Locarno 2012 Diary: Meet The Critics, Emerging & Established Alike


Left to right in Locarno: Marc Menichini, Ari Gunnar Thorsteinsson, Claudia Piwecki, Beatrice Behn, Michael Nordine, Gregory Catella from the Locarno Summer Academy, Adam Cook and Zeba Blay. Photo by Eugene Hernandez

The arrival of eight young film critics, meeting for the first time here in Switzerland the other day, felt a bit like the first episode of a reality TV series. Real World Locarno! The group of young writers—I've affectionately taken to calling them "The Kids" this week—sat down at a picnic table to get acquainted outside the local hostel where they're staying during the Locarno Film Festival.

Lead Indiewire critic Eric Kohn lead a walking tour of fest venues before we sat down to eat pizza and talk about movies at an outdoor café. The Kids have enthusiastically descended upon the Locarno festival and will start publishing some of their work here at FilmLinc in the coming days.

This Swiss event skewed towards showcasing new auteurs is an ideal place to support and shine a spotlight on up and coming critics and journalists, as well. Appropriately, the Locarno Film Festival's artistic director Olivier Père is himself a noted film critic and blogger. He was the first guest in an afternoon roundtable session that Eric Kohn and I are hosting with the Critics Academy participants each day.

Participants have started to garner attention for their writing about film. During the festival, their work will reach an even larger audience through our unique partnership. Chosen from more than 80 applicants in a recent call for entries, this year's Locarno Critics Academy group was curated by Indiewire, in association with the Locarno Film Festival and with the support of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Participating in this year's program are Beatrice Behn from Berlin, Germany (@DansLeCinema); Zeba Blay from Jersey City, NJ (@zblay); Adam Cook from Vancouver, Canada (@AdamCook); Marc Menichini from Geneva, Switzerland (@marcmenichini); Michael Nordine from Los Angeles, CA (@slowbeard); Claudia Piwecki from Basel, Switzerland; Ari Gunnar Thorsteinsson from Stockholm, Sweden (@moviehomework) and Giovanni Vimercati (aka Cinema Liberation Front) from Italy (@CLF_Project). For more information about the participants, visit their profiles on Indiewire.

In addition to Père, guests at this week's daily sessions, so far, have included New York Times contributor and festival programmer Dennis Lim, critic and FilmLinc contributor Robert Koehler, Locarno programmer and CinemaScope Magazine editor Mark Peranson, Variety festival critics Boyd van Hoeij and Jay Weissberg, Film Society Marketing & PR head Courtney Ott, Berlinale PR chief Frauke Grenier and Locarno Film Fest press rep Giulia Fazioli.


Film critics Boyd van Hoeij and Jay Weissberg in Locarno.

The daily discussions, intimate conversations among just a dozen people at the festival, have not only offered insights on the state of film criticism but a closer look at how critics and film journalists do what they do (and why).

"Does every film deserve to be written about?" wondered one veteran film journalist, contemplating the life of a deadline critic forced to write weekly reviews of new movies opening in theaters. He said he couldn't imagine facing such a fate.

There are plenty of movies worth writing about, countered a critic in another session, when asked whether there are enough movies to discuss today.

"[Being a film critic] hasn't killed my love for film yet," laughed Jay Weissberg, whose Variety byline is familiar at festivals like Locarno. Veterans of European film events, he and Boyd van Hoeij do a lot of editorial heavy-lifting for the Hollywood trade paper.

The battle for trade news and gossip has left Hollywood trade papers fighting for survival with bloggers and upstart industry sites. Yet Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and Screen International remain the go-to sources for timely and comprehensive reviews of new films on the festival circuit and releases of films all around the world.

At a high profile market festival like Cannes, Toronto, Sundance or Berlin, their reviews—often the first professional takes written about new movies—can directly impact the business potential for a film.

"I've received death threats, but no bribes," remarked Jay Weissberg. His reviews for Elite Squad and the recent Intouchables sparked threatening comments, causing Variety to tweak online commenting.

Variety asks its critics to write in a rather fixed format, Van Hoeij and Weissberg explained. But, once you understand the template and know how to use its trademark slang, a critic has a lot of latitude.

"I like to talk about how the images create meaning," offered Boyd Van Hoeij, "because for me that's what movies are about." He explained that he and Weissberg come from an arts background and hope to infuse such training into their commentaries.

Meanwhile, the pages of Film Comment, Sight and Sound, Cineaste and CinemaScope Magazine, as well as the arts section of the New York Times, target different audiences, whether that be cinephiles or more mainstream moviegoers.

"The impulse has really become about advocacy," Dennis Lim said about his own motivation for writing about the movies. He explained that he sees his role as that of an expert, charged with encouraging editors like those at The Times to take a chance on coverage of more challenging filmmakers that readers will want to know about.

It was fitting that Lim, a juror here at the festival, participated in the Critics Academy program this week. He was a participant in a similar young critics program at the International Film Festival Rotterdam years ago and later organized such sessions at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, when Indiewire's Eric Kohn was a young critic participant.

"You can improve taste," Lim said later about readers and film critics alike, "by reading a lot and seeing more films."

Dispatches from the Critics Academy participants will be published on FilmLinc.com through the end of the Locarno Film Festival on August 11. Watch for their bylines in the coming days!

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