An apology for a colleague’s bad behavior

January 8, 2014

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I don’t normally write about such things but, as a member of the New York Film Critics Circle who was in attendance last night at my group’s 79th annual awards dinner, I feel a need to make an apology for one of my colleagues’ behavior.

Whether he was doing it to amuse or to garner publicity, the unfortunate remarks, delivered while one of the award winners was accepting an honor the group itself had chosen, was unconscionably rude behavior.

Still, it didn’t deserve the kind of headline treatment it received in the trades today. It was simply someone acting up under the assumption that any attention, even bad attention, is just fine.

This was my 24th year with the NYFCC. I have served as the group’s treasurer for the last two decades and have been chairman three times.

As critics, we tend to have strong opinions, some of which ring loudly simply by nature of being contrary. Most of us have, at some point or another as a critic, written what can only be described as snide minority opinions on some popular favorite that earned us howls of anger. If we’re honest, we will even admit that we know when a position will be an unpopular one; we may even stake that position purposely.

As a member of a group of critics assembled for the purpose of choosing awards, I know there inevitably are hurt feelings when favorites are snubbed and work we disdain wins. We write about it and move on.

So I would never presume to apologize for m colleague’s opinions; they are his own. In the case of this critic, I can say that we seldom share the same taste and yet, in the quarter-century that I have known him, I’ve had conversations at screenings or NYFCC meetings that were always collegial, cordial in disagreement.

But bad behavior – rude behavior to invited guests – is something else. And make no mistake: This was bad behavior – not a free public expression of opinion but a grandstanding show of personal nastiness.

Grumble all you want privately – or even in print – about your opinions of the winners after the voting. But when it comes to presenting the awards to the actual winners, there should be no dissenters. It is the group’s awards dinner; if you want to be the dog in the manger, go find a different manger.

In fact, I would encourage this particular colleague to imagine a scenario in which a pet filmmaker of his – someone whose work he reveres – was treated in a similar manner at this dinner. I have to assume his howls of outrage would be just as loud as those he has evoked.

Of course, I also don’t forgive the kind of coverage that focuses on one isolated moment that did not register outside of about a five-table radius in a ballroom with close to 30 tables. Only the people in the immediate vicinity of this disturbance actually heard what was said. While it was clear in other parts of the room that something was being shouted, that was it. The actual slurs weren’t heard beyond the middle of the room and not by the targeted winner.

Yet the coverage made it the headline, as though it was all anybody was talking about. In fact, the conversation afterward was about what an enjoyable and well-run evening it had been. This incident barely caused a ripple while it was happening; now it is a cause célèbre.

So as a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, I want to apologize for my colleague’s behavior to the target of his calumny. I was embarrassed for the group and feel compelled to say so here.

This kind of action was unworthy of a group of the stature of our organization; fractious opinions are not an excuse for uncivil and ungracious behavior.

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