Is there a crisis in European film criticism' That was one key question being asked during Friday's European Film Academy event, "How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Critics."

Panellist Ken Loach (in Berlin with competition entry Ae Fond Kiss) blamed the decline in critical standards on "market forces - the need to be popular, to be trivial, to be celebrity-driven'is part of a pattern led by the owners filtered through the editors down to the journalists they hire."

For Loach, the best and most insightful reviews place movies "not only in the context of film but in the context of the world at large'the biggest problem with film criticism is that they (critics) don't take on board the subject matter that you're trying to deal with."

The English director attacked "self-regarding film critics whose greatest delight is polishing their own insults." He also expressed his dismay at critics who spend the bulk of their reviews comparing films to earlier movies they have seen. "That's completely stupid and a waste of space and irresponsible and they (the critics) should be knee-capped."

Nonetheless, he argued that big Hollywood movies provide critics with the perfect chance to become politically engaged. "It (the Hollywood film) will be about violence'about one man with a gun solving all our problems. It just to happens we live in a world where that happens. So you can actually write about American imperialism if you get the chance to review (for example) Black Hawk Down. The films they (Hollywood) make give us a way of speaking about their role in the world."

British critic Derek Malcolm struck a very pessimistic note as he contemplated the decline in standards in film criticism across the European press.

"It's not the critics' fault. It's the editors' fault, "Malcolm lamented "The last thing newspaper people want now is a critic who has some knowledge and expertise in his task or has seen a large number of films."