As a former film festival programmer and film & media teacher, a lot of my professional life has revolved around my impressions of other people’s achievements. There’s a certain expectation to be objective, but in the arts, there is no objectivity.

Hence why, while I did enjoy pointing out the good elements, it’s the bad elements I focused on most. Why?

Because I love to criticise. And I think you should learn to love it too.

For me, it’s always been the case. My work as a screenwriter stems from the problems I had with Wolfgang Petersen’s adaptation of The Iliad. I knew I could do better, so the morning after watching the film I downloaded a macro for Microsoft Word that formatted documents as scripts, and began writing.

The first draft was awful. It was long, dense, and confused. I knew it, but I was so passionate about the story that I couldn’t decide what to change. So I showed it to a few friends who were also writers. Some of them told me they liked it, and I never showed them any of my work again. Fortunately, there were others who quite happily what they didn’t like. They were vocal, and very frank about it too. I could have let it stop me. I could have given up, but I knew I could do better, so I started again.

I knew I could do better.

It’s the same argument I used when I gave feedback to hopeful filmmakers. The fact that they were inexperienced was irrelevant; if something was wrong with their work, they were going to hear it.

Those who took the criticism on board did so because they knew they could do better. Inevitably, the next time around, they did.

Meanwhile, those who made excuses or ignored my criticism, failed. They either took offence and went off to find someone who would tell them their film was great, or told themselves as much.

I encountered far more people with the latter inclinations than the former.

On the Gold Coast, where I grew up, I once attended what the promoters called an ‘industry night’. What it turned out to be was a monthly meeting of struggling artists patting each other on the back and handing out meaningless awards. They weren’t the only group of their kind, nor was this tradition limited to the Gold Coast.

It’s a joke.

Our arts industry is going in circles, and nobody’s paying attention. Not at home, nor overseas. Creating a film, writing a novel, or performing a play is a remarkable feat, but it isn’t enough to recognise an artist for simply having done it. Anyone can do it. Not everyone can do it well.

We need to start being more critical as an industry, or else there’ll be no industry left. Just a few groups of people in basement bars, patting themselves on the back.

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