beijing cinema – things people don’t normally get to see.” Well, of course, that is one of the main attractions of a film festival, but Eder admires BIFF’s artistic director Ann Demy-Geroe “for her courageous programming – and she’s a beautiful hostess…”

The FIPRESCI prize for Best Asia Pacific Film was awarded to Look Both Ways, the debut feature for Australia’s Sarah Watt, which Eder describes as “an astonishing film”. He says FIPRESCI’s role is to help promote film culture; the organisation likes to work with films that win their prizes to ensure that they receive attention.

As a film critic, Eder says he is motivated by emotion; “I have no set rules at all. The main thing is to be open minded. There are only two possibilities: one, the film bores you, or the film excites you. Then you ask why. A film has to tell me something, but above all it has to hit me, right here,” he points to his chest. “I have to feel something… the reflection comes later.”

He also admits, though, that the older he gets “the more boring films I see.” 

"Understanding is vital for critics"

Not particularly interested in mainstream commercial films, Eder is passionate about national cinema, and he believes that it is the critic’s duty to be well better informed about the culture in which a film is set than his/her general readership. “Understanding is vital for critics; to know about the culture in which both film is set. As much as possible. If you haven’t been there, do the research …”

When it comes to writing reviews of films, he prefers positive reviews to negative ones, and he relies on his own instincts to make sure he has written what he wants to say accurately. Does he write for the editor or his readers? Another long stare as he thinks this through. Finally, he says, “Honestly, I don’t know. Most people say they write for their readers, but who knows who the readers are. That’s why the only person I must satisfy is myself. Did I put it as I wanted to?”

Published August 11, 2005

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Klaus Eder

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