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Meet the Indiewire | Sundance Institute Film Criticism Fellows for 2014

Meet the Indiewire/Sundance Institute Film Criticism Fellows for 2014

Sundance prides itself on discovering new talent, so it’s fitting that this year the Sundance Institute and Indiewire have joined forces to present the Indiewire | Sundance Institute Fellowship for Film Criticism, which brings six aspiring writers to Park City under the auspices of the Roger Ebert Scholarship for Film Criticism. Over the next eleven days, you’ll be seeing their work on Indiewire and RogerEbert.com as well as here on Criticwire, where they’ll be profiling established critics who have generously agreed to act as mentors. Before Sundance gets underway tonight, though, take a moment to get to know the fellows. You can also follow them on Twitter via this list, and while you’re at it, subscribe to Criticwire’s list of critics attending this year’s festival for the very latest in festival buzz.

The 2014 Indiewire | Sundance Institute Fellowship Survey: 

Name: Mary Sollosi

Age: 23

Twitter handle: @missollosi

Home: Fairfax, VA

Area of cinematic expertise: literary adaptations

Best movie you saw in 2013: Frances Ha, Inside Llewyn Davis

Sundance movie you’re most looking forward to: God Help the Girl, Low Down, Happy Christmas

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

I am inspired by his genuine and unpretentious love of cinema. He didn’t watch movies looking to tear them apart; he watched them looking to feel something.

I’m taking part in the Sundance Fellowship because… 

Why wouldn’t I?! Of course I’m thrilled to get the chance to watch all the awesome movies that are here this year, but this is also such an amazing opportunity to really engage with film culture at one of its biggest and most exciting events. 

What unique perspective do you bring to the world of criticism? I’m terribly romantic about movies. I just believe in them. 

Name: Carlos Aguilar

Age: 24

Twitter handle: @Carlos_Film

Home: Los Angeles (originally from Mexico City)

Area of cinematic expertise: I have a particular affinity for World Cinema because these films allow the viewer to be immersed in the stories that are important to filmmakers around the globe. In the same manner, I’m inspired by how American independent films repeatedly show that the story is the stellar element of a film, one that can surpass the constraints of small budgets.

Best movie you saw in 2013: I’m conflicted between Farhadi’s outstanding drama The Past, Abdellatif Kechiche’s tumultuous love story Blue Is the Warmest Color, and Richard Linklater’s outstanding Before Midnight.

Sundance movie you’re most looking forward to: It would definitely have to be Mike Cahill’s I Origins. His debut a few years back, Another Earth, brought a refreshing blend of drama and science fiction that I find particularly fascinating.

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

Throughout his extensive career Mr. Ebert critiqued each film with an understanding of the context in which it was created and taking into account its target audience. That is what I consider the key to being objective when judging the quality of something so intricate as a film. For example, one cannot compare the achievement of an intimate foreign drama that is embedded with that nation’s idiosyncrasy to the parade of visual effects of blockbusters, as they are inherently artistically different. Mr. Ebert managed to conjure up reviews that look at films for what they individually set out to be, while still observing their unique contribution to the medium as a whole. Such lucidity and tact has always inspired me.

I’m taking part in the Sundance Fellowship because… 

Simply there is nothing more fulfilling to me than the ripples a film can create on a person’s mind and the dialogues they create. These audiovisual and intangible works of art form part of the collective memory of a world that is now more connected than ever by the images that we consider to be important. Film criticism is part of a cycle that begins while the writer types away the pages of a script, and which is begins again every time audiences create their own opinions. Being chosen for this fellowship gives immense validation to my writing, and grants me a chance that where you come from is not as important as where you want to be.

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

Film criticism is one of those careers that have no clear path to succeed in, which can be both frightening and full of possibilities. Lacking a college degree from a renowned institution, I believe that my biggest asset is an immeasurable passion and an ever-renewing capability to be amused by the beauty of film. What I can bring to the world of criticism is an outsider’s perspective, and my testimony that is dedication more than pedigree that can lead to a fulfilling career even in something as volatile as the film industry. 

