A third language to write about Third Cinema

by Maja Korbecka

Film critics nowadays have plenty of tools to comment on contemporary global cinema, share with audiences their thoughts on how narratives and visual styles evolve, and bring novel perspectives into debates around works from different generations of filmmakers. The unprecedented expansion and democratization in the field has been spurred by the technological progress as much as the growing tendency among film critics to specialize, supplementing film knowledge and journalistic experience with additional language skills in an attempt to understand each film in its own context, and its own terms.

During my undergraduate studies, I realized the language one uses ultimately influences one’s attitude and ways of seeing. It dawned on me there are still not enough journalists who try to go beyond the safety bubble of their native tongues - or at any rate, the more popular languages from Western Europe - to analyse and promote the cinemas of Asian countries. It was that epiphany that made me decide to learn Chinese, as a means to communicate freely with and interview Chinese filmmakers in their own mother tongue, and to carry out my work as critic in Chinese as well as English and Polish. And it was in that moment that I first began to consciously situate myself and my work within the field.

I have been meaning to become a film critic since I was a teenager, but at that time I had no direction nor sufficient skills to know where to start. Film-watching was always important in my family. My parents bought a VHS player and installed a satellite dish to receive German television in the early 1990s. They believed films were windows to see the outside world from within post-communist Poland, so I grew up in front of a TV. This sort of yearning for knowledge, triggered by the more educational, voyeuristic and empathetic functions of cinema, has stayed with me to this day.

In my point of view, one of the main problems affecting Polish criticism remains the scarcity of critics and scholars writing on the cinemas of Asian countries. There is a considerable amount of attention paid to Japanese cinema, but only a smattering of publications on Sinophone and Southeast Asian cinemas, which are my main areas of focus. Moreover, film criticism in Poland tends to remain an impermeable field. It largely orbits around academic institutions, such as the brilliant magazine EKRANy, or more commercial Warsaw-based outlets like the online platform Filmweb. Contemporary film criticism in Poland is still an emerging scene, but it will surely gain stability and diversity in the future.