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Meet the Indiewire | Sundance Institute Ebert Film Criticism Fellows, 2015

Meet the Indiewire | Sundance Institute Ebert Film Criticism Fellows, 2015

As part of the Indiewire | Sundance Institute Ebert Fellowship for Film Criticism, four young critics will spend the next week watching movies, walking the streets of Park City, and meeting with mentors — including BuzzFeed’s Alison Willmore, L.A. Weekly’s Amy Nicholson, New York Times / Esquire contributor Logan Hill and the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Eugene Hernandez. They’ll also be contributing articles to Criticwire and RogerEbert.com. But before you read their writing, let’s get to know them a bit.

Anisha Jhaveri

Age: 28

Twitter handle / personal blog: jhavanis / jhavanis.blogspot.com

Home: There
never seems to be an easy, one-word answer to this question anymore!
These days, I alternate between New York and Singapore; although, being
born and raised in Japan, any definition of “home” always includes that,
too. 

Area of cinematic expertise: South Asia, anywhere from mainstream, blinged-out Bollywood to films made by diasporic South Asian communities.

Best movie you saw in 2014: “Boyhood”

Sundance movie you’re most looking forward to (and why): Just one?! I’m going to have to cheat here and go with two: to see the end results of a screenplay developed at the Sundance
Institute Screenwriters Lab in Mumbai (and the only South Asian film
screening in competition at the festival), “Umrika”; and “Digging for Fire.”

What role did Roger Ebert play in your desire to become a critic? 

Inexplicably,
“Roger Ebert” was a name and figure that was part of my consciousness
before I really grasped the meaning of film criticism or was aware of
film journalism as a profession. A more formal introduction via a high
school film and literature class was my first real exposure to his work.
Thereafter, he became one of the few constants I turned to when it came
to a reliable source, an inspirational voice, and a singular take on
any given movie. I still marvel at his ability to bring a genuine, human
element to his pieces, be it a personal anecdote or a particularly
sympathetic viewpoint. Subverting perceptions of criticism as a ruthless
and patronizing form of writing, Ebert made it accessible, relatable,
poignant, and fun; an invaluable influence on my own style of writing
about film.

I’m taking part in the Sundance Fellowship because… 

It’s
a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and an ideal blend of theory and
practice: not only will I be learning from those who are veterans at a
craft I’ve only aspired to thus far, but I’ll simultaneously be
immersing myself in an environment of filmmakers and film enthusiasts
alike.

What unique perspective do you bring to the world of criticism?

From
Japanese anime to Hollywood blockbusters, movies have had an indelible
imprint on my upbringing; going beyond simply vehicles of entertainment
(although there’s plenty of value in that!), they have been shapers of
my own identity as well as windows into those of others. Whether they
provide escapist entertainment or social commentary,  I’m of the firm
belief that films give us a way to resonate—if only just briefly—with
the cultures contiguous to our own backgrounds, as well as people and
worlds that once seemed inaccessible. I am eager to explore this
potential for greater intercultural understanding as I aspire to a
career in film criticism and hope, through my own writing, to encourage
others to regard it in a similar light.

An Banh

Age: 23

Personal blog: www.filmspine.com

Home: Jacksonville, FL

Area of cinematic expertise: American independent film

Best movie you saw in 2014:
It’s a three-way tie between “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Birdman,” and
“Under the Skin”; but there were so many other films that are worth
mentioning. “Only Lovers Left Alive” and “Listen Up Philip” were special
favorites.

Sundance movie you’re most looking forward to (and why):
“Last Days in the Desert.” Emmanuel Lubezki is a cinematographic genius
as far as I’m concerned, not to mention that the cast is fantastic.

What role did Roger Ebert play in your desire to become a critic? 

I
grew up watching and reading his criticism, and what I loved most about
his work was its accessibility, impartiality, and unfearing willingness
to diverge from the general consensus. His writing had a profound
impact on my formative years, and when my love of film fully developed
later on, I aimed to do justice by films in the way that he did. It’s an
honor to be able to even be associated with his name and legacy.

I’m taking part in the Sundance Fellowship because… 

It’s
an incredible opportunity to soak up the film-festival experience as a
newbie, and also to gain experience working professionally as a film
critic. Sundance is like no other film festival because they take small
independent films to such a large and inclusive scale, and to be able to
participate in it firsthand and so explicitly is an absolute pipe
dream. I’d be crazy to say no.

What unique perspective do you bring to the world of criticism?

