I spent part of the weekend as a fly on the wall of Indiewire and the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Critics Academy, sitting in on mentoring sessions and conversations between men and women from the film industry and our nine young aspiring critics. I don't know how our journalists-in-training felt about the day, but after hours of stories and pep talks from people who insist that film criticism is not dead and gone, I walked away feeling inspired. I want to share some of that with you.
What goes on in the Critics Academy is strictly off-the-record, so I'm not going to tell you who said any of these things, or even who was in attendance. I will say that these quotes came from working film critics — on the staff of major weekly and monthly publications — as well as film festival programmers and editors of extremely popular and well-respected film blogs, web journals, and magazines. Here is an anonymous sampling of their words of wisdom:
Overheard at the New York Film Festival Critics Academy:
"You don't have to love the film but you have to love to write about the film."
"The best criticism is a kind of poetry."
"Movie criticism thrives on the evocation of details."
"If you don't have a sentence, you don't have a point."
"The best way to keep people reading is to have the most cohesive thoughts and sentences and ideas. And the best way to do that is to be edited."
"Our least popular posts are the ones where we try to be profound."
"There's nothing shameful about saying something positive in a review."
"Never have a paragraph where you haven't really thought about every single word choice."
"I highly recommend having a mentor. And I highly recommend being rejected by your mentor."
"The studios want to destroy you. They want to do anything they can to minimize the critic's work."
"Andrew Sarris used to say 'Everyone has two jobs: whatever what they do for a living and dissecting movies.'"
"I feel like there's a fear of criticism that is preventing film criticism from being published."
"The world of criticism is changing and we have to embrace that."
"I don't think film criticism is changing. What is changing is how we're receiving that criticism."
"Blog culture has created a generation of narcissists. Nobody cares about you."
"It's a holy mission. You're keeping an art form alive."
"You have to work hard. Don't wait for an opportunity to happen. Make it happen."
"If you love criticism, then don't stop."