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Meet the NYFF Critics Academy Class of 2015

Meet the NYFF Critics Academy Class of 2015

The New York Film Festival Critics Academy, produced by Indiewire in partnership with Film Comment the Film Society of Lincoln Center, gives a select group of emerging writers a chance to see some of the world’s greatest films and learn from some of its greatest critics. You’ll be reading their work on the NYFF lineup, which includes such hotly anticipated titled as Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” and Don Cheadle’s “Miles Ahead,” in the weeks to come, but for now, let’s get to know them a bit.

Name: Elissa Suh

Age: 26

Twitter handle: @oddbarnacles

Home: Upper Hudson Valley

Cinematic area of expertise: Partial to American Independent, movies where “nothing” happens, movies replete with talk, New Waves of Korea and Japan.

Best movie you’ve seen in 2015: “Phoenix”

Movie you’re most looking forward to at NYFF: Heavyweights “Carol” and “The Assassin”; “Right Now, Wrong Then” for the delicate thrill of Hong Sang-Soo.

Favorite writing about film: J. Hoberman’s report on the NYFF, 1968.

I’m taking part in the NYFF Critics Academy... To engage in conversation about film and gain insight from industry professionals. 

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

An interest in poetry and literature; an embrace on not only what is said, but how. Writing should stand on the merits of its prose in the attempt to extend that ineffable cinematic experience.

Demitra Kampakis

Age: 24

Twitter handle: @Demionfilm

Home: Queens, NY

Cinematic area of expertise: Though I wouldn’t consider myself an expert, I’m most drawn to European art-house, contemporary American independent and queer cinema, art-house horror, John Waters and Steve McQueen, and pretty much any auteur-driven fare that explores character psychology through a rich visual tapestry. And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my obsession with Scorsese, particularly his earlier work with DeNiro.

Best movie you’ve seen in 2015: “Force Majeure”, though “It Follows” is a close second.

Movie you’re most looking forward to at NYFF: It’s a toss-up between “Carol” and “The Lobster,” because I love Yorgos Lanthimos’ affinity for the absurd.

Favorite writing about film: “Scorsese” by Roger Ebert (anything by Ebert, really). I also really enjoyed David Sims’ recent piece in The Atlantic titled “Was Goodfellas the Last Truly Great Mobster Film?”, as well as David Gary’s “Saving the Scream Queens” piece in The Atlantic on the cultural value of preserving “trash” VHS and cult fare.

I’m taking part in the NYFF Critics Academy because… The Critic’s Academy is a rare and invaluable opportunity to navigate the rigorous, deadline-driven demands of festival coverage while under the mentorship of esteemed critics for whom I admire and respect tremendously. Film criticism, like cinema, is both an art and a way of life—and the NYFF Critics Academy would be the ideal environment to entrench myself in the festival’s artistry and culture amongst fellow aspiring critics, while refining my writing skills under the tutelage of some of the best minds in film criticism today.

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

I’m always fascinated and humbled by cinema’s uncanny ability to reflect the human condition in ways that challenge, educate, inspire, provoke and liberate us as viewers. The films that often strike a chord with me are ones that examine existential ennui, or life’s prosaic minutiae with a faithful attention to idiosyncratic detail—and I hope to relay that philosophical passion through my writing and festival coverage. Aside from the virtues of empathy, my science background has also cultivated an appreciation for films with cerebral sensibilities. Whether it’s an exercise in experimentalism, Lynch-ian surrealism, or sensory stimulation, I love any film that can confound me by subverting narrative and structural convention—Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Dogtooth” and the fourth-wall breaking provocation of Haneke’s 2007 “Funny Games” are two stellar examples. In that respect, in my coverage of last year’s festival I wrote a piece analyzing the different ways in which sonic sensory stimulation is achieved throughout “Eden” and “Whiplash,” and my review of Xavier Dolan’s Mommy similarly focused on that film’s indulgent stylization and histrionics.
Name: Conrado Falco

Age: 23

Twitter handle: @CocoHitsNewYork

Home: New York, NY

Cinematic area of expertise: Children’s movies and animation. 

Best movie you’ve seen in 2015: “World of Tomorrow” and “Mistress America”

Movie you’re most looking forward to at NYFF: “Carol”

Favorite writing about film: Tim Brayton’s reviews at Antagony & Ecstasy (particularly his writing on Disney’s animated movies). 

I’m taking part in the NYFF Critics Academy because… I love film, talking about film, and am trying to get better at writing about film. 

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

I have a huge interest in looking at film from an educational perspective. Since film played such a big role in my formative years, I’m constantly trying to analyze how movies aimed at children are influencing future generations. I seldom get more excited than when I find a great film aimed at children. One of my most recent bursts of excitement came when I watch Cartoon Network’s animated miniseries “Over the Garden Wall.” I also come from a theatrical background, and am interested in the use of more theatrical or unrealistic elements in film. Suspension of disbelief is essential in any theatrical experience, and I like to find movies that are not confined to the conventions of realism. 

Name: Phuong Le

Age: 20

Twitter handle: @smallnartless

Home: Hanoi, Vietnam

Cinematic area of expertise: French cinema, 1960s new waves, gender studies

Best movie you’ve seen in 2015: “Clouds of Sils Maria”

Movie you’re most looking forward to at NYFF: “Carol,” “Heart of a Dog”

Favorite writing about film: “What is Cinema?” by André Bazin, “Hitchcock/Truffaut.”