What
I hope to bring to the world of film criticism is a perspective that’s
articulate yet personal, passionate yet informed; one that celebrates
and cherishes the art of film as well as the filmmaker/audience
relationship, and explores it in an experiential way.

Ibad
Shah


Age: 
23


Twitter handle: 
@mibads


Home: 
Danbury, Connecticut


Area of cinematic expertise: 
I feel weird claiming an “expertise” in anything. I’ve dug
into the Iranian New Wave, Satyajit Ray and underground cult film movements
more than the average movie geek, I suppose. But there’s always more to learn.


Best movie you saw in 2014: 
“Mommy”


Sundance movie you’re most looking forward to
(and why)

“99 Homes,” because Ramin Bahrani is one of the most
interesting working American filmmakers today, and I’m so excited for Andrew
Garfield to return to his A-game. Of the Sundance premieres, I guess I would
say “The Royal Road” — because everything I’ve read suggests it mostly
defies description and I’m curious to see how it all pieces together. I’m most hopeful
about something completely off the radar knocking me out, though. 

What role did Roger Ebert play in your desire to
become a critic? 
 

“At the Movies” used
to be my go-to reference for keeping track of the essential movie titles that
weren’t directly targeted to young kids or only playing near me. Without
learning from the show which movies I should keep up with, I would probably be
left playing catch-up with a lot of the films that helped to form my tastes
today. After the show, he was still a vital critical presence thanks to the
Internet. Where many saw the inevitable decline of American film criticism,
Ebert saw the potential for a bourgeoning new golden age. Where others saw less
space for talented critical voices to be heard, Ebert saw access to a new talent
pool rich with a diversity of cinematic perspectives. To have been invited to
this fellowship in line with this legacy is a blessing that I have yet to fully
let sink in.


I’m taking part in the Sundance Fellowship because… 

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, really. Any opportunity to
dive into so much potential discovery would be a given even if it didn’t come
with the extra benefit of writing and being published by name websites.  

What unique perspective do you bring to the
world of criticism?

Well, the foundation of my film love is pretty odd. As a kid,
I was mostly watching Disney cartoons and Bollywood musicals. I quickly
discovered and became obsessed with Iranian movies, many of which were geared
towards children, and I eventually got into more queer and exploitation films in
my more formative teen years. So whatever voice I bring to my writing is
probably born out of that hodgepodge of different influences that informed my
cinematic education.

Sterlin Johnson


Age:
 21

Twitter handle: @SajeTheGhost

Home: Chicago, Illinois

Area of cinematic expertise: Directing, screenwriting, producing.

Best movie you saw in 2014: “Selma,” “Birdman”

Sundance movie you’re most looking forward to (and why)

I can’t wait for “Dope.”  I’ve been a fan of Rick Famuyiwa’s work for a very long time, and I’m
excited to see his return to Sundance. With an emphasis on positive
representation of the African American community, I’m excited to see how
audiences react. While films with black casts might not draw a diverse
audience, Famuyiwa has made strides to incorporate themes and messages
that are universal. Plus directing a film set in the city he grew up in
too (Inglewood, California) gives his film a really personal touch as
well. Plus, the film was produced by the same production company that
released “Fruitvale Station” a few years back, which was one of my favorite films of the year. 

What
role did Roger Ebert play in your desire to become a critic? 

Being a
native Chicagoans, my family and I basically worshipped Roger Ebert.
Ebert and Richard Roeper were my go-to critics, and watching their show
with my parents when I was a kid helped me understand what made films
great, and what didn’t. My parents would even have intense discussions
after his reviews. When I got older, I would read his top 10 lists to
know which films I had to see. He was incredibly influential on my film
viewings, and I still find myself going back to his reviews when I watch
films.

I’m
taking part in the Sundance Fellowship because…

As a filmmaker, I’ve
dreamed about showing one of my films at the Sundance Film Festival.
There is so much history that has been made at the festival. So many
successful films and filmmakers made their start here, and being able to
see it from the other side might prove to be inspirational and
educational. Plus, with all the opportunities to meet and learn about
the filmmakers, its truly a one-of-a-kind experience. The
films that are shown are made with passion and intelligence, and focus
on the storytelling rather than trying to sell a ticket.

What unique perspective do you bring to the world of criticism?

As
a film student, I spend a lot of time studying about what makes a film
work technically and effectively. With my knowledge of cinema art and
science, I’m able to critique a film with more depth and detail than a
film critic who hasn’t had experience working in the film industry. I’m
also an advocate for diversity and proper representation within a film, a
subject that is often overlooked by film critics.

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