Earlier this year I was applying for a job at a film festival as a programming associate. In addition to the usual cover letter and resume, they asked for three short film reviews.
I didn’t get the job (boo) but the process of writing was good. I actually wrote five, so that I could pick out the best three. Once it was clear that I wasn’t getting he job, I kept the reviews around. I’ve known for a long time that I want to keep a blog/website, but I’m still figuring out what to put here. These reviews are as good a place to start as any other.
I will share those reviews, but first I would like to talk about the writing itself. This blog/website is still quite new, and I am the only reader. So I suspect that a lot of the content, at least at first will be somewhat confessional (and self-indulgent). I need a place to write down my navel-gazing for a while. With luck and perseverance, I will hit onto something worthwhile.
Anyway. Back to writing on film.
The job posting didn’t specify the context for the reviews. So I wondered quite a bit about what voice I should use. A program book note? A report for a senior programmer? A traditional review for publication? What about an academic paper?
These are subtly different categories, but they are important distinctions. The intentions of the writer and assumptions about the reader are quite distinct. A program note is selling something, in a sense. You are aiming to frame the film in the best possible way. You want to set the expectations for the audience so that they have the best chance to be satisfied.
A report from one pre-screener or programmer to another is never meant for public view, and can be much more candid. It is not a simple assessment of quality, (although that is a component) but also an assessment of fit. How does his film fit with the festival’s mission, as well as with the rest of the program?
Of course a review from a critic is the most widely known format. But it’s also the one I have the least experience with. I’ve wondered why I was drawn towards festival programming rather than towards film reviewing. They are similar positions, in a way. Both the programmer and the critic tell their audiences which films are worth watching. But a critic also tells her audience which films are not worth their time.
I am reminded of one of my favourite moments in the film Ratatouille: Anton Ego’s review of the meal prepared by Remy the rat. You can watch it here. Around 36 seconds in, he talks about the role of the critic in “the discovery and defense of the new.” That line always stuck with me. It is something that I think programmers and critics share, in their own ways.
There is a part of me that feels that I do not know how to write seriously about film, especially as a critic or an academic. I know this sounds silly. I’ve written program notes for films at multiple film festivals, and received some positive feedback from colleagues and bosses. I have undergraduate and masters degrees in cinema studies. I even took a course on art criticism in high school. I have written many many papers on film. Some of them even received good grades!
But… I also feel like I lost a lot of those skills after I finished school. Not to mention the ever-present impostor syndrome I experienced while I was still there.
I never quite became fluent in film theory. And although I enjoy film history, I have only scratched the surface when it comes to watching the important films and directors of the world. Many of my friends who work in other fields always seem to have seen more movies that I have.
When I read a good review of a film, even a film I have seen and given much thought to, I stand in awe at all of the nuanced and well informed insights. It all seems so plainly obvious, and yet I missed it all.
I have acquaintances and classmates who have written on film or pop culture for different publications and websites. How did they start? Where does the authority and confidence come from? Where do the clever insights about films come from?
Well, I warned you about the confessional tone and the navel gazing. It is not my intention to make this blog a personal diary. But some individual posts, like this one, might take that tone.
Just as different forms of writing on film adjust their voice according to their assumed audience, I will adjust my tone as I start to have readers besides myself.