Good movie critics are like old friends. They’re people whose tastes and idiosyncrasies we get to know, and when they tell you they really liked a movie, we understand the context. If we know they’re usually wary of pretentious blockbusters and they like one, it must be all right. And if they praise a Woody Allen movie, we know if they were predisposed to like it, anyway.

We’re fortunate at The Independent to have had a series of good film critics, and this week one of the best of them returns to service. Godfrey Cheshire has been a movie benchmark in the Triangle since the 1970s, when he was a student at UNC. He grew up in Raleigh and in 1978 helped found the Spectator, where he worked as an editor and writer until 1991, when he moved to New York. There, he began writing for publications including The New York Times, the Village Voice, the New York Press, Variety and Film Comment, in addition to maintaining his film critic’s role at the Spectator.

He came over to The Independent in 1998, and continued writing until last March, when he took a sabbatical to write a book on his latest passion–Iranian cinema. That’s almost done, and he’s also awaiting word on the future of a screenplay he’s written for an epic, historical drama set in Iran. Oliver Stone has said he’s interested.

Why the interest in Iranian film? “It seems to me to be a totally distinct, original and vital movement in cinema,” he says, “much as the French new wave or new German cinema or Italian neo-realism had been in decades past. Who would have ever expected that such a thing would come from Iran?”

And what has kept him a film critic for 23 years? “I like it because it engages the culture at a central place, where everyone pretty much is interested. People of all sorts like the movies. People of all sorts get their ideas of culture through the movies.”

Readers will remember Godfrey’s moving account of living in New York after Sept. 11, 2001. This year he wrote an angry essay arguing–in large part based on his understanding of Middle Eastern culture gained from five trips and six months spent in Iran–that a war between Islam and the West is exactly what radicals like Osama bin Laden want.

Now, he’s back to writing film reviews. “I really feel fortunate to have had this dialogue with the Triangle audience, which is where I’m from, for 23 years or so. I hear from people I know here, talk to theater owners. I think there’s a good film-literate community here, and it’s very important to me to be involved in that.”

And we’ll continue featuring reviews by David Fellerath, who has created an important niche writing not only about national film releases, but about the growing North Carolina independent film scene.