The State of Things: Meet the Participants

head shotKirsty Asher completed her BA in Drama at University of Bristol in 2015 and has since worked as a performer, deviser and Young Company assistant facilitator with the Bristol Old Vic in their Made in Bristol programme. Alongside this she has been studying a part-time MA in Film and TV Studies at Bristol while blogging and writing reviews for places such as Creamer zine, her own blog Red Rum and Advocaat, and most recently UKFilmReview.com. She is currently writing her final dissertation on The Walking Dead.

How do you perceive the current state of film criticism in the UK? 

Like all other modes of journalism it’s becoming increasingly digitised, and of course there are the worries echoed by Kermode etc that ‘everyone’s a critic nowadays’, thanks to the internet. But that has led to some outstanding work created on video platforms like Vimeo and YouTube, where accessible and groundbreaking thought is being collated for a wider audience. I’ve also observed that in this era of Trump and a cautious dislike of so-called ‘professionals’ a worrying chasm has emerged between what critics deem ‘good’ and what the audience actually enjoys. As a female critic, the current state of film criticism in the UK is still overwhelmingly (and bafflingly) masculine. It’s gradually changing, but I believe it’s got a lot to do with the way print film journalism was hitherto marketed towards a male audience in terms of colour scheme, font and content.

headshot-3Since 2013 Rose Baker has worked as a freelance film programmer in Belfast. Starting with the cult pop-up cinema, Filmgoer, she has developed a space for experimental film and artist moving image with initiatives such as the monthly short film event Late Night Art Film. As well as programming for Belfast Film Festival, Artist Moving Image NI (AMINI) and Belfast Photo Festival, in 2016 she co-founded, co-directed and programmed Wanda: Feminism and Moving Image, the first film festival of its kind in Northern Ireland, held in February this year.

How do you perceive the current state of film criticism in the UK? 

At the moment film criticism lacks diversity of voices and perspectives. Even though I’ve enjoyed mainstream writing in the past, the ubiquity of those voices promotes a strange echo-chamber where ideas and tastes are relatively homogenised. There are many issues with this (from dangerous mis-representation going unchecked to the simple entertainment value of new ideas and writing styles), which I could go into at length, but the short version is there needs to be a wider range of film perspectives from women, people of colour, LGBT writers and more. There is also a lack of interest in regional film output in the UK mainstream. More positively, online film criticism is easy to access and it is much more of an open platform for distinctive and specialist critics.

Jon Craig Photography 20161021 13Elizabeth Chege trained as an architect and town planner but has long held a passion for film, art and music. She is from Kenya and is currently based in the UK forging her path as a curator. In 2013, she founded Cine Kenya which is a curatorial space devoted to African cinema with a special dedication to Kenyan film. It is a repository of inspirations that includes visual arts and music alongside its film focus. She is a member of the film collective Come The Revolution and contributes to African Digital Art. She tweets at @elchronicle

How do you perceive the current state of film criticism in the UK?

The spectrum of film criticism is sorely lacking in writers of colour which means part of the conversation is muted. This is especially clear around issues about various underrepresented groups including disabled people.

Who is the critic you most admire and why?

Angelica Bastien because of her in depth analysis, ability to imbue her personal experiences in her writings and her willingness to go against the grain.

headshot-2Samantha Dunn is a recent graduate from Royal Holloway, University of London where she undertook a Masters by Research in Hispanic Studies, researching Mexican Contemporary cinema, specifically the work of Director Michel Franco. During her studies she was also involved with various film festivals as a researcher, writer and reporter and hopes to go on to become a film critic. Sam’s blog is AGirlGoesToThePictures where she writes reviews and commentaries on films that excite her.

What do you think the role of the critic is? 

The role of the critic is not simply to analyse the film before them (however, this is of course the principle task), but also to see beyond the confines of the film and how it impacts on society, culture and what themes it touches upon that might be pertinent at a particular time i.e social commentary. This is why I believe it is hugely important to have a sound cultural knowledge and not just a strictly cinematic one. The critic should be comfortable working with digital media as well as print, as this is often where there will be more opportunities to work. The critic should be able to research, interview, analyse and be able to write engaging content as well as many other skills. In this way, a critic should be able to adapt to all kinds of environments and be comfortable working in a variety of roles.

IMG_9823Laura Hancock is a recent English BA graduate and studied at the University of York. Although it was a degree in literature, Laura studied multiple modules in cinema and enjoyed writing about film on her blog and for the student newspaper. She recently attended the Edinburgh International Film Festival as a student critic and aspires to write about films professionally.

Who is the critic you most admire and why?

