Offscreen Notes

Thoughts on The Sight & Sound Decennial 2022 Best Films Poll

March 6th, 2023

Peter Rist offers his thoughts on the lack of real diversity when it comes to voting critics in the Sight & Sound 2022 Decennial Best Films Poll:

I can’t help noticing that there is a huge disparity between the way non-anglophone directors and U.S.-based directors have voted. I count 45 of the former and 44 of the latter. If we discount [Stanley] Kubrick films that are more UK than US and [Sergio] Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, then the “international” directors made 124 mentions of U.S. films, an average of only 2.8 films per participant. In fact, if we discount the experimental films mentioned by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Radu Jude, and Gaspar Noé, and other non-Hollywood films, then the average is only 2.5. (If we include the Kubricks and Once Upon a Time in America, there are 138 mentions, an average of 3.1 films per director.) By contrast, only seven of the U.S.-based directors have voted for fewer than three U.S. films: Wes Anderson, the Brothers Quay, Isabel Sandoval and Kogonda – 0 – Kirsten Johnson – 1 – Lulu Wang and Nina Menkes – 2 each. Shockingly, seven participants voted for 9 or 10 U.S. films, and many more claimed that seven or eight U.S. films were among the 10 best ever made. Of the “internationals” only three participants (two Asian, and Guillermo del Toro) picked more than six U.S. films. Hopefully, a similar disparity doesn’t inform the “critics” poll…”

In that Winter 2023 issue, they published 89 lists from the directors’ poll. Now they have made available online all of the 1,944 polls (by my count). They claim that they received more than 2,000 ballots, so there may have been more that they were not authorized to publish.

I noticed that there were about 30 submissions from my Facebook and other ‘friends,” all of which I looked at, and all of which are really interesting. But I am very concerned about some of the numbers. If we add the UK, USA, Australia/New Zealand, and Canadian resident “critics” and “directors, we have 1091 participants, while Europe (including Ireland) accounts for 472, leaving only 347 from the rest of the world. (34 pollsters did not list their home country.) Of the African respondents, I count only 43, many of whom list another country where they currently work (mostly in the UK and the U.S.), while quite a few gave “South Africa” as their nationality, most of whom would be working in English. Even worse, is the fact that only 15 Japanese critics and directors participated in the poll, for a country whose national cinema, historically has been amongst the three or four most significant in the world. The rest of Asia—East, West and South—had 164 submissions; better, but still not good enough compared to the English-speaking world and Europe. Latin America, along with the English and French-speaking Caribbean, accounted for 125 participants, although this fairly reasonable quota did not enable any of the continent’s films to place in the top-100!

As a Quebec resident, my biggest concern is that of the 54 Canadian resident “critics” who participated, only three are Québécois: Marcel Jean, the director of the Cinémathèque Québécoise, Robert Daudelin, the former director of the CQ, and Marco De Blois, the curatorial head of Animation at the CQ. Two other Quebec residents participated: my celebrated professorial colleague in the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, Catherine Russell, and one of our former students, the terrific, bilingual freelance critic, Justine Peres Smith. (She is also fluent in Portuguese.) I suspect that all three of the francophones had participated before, and I believe that any newcomer would have to be nominated by somebody trusted by Sight and Sound. Clearly, there is nobody supporting additional French-speaking Quebec film scholars, historians, critics, programmers, etc. The current president of our local film critics group, Association Québécoise des critiques de cinéma (AQCC), Claire Valade seems not been invited, nor any other of its members, apart from Daudelin and Smith. Also, Montreal-based film journal editors of Hors Champ, André Habib, its sister English publication, Offscreen, Donato Totaro, 24 images, Bruno Dequen, Séquences, Jason Béliveau, and many other notable journalists and film programmers, such as Roxanne Sayegh, seem not to have been invited.’

There is clearly a problem in this oversight, especially because more than 28 of the 54 Canadian poll participants are based in Toronto. I note at least eight TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) programmers including the festival head, Cameron Bailey and Jason Anderson, as well as the great former head of the Ontario Cinematheque, James Quant, and eight current and former members of the TFC (Toronto Film Critics) group. There is a University of Toronto professor, James Leo Cahill, a York University professor, Mike Zryd, the film programmer at the Japan Foundation, Jesse Cumming, while most of the others are freelance, usually online film critics. Outside of Toronto, in Ontario, I noticed three Carleton University professors—Laura Horak, Malini Guha, and Aboubakar Sanogo—the head of the Canadian Film Institute (CFI) in Ottawa, Tom McSorley, and the artistic director of the Media City Film Festival in Windsor, Oosna Mosna, who have participated. Unfortunately, the rest of Canada is not well represented, with Tom Charity of the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) and Christina Stojanova at the University of Regina, Saskatchewan being the only clear examples, apart from a few freelancers. I am fine with the inclusion of everyone here that I have mentioned but I am not happy with the addition this year of so many, mostly online, freelance critics—I count 19—especially because only one, Justine Smith, is working out of Quebec. I understand that all through last year, there were articles published in Sight and Sound arguing for diversity and the need for fresh, new, younger voices to be included in the poll, but it appears that in the Canadian example, too many expert (and diverse) film historians, programmers, and critics, especially those working in French, have been excluded.

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