I’m taking part in the NYFF Critics Academy because… It is such a multifaceted learning experience, from getting to know other aspiring film critics to meeting with writers whose works I’ve loved over the years. Film festivals are also where I can really get a sense of film criticism as a constantly evolving community. I’ve never been to NYFF before so every aspect of it has been fascinating to me, even sitting in a darkened theater for hours of press screenings.

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

I am very intense about what I like, so I have a tendency to go into research whenever I become interested in something. This habit of absorbing every project put out by a particular filmmaker/writer/performer etc. leads to a kind of specific knowledge of works that might be considered canonically insignificant. My eclectic frame of references heavily informs my writings with topics ranging from David Bowie to John Cassavetes.

Name: Phil Falino

Age: 22

Twitter handle: @PhilipFalino

Home: Nassau County, NY

Cinematic area of expertise: I have many areas of interest; few of expertise. Passionate fascination keeps me returning to Poetic Realism, the New Wave, and Italian Cinema in the 1960s.

Best movie you’ve seen in 2015: “Güeros”/”The Testament of Dr. Mabuse”

Movie you’re most looking forward to at NYFF: “The Forbidden Room”

Favorite writing about film: Farber on Film, The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber. Edited by Robert Polito.

I’m taking part in the NYFF Critics Academy because… I believe in the interdisciplinary, world-encapsulating potential of movies, and The New York Film Festival is the ideal forum to celebrate their expansive power. The festival is committed to quality programming and is unafraid of taking risks and challenging its audiences, resisting the transient luster of popularity and topicality. To write about its ambitious and diverse lineup, I believe a similarly varied approach is necessary. My ambition in confronting this year’s films is to bring my fullest knowledge of the world to bear — from fine art, history, politics, philosophy, music, and personal engagement — in order to rise to their challenge.

Name: Rodney Uhler

Twitter handle: @RodneyUhler


Cinematic area of expertise: Contemporary French, Animation, Short Films

Best movie you’ve seen in 2015: “Anomalisa”

Movie you’re most looking forward to at NYFF: “The Lobster”

Favorite writing about film: Altman by Kathryn Reed Altman & Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan

I’m taking part in the NYFF Critics Academy because… You often hear how competitive and insular the world of film criticism can be, so a program designed to foster and encourage the art form is truly a rare and special opportunity, let aloneone run by those working at the top of the industry. 

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

I’ve been a film programmer for nearly seven years, which requires an astute knowledge of the industry as well as a unique understanding of films and how they resonate with audiences. There’s a rich history of film programmers who also work in criticism — NYFF’s Kent Jones included — so I have a lot of people to looks towards in regards to using one role to inform the other, but I’m eager to learn from those in order to shape my own voice.  

Name: Nick Usen

Age: 22

Twitter handle: @nickusen

Home: Lower East Side

Cinematic area of expertise: The horror & thriller sections of Blockbuster circa 1999

Best movie you’ve seen in 2015: “Army of Shadows” at Film Forum. Among current releases, I am quite enamored with “Sicario.”

Movie you’re most looking forward to at NYFF: I’m a sucker for Spielberg and espionage films in general so I cannot deny my unabashed excitement for “Bridge of Spies.” I’m also feeling #blessed that I get to see “Carol.”

Favorite writing about film: “Film After Film: Or, What Became of 21st Century Cinema” by J. Hoberman is not only a massive influence on how I watch movies, but it also caused me to consider how the film industry has and continued to function in a post 9/11 digital age. I also want to shout out The Critical Press for providing a great platform to a variety of new voices.

I’m taking part in the NYFF Critics Academy because… It’s allowing me to hone my critical voice in a nurturing yet professional environment. I’ve been given the opportunity to have my writing featured on some of the most prestigious sites and publications covering cinema – the onus is now on me to prove that it belongs there.

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

In the dangerous age of hot takes and retweets it often feels like the prevailing mentality among the cinematically inclined is that if you want your voice heard and considered by the masses – or at least your Timeline – then you must take an immediate and definitive stance on every film that you see. This is detrimental as viewers because we’re denying ourselves a chance to marinate in a film’s cinematic juices. It’s also causing critical discussion to move at lightspeed – if you don’t see a hyped release on opening day, congratulations: you’ve missed the last chopper out of Saigon. My hope is that my writing is not a definitive stance, but instead functions as a dialogue between myself, a film, and the readers. Though I feel very strongly about my personal opinions, I’m well aware that cinema is a deeply personal medium for artists and viewers alike. My hope is that readers feel challenged and engaged by my writing, but never lectured to.

Name: Katherine Nero

Twitter handle: @CinemaNero

Home: New York, NY

Cinematic area of expertise: Writing and directing

Best movie you’ve seen in 2015: “Listen to Me Marlon” is my favorite so far. Really looking forward to “Spectre” and “Star Wars VII”!

Movie you’re most looking forward to at NYFF: “Where to Invade Next,” “Miles Ahead.”

Favorite writing about film: “The Shadow and the Act” by Ralph Ellison

I’m taking part in the NYFF Critics Academy because… writing is often solitary and is sometimes lonely. The Critics Academy removes the sense of isolation by providing an opportunity to meet other writers and share experiences and advice.

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

It’s a given that filmmaking is a collaborative venture; however, I believe that extends to the audience. Audiences are not passive and vulnerable to someone else’s vision. We are empowered by the unique issues and histories we bring to our film viewing experiences. In acknowledging how and why we are affected by the movies we watch, the audience becomes an interactive part of the filmmaking process.

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