Mark Kermode is a critic I hugely admire. He is prepared to be honest, often brutally, which I think is a good quality in a critic. But as much as he is prepared to be honest he does not attempt to hide the good qualities in bad films. You can also tell how passionate he is through his writing and on the podcast Wittertainment. I think it’s really important that you can tell that a critic is passionate about his/her job. He works across different platforms too which I think is admirable. He has a huge amount of knowledge which he demonstrates in every review and which I hope I can equal in the coming years. Honesty, passion and knowledge are three qualities that are important in a film critic and Kermode has them all. When I look at following new critics I always look for these important qualities.

Photo on 19-03-2016 at 21.04Having been brought up on the classics from Empire Strikes Back to Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera, Katie Hogan has been obsessed with film since she was young. She graduated with first class honours in Film and TV Production from University of Hertfordshire and has been writing her film centric blog, She Likes Movies, since 2011. She has written for Flamingo Magazine, Curzon Film Blog, collaborates with Park Circus and regularly contributes to Vulture Hound magazine. As well as writing about film she is occasionally makes them too, currently in pre production for her latest short.

Who is the critic you most admire and why?

There isn’t an individual I admire but a film collective, The Final Girls. As I am not a horror film fan at all, I was reluctant to see anything from this genre but curiosity forced me to be adventurous. With each screening I felt more involved and anticipated the next event. I admire The Final Girls the most because they changed my perspective and opinion of horror films, particularly featuring women and how they are presented in the genre.

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Barry Levitt is a Canadian film critic based in the UK.  He has contributed to Filmoria, FrontRowReviews and The Scruffy Nerf Herder. He is passionate about coming-of-age films, Gene Kelly, Canadian cinema, animation and classic European film.

How do you hope the ecology of film criticism will evolve over the next decade?

There are so many challenges facing film criticism. What does it mean that absolutely anyone, regardless of background, can publish their opinion for the world to see? It seems like just yesterday, legends like Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael ruled film criticism, and now the doors have opened to everyone. It is a beautiful thing, but does make it significantly harder to make a living in the craft of film criticism. It is my hope that more publications operate with a profit, and can pay their writers, so more talent can devote more of their time to their craft.

LiamBorn in North East England, Liam MacLeod decided to become a critic to express his irrational hatred of AI: Artificial Intelligence. He graduated from Bath Spa University with a BA in Film and Screen Studies in 2010. Since then he has worked with Empire, The Guardian and SFX. His reviews and features have been published on Den of Geek, What Culture! and Hey U Guys. 

Who is the critic you most admire and why?  

Roger Ebert: The idea of film criticism as entertainment is something I profoundly believe in. It is an idea that Ebert pioneered without ever damaging his integrity.

How do you hope the ecology of film criticism will evolve over the next decade? 

More inclusive of new talent from a range of voices including women, BAME writers, the LGBT community and disabled people.

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Steve McCarthy lives just off the Bristol area, is a graduate of Illustration, but would also consider himself an off beat Animator and Video Essayist.  Dedicated to the World of Cinema, strange animation relicts and trying to make you care about things you’ve never heard of. 

 

How do you hope the ecology of film criticism will evolve over the next decade? 

More power to the creator, mixing of the old and new guard, a movement to preserve films that are becoming lost in a digital age and a larger variety of styles of criticism. A deconstruction of where the film language of 2000s changed towards the modern sensibilities and what factors have driven that change.  
Adam Murray Headshot 2Adam Murray is a member of film collective Come The Revolution. He has previously collaborated with the Watershed for Slavery on Screen: Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, and a screening of Ava Duvernay’s first feature This Is The Life, he also contributed to the Afrofuturism season as part of BFI Sci-Fi: Days of Fear And Wonder and also BFI’s Blackstar season. Adam’s interests as a programmer and critic focus on representations of race, ethnicity and gender on screen.

What do you think the role of the critic is?

To excite, to inform, to educate, to learn, to grow, to be open minded, to challenge canon, to document, to open up discourse, to provide context, to speak truth to power, to be critical, to be balanced, to be informed, to celebrate, to enthuse, to be ecstatic, to be profound, to be literal, to be angry, to be upset, to laugh, cry, whisper and shout.

IMG_0088Kofo Owokoniran is a film critic and programmer, who programmed the Chronic Youth film festival at the Barbican, as well as the upcoming Motherhood series at the House of Vans. As a critic, he has written for the Barbican and most of his work can be found on Medium. An aspiring filmmaker, his work has been inspired by Pedro Almodovar, Eric Rohmer and Wong Kar Wai. He can be found on twitter at “dontputmeatrisk”. 

What do you think is different or unique about your style of criticism?

