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Behind THE Barriers Director’s Cut: Criticism

Sam Smith, on criticism:

When I room with Powers when we’re on the road, I can almost guarantee that if the TV is on, it will be on HGTV. Home and Garden Television.

Powers loves his home improvement shows. He has even said once or twice that after his racing career is over, he’s going to try his hand at house flipping. I enjoy HGTV as well, especially for its consistency. Most of its programming is at least watchable, which is more than you can say for most networks.

If I had the channel changer, I would immediately find The Travel Channel and hope for one of Anthony Bourdain’s two shows. No Reservations and The Layover are my two favorite shows. That said, the Travel Channel is hit or miss. If I land on it and that weirdo Andrew Zimmerman is eating all kinds of gross stuff, in really gross ways, I have to change the channel immediately.

My next stop would be TruTV, solely to see if Cops is on, which it often is. Cops is my third favorite show. I could go on and on forever about Cops being the longest running “reality TV” show ever, and about the reasons behind its success, and the “authenticity” of people’s behavior when functioning within an institution like the police force. I love that show; it’s brilliant. But, if it’s not on, I head for The Food Channel. And that’s where I am now. Sitting at home, watching Chopped.

Chopped reminds me of freshman year high school art class. It reminds me of the kids who have gone through their formative years with everyone patting them on the head for everything they do. All of a sudden, this hippy lady is spouting some form of watered down criticism at them for their mediocre projects and they’re getting their little panties in a twist about it. On Chopped, the chefs stand there in front of the expert panel and scrunch their faces up and give defensive retorts to the sometimes-scathing critiques they receive. I think to myself, “dang, didn’t any of these people take high school art class? They’re so thin-skinned.”

I have a lot of respect for people who put themselves in a position to be criticized, and then handle it gracefully, whether it’s a student, a professional artist, or anything, really. There’s always a place for criticism, in any endeavor. I’ve dealt with a decent amount of criticism over the years in my pursuit as a cycling filmmaker. I think it’s an important part of being a creative person — to be able to accept criticism, consider it fairly, and make a decision how it affects you.

I’ve definitely taken some criticism to heart and learned from it. But a lot of times I’ve dismissed it, not because of ego or insecurity, but because it’s important to remain true to your own style and mission. I get inspiration from thinking about some of my favorite films and music. Some of the things I hold dear are loved by many, but also hated by many. Being universally accepted and middle of the road is boring and worthless. Or maybe being universally accepted is actually just a myth.

Through being criticized, I have noticed something interesting about a contingent in the cycling community. I feel like some people have their own image of what cycling is to them, and they hold that very dearly. If you create something that is supposed to be in some way representative of some facet of cycling, and it doesn’t hold up to the way they feel it should be represented, they have a huge problem with it.

When I’ve received criticism like this, I’m sort of perplexed by it. A massive part of what I try to do is show cyclocross as authentically as I can. Obviously, it’s through my eyes and through my editing decisions, but I’m not trying to coat anything. I’m trying to do what Cops does and just show what happens. I’m an observer. I don’t interfere, I don’t try to shape situations, and I don’t try to slather my work with stylized camera work and fancy edits. No slow-mo, no moody music, no staged interviews, no lav mics.

So, I guess this is my criticism of some of my critics over the years. I’m just showing what I see guys. If it doesn’t seem right to you, then come out to the race and see for yourself!

—Sam Smith

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