Name: Emma Myers

Twitter handle: @myers_e

Home: Brooklyn, New York

Best movie you saw in 2013: Spring Breakers / The Act of Killing / Blue Is the Warmest Color

Sundance movie you’re most looking forward to: Boyhood / The Trip to Italy

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

Mr. Ebert made me aware that writing about film was a viable career option and not just a hobby.

I’m taking part in the Sundance Fellowship because….

Film culture is located not merely in films themselves but rather in the discussion that surrounds them. I am here to take part in that discussion, to soak up as much as possible from this year’s robust program of Independent Cinema.

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

A writer cannot separate herself from her writing. As Godard commented in a 1996 interview with Film Comment, “The one who describes is part of the description.” My unique perspective is simply my perspective: the way I see a film as filtered through my own subjective experience. I can only hope to translate that experience honestly, without feigning objective authority.

Name: Robert Cameron Fowler

Age: 23

Twitter handle/blog: @RobCamFowler / Robertcameronfowler.com

Home: I hail from the town of Herndon in Fairfax County, just a half hour drive from Washington D.C.

Area of cinematic expertise: My interest in cinema is voracious and constantly expanding, so it’s difficult to designate an area of expertise for myself. I can love, appreciate and dislike a film from any genre, language or era. What I gravitate towards are films where the characters are rendered through smart, economic detail. I also am a nut for directors — films with a strong directorial vision always have my attention. In terms of sheer knowledge, I’m like Rain Man when it comes to the Oscars — trivia I picked up when I was 14 and figured they were a good source to discover great films from the past. I have a sterling record for recall when it comes to winners that span back to the ’30s — it’s a fun party trick.

Best movie you saw in 2013: It’s been an exceptional year, so narrowing it all down to a single film seems like a fool’s errand. “2 Years a Slave was a masterpiece, jettisoning the sermonizing and saintly white condescension that hindered previous films about slavery. Instead, it was bracingly human, which was all McQueen and scribe John Ridley needed to evoke the poison of that institution. That movie bruised my heart. I also think that The Wolf of Wall Street will be reevaluated in years to come as the tremendous entry in the Scorsese canon that it is. I also adore Short Term 12, where the characters were so gorgeously drawn I was left yearning desperately to spend more time with them.

Sundance film I’m most looking forward to: I was stunned by The Raid: Redemption when it came flailing into my life with its lethal swagger, so I am very excited to see how Gareth Evans and co. will expand upon it with The Raid 2. I am also very eager to see Whiplash, The Better Angels and Dear White People, if only because they have some mighty enticing log lines.

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

I think Roger Ebert demonstrated better than anyone that a critic could have a deeply personal, authorial voice when discussing film. You always heard him in his writing. I still have his book Alone in the Dark nestled amongst a stack of books at my bedside table. When you flip through that collection of reviews and essays, you feel the irrepressible enthusiasm of someone who loves movies with every ounce of his being. I think he taught me that being a critic is artistic expression in and of itself.

I’m taking part in the Sundance Fellowship because…

It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. The chance to be surrounded by like-minded people who celebrate the same things that fill your head moment-to-moment is a blessing. I want to grow amongst their company, to learn and become a better writer through osmosis. The chance to watch a bevy of great movies doesn’t hurt, either.

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

I haven’t had a conventional life. I’ve always looked at things askew, which was burdensome when I was younger but has become a nifty trait. Having an idea for unconventional detail is always useful for film criticism. I grew up ping-ponging back and forth from the United States and the Middle Eastern countries of Oman, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. That cultural crisscross most likely manifests itself in ways that I don’t even perceive, but it nonetheless comes across in my writing, my opinions, etc. I genuinely believe great film can inspire great written analysis, which itself is literature. I think that comes through in my reviews.

Name: Katie Kilkenny

Age: 21

Twitter handle: @katiekilkenny7

Home: Hanover, NH

Area of cinematic expertise: 

My friends would say anything depressing. In all seriousness, British kitchen-sink dramas, French and American coming-of-age stories, and Irish film have all been topics I’ve plumbed in depth in the past few years. At the moment documentary is a focus for me, as whatever rules it lives by are still being written, which is very exciting.

Best movie you saw in 2013: 

Can I say three? Under the Skin, Blue is the Warmest Color, and The Hunt were all films that blew me away unexpectedly this year.

