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J. Hoberman Discusses Village Voice Layoff: “It’s like slicing salami. They just keep laying people off.”

J. Hoberman Discusses Village Voice Layoff: "It's like slicing salami. They just keep laying people off."

In a phone conversation with Indiewire this morning, Hoberman said he knew yesterday’s layoff was coming.

Village Voice film editor Alison Benedikt alerted Hoberman to the decision before he was called into a meeting with the paper’s editor-in-chief, Tony Ortega. A union representative was also present for the meeting and involved in the discussions, but the exchange was brief. Hoberman said Ortega “sort of signaled that he had to do this, but he’s a company guy, so he’s not going to say anything bad about the owners.”

That would be Village Voice Media, the Phoenix-based alt-weekly syndicate presumably involved in the decision to let Hoberman go. The critic says he figured the layoff might happen at some point, but the timing caught him off guard since previous Voice layoffs have taken place ahead of the new year. He speculated that the decision was made during that time, but the Voice waited until January in order to keep Hoberman involved in the Voice’s year-end film package.

“I did get a funny vibe from Ortega in December,” Hoberman said. “It’s like slicing salami. They just keep laying people off.”

Hoberman also added to speculation that, while his former employers may have grown used to the negative publicity from layoffs, indie distributors may still pull advertisements from the paper in protest. “That could really happen,” he said. “I’m certainly friendly enough with the distributors who handle the display ads for movies. I know this will be a concern for them.”

Still, Hoberman repeated the satisfaction expressed in his letter about the last films he wrote about for the Voice: Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” and “Seeking the Monkey King,” an experimental film made by his former professor, Ken Jacobs. “It was better than bashing Steven Spielberg again,” he joked. He was looking forward to reviewing a number of upcoming releases, including “Miss Bala,” “The Turin Horse” and “Haywire.”

For now, Hoberman has plenty to keep him busy. One book, entitled “Film After Film” and based on an article he wrote for Artforum, is scheduled to come out in June. He’s also scheduled to teach a course at Cooper Union this semester and says he would like to teach more. He confessed, somewhat sheepishly, to following the tweets of past and present students reacting to yesterday’s news. “That was really great,” he said. “It was a trending topic.”

Hoberman taught film criticism at NYU on three occasions, the last time being a 2008 course. “It got sadder,” he said. During the third go-around, “I felt really bad,” he added. “It was just a profession with very little in the way of opportunities.”

Despite a career that shows no sign of slowing down, Hoberman included himself in that assessment. “I have to let the dust settle,” he said, “but it’s highly unlikely that I’ll get another gig like this.”

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