As a black man in a film industry with a very sparse black canon, watching and engaging with any film cannot occur independently of my lived experiences as a minority in London. Critiquing film for me is always through a black lens which I believe places me in a unique space as it opens several viewpoints in regards to film as opposed to the myopic and often rigid critique that is pervasive in film criticism today. Film to me offers the most expressive way to tell stories that are multifaceted and critique for me is also another way to tell stories to people about these films.

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Kit Ramsay is a Bristol-based critic and filmmaker, whose work has been featured in RIFE Magazine, The Fix and BRWC. Kit has an interest in all facets of film culture, from journalism to exhibition to programming, and specifically with a critical eye on contemporary internet cinephilia and its subsequent philosophies and texts. In addition to that, this year he’ll be one half of the Bristol Region co-ordinating team for the Scalarama 2017 Film Festival, an event designed to celebrate and promote independent cinema exhibition across the city of Bristol. You can follow him @kitramsayisdead on most platforms.

Who is the critic you most admire and why?

Thelma Adams is alphabetically at the top of the critics I read but she’s also currently my most admired. While it’s not perfectly what I had in my mind, her writing style is a good mixture of all the aspects I try to see in myself as a critic.
 Using a humorous and chatty tone, Adams weaves together a fairly vivid picture of any film that she takes a lot of interest in. I love the sense of authenticity in her work as she regularly makes reference to her life and experiences while discussing a piece of cinema. 

On top of that, she’s an excellent interviewer, which I know isn’t essential for the role as a critic, but I find that her questions and style gets performers and talent to open up splendidly.
 Lastly, I find great enjoyment in seeing facets of some of her own inspirations come out in her writing, such as shades of contrarianism from Armond White. Like him, she manages to bring a great mix of popular philosophies and schools of thought and marries that with an ability to describe how films forms and industrial apparatus go together to make the final product.

DSC02621Fedor Tot is a Yugoslav-born Welsh-raised critic, writer, musician, and occasional standup comedian. His main interests are in Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav cinema and how cinema can be used as tool for understanding the past and, in turn, our lives today, a naturally-occurring by-product of his history degree. He contributes regularly to Wales Arts Review and Film Curiosity and has contributed to Rife Magazine and Bright Wall/Dark Room. He spends his non-cinema time lamenting Yugoslavia and pining for Josip Broz Tito to return.

How do you hope the ecology of film criticism will evolve over the next decade?

Self-serving I know, but I hope the ecology of film criticism evolves to such a point where people are readily willing to pay for high-quality content all across the internet. On a more realistic level, I’d like for there to be more of geographical spread of healthy criticism. It feels as if most of the central outlets for film criticism, even in the online world, are based in London. Let’s have major outlets who operate from Glasgow, Manchester, Cardiff, Bristol. Why not Norwich, Swansea, or Newcastle? Let’s have healthy critical circles in those areas, which in turn will produce stronger film cultures from those areas, which in turn will produce a stronger film industry, rather than having London suck up all the talent.

ellisha-cropEllisha Izumi von Grunewald is a film critic based in Bristol. She is one of two Region Co-ordinators for Scalarama Film Festival 2017 in Bristol, Contributor to BRWC and Volunteer at the Cube Microplex. She completed her degree in Film at UWE in 2016 and enjoys exploring a wide range of film-related topics, but in particular is a defender of melodrama and self-proclaimed teen-movie expert. Can be found online making lists on letterboxd and tweets @ellishawith2Ls.

How do you hope the ecology of film criticism will evolve over the next decade?

I like the idea that film fans can engage with critics to further the discussion of film, I hope this continues and grows. I’d like to see more diverse opinion and perspectives as the norm rather than the novelty. I hope that polemics can inspire discussion rather than vitriolic comments. I hope that film criticism doesn’t rely on familiar, arbitrary binaries that condemn some films just to praise others e.g. stylised dialogue is worse because it’s not ‘real’ as if ‘real’ isn’t just another style of dialogue.

Profile pictureWill Webb runs Indietrix, a YouTube channel dedicated to reviewing modern releases & classic films, and re-introducing trash film genres. He has also programmed film events at the Barbican and the BFI, and spoken for Into Film and Brainchild festivals. Will originated the Durham Film Festival, now in its fifth year. He is also a BFI award-winning filmmaker and member of the BAFTA Crew x BFI NET.WORK programme.

What do you think the role of the critic is?

Critics should drive audiences to engage with films as artistic works, and also engage with each other as audience members! I also believe critics should try to understand audiences more- to see why certain films appeal. I’m not interested in a dry critical remove from the subject or audience of a film- I think film is an inherently audience-focused medium and should be treated as such. I also think criticism should not be completely removed from the production and social/political background of the film- a review should acknowledge and embrace the process behind the film, and recognise that no film exists solely as an end artefact.

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