Sundance movie you’re most looking forward to: 

I can’t wait to review John Michael McDonagh’s Cavalry, because I’m eager to see how his voice has grown since 2011’s The Guard. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter and Frank — if only to see how Michael Fassbender’s performance will change with a mask obscuring his visage — are also on my list of must-sees.

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

Around 2011 when all the Borders were closing, I was rummaging through the rubble in the Film & Theatre section of my local store when I stumbled upon Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies series. Because I lived on the East Coast and read primarily A.O. Scott or David Denby, this was my first exposure to his work. The clarion voice, the clear passion for cinema’s history, the playful tone — all of it appealed to me. Whether I agreed with his views on a particular film or not, I logged those titles in my mind like it was the reading list of classics in Roald Dahl’s Mathilda. Because when you see films, solidify your perspective, then read Roger Ebert’s take on it, it is like you are having a conversation with a very sharp and eloquent friend. I began to crave those conversations all the time, which spurred me to write my own criticism and seek out film artist and thinkers in journalism. What I most admire in Roger’s work, however, is his advocacy for the films that have yet to be canonized. My one (real) exchange with Roger was when he Tweeted a post I wrote for a Slate blog on a professor who was withholding Mark Rappaport’s rare films in support of Rappaport. That’s who he was. He used his voice for the good of those who didn’t have that influence yet.

I’m taking part in the Sundance Fellowship because…. 

To discover all the films and filmmakers I might never get to see otherwise, to contribute to the festival hulabaloo over the next great thing in my writing, to meet filmmakers and have heated discussions with people as crazy as I am about the movies, it’s a dream come true. I’m eager to experience the life of a working critic, which has been a professional aspiration for a long time–not to mention at one of the most exciting and important festivals in the world. Though I could, I won’t go on.

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

To me, film is a unique point of contact in the current environment. In addition to embodying all those reasons why we go to the movies, the entertainment and the wonder of light playing across a screen as it plays with our emotions, cinema is a door to talk about ideas and topics important to our contemporary world. But in the age of VOD and footage everywhere, it’s become very difficult to choose what, and whom, to watch. I’m always looking to highlight the voices and stories that can mobilize contemporary conversation, and reflect on our collective viewing habits. I’m not just seeking the next cultural zeitgeist, however: I also appreciate the simple ability of films to tell a great story.

Name:  Kyle

Age:  23

Twitter handle/personal blog: @KyleBurton9106 / nextprojection.com/author/Kyle-Burton/

Home: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Area of cinematic expertise: 

I love human
storytelling. Where form is important only insofar as the characters — the
people — are at the forefront. This may seem like something rather ubiquitous.
Strangely, it’s really not. That’s why to me these sorts of movies are special.
That’s why I find joy in unpacking them. Not coincidentally, each film below is
a marquee testament to the brand.

Best movie you saw in 2013: 

There’s a top tier of
four movies that send me into a Patrick Star-like stupor when I try to get any
narrower. Those four: 12 Years a Slave,
The Act of Killing, Gravity, and Her.

Sundance movie you’re most looking
forward to: 

Holy cow. This is almost
self-sabotage. There are so many actors and filmmakers I’m looking forward to
seeing in action — some of whom I’ll be talking with at some point. So I’m not
cheating again: Low Down.

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

Almost the entire one. I’ve
only in the last couple years acknowledged or explored a world of film
criticism outside of his Sun-Times column. Certainly it’s a big, wonderful
world, but when a man can so easily convince you to immediately see Knowing (despite the best attempts of
your Nic Cagedar), you know there’s a rich writer-reader relationship at work.

I’m taking part in the Sundance
Fellowship because….

I received an email whose
subject line was “Acceptance to Indiewire | Sundance Institute Fellowship.” The
films, the people, the abundance of opportunity — it’s surreal.

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

I believe film criticism is as essential to the moviegoing
experience as sitting in that theater seat. Critics aren’t here to simply tout,
admonish, or shrug off films. We’re not fanboys. There’s an art to capturing in
words, with a keen eye, what it feels like to watch a particular film, and to
intelligently articulate why we feel that way. I do what I can to bring that to
my writing. It’s a duty, if we call ourselves critics.

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