Edinburgh Film Festival is offering more than a dozen press mentorships for UK students aged 18-26, and two for students in Poland. With a chance to be published, and mentored by professional critics, it’s worth taking stock on why there’s never been a better time to try your hand at film reviewing.
Firstly, the great thing about film criticism, is that you don’t actually need any sort of qualification — if you can write with a coherent narrative structure and break down elements piece by piece, then congratulations, you can critique film.
Secondly, the old school holy grail of movie criticism: ‘objectivity’ — supposedly separating your own personal baggage while assessing a film ‘on its own merits’ has broken down hard and fast, opening up movie criticism beyond a small elite gatekeeping its own exclusivity. And too right, such analysis risks avoiding why a film might connect with an audience.
The success of Black Panther is the biggest indicator of the changing nature of movie criticism (and why and where you come in). Assessed ‘objectively’ (i.e., without context) a critic might simply consider Black Panther a well-assembled super hero film. But there are also so many groundbreaking elements that could be assessed from any angle: the cultural context, the championing of Afrofuturism, the historical parallels of the ideological approaches of its characters, the stunning costume and sound design … . Assessed without perspective or context, you get none of this.
Such angles and contexts make your viewing experience relative, but give you your own insights. Be aware and willing to discuss them. A challenged mother-daughter relationship might mean you connect more profoundly with Lady Bird than another similar film. So acknowledge and write about it. Or conversely, a similar father-son relationship might mean you have a profoundly different experience in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Use that to make your review nuanced and context driven.
The proliferation of new media has also made movie criticism far less exclusive. In addition to a scale or binary of whether a film is worth your time, comes discipline-specific and deep-dive analysis of cinematography, sound, script, set design, and so on.
Point is, as long as you can write, and justify a point, then film criticism is well worth a crack. Regardless of what you know: music, history, English, politics, identity, religion, science, engineering, design, take your viewpoint and use it. Try and work out the other angles from which a film can be seen, and discuss them. Talk about the setting, the production, use a numerical scale, or binary yea or nay, or use none of them.
Disclaimer: I don’t actually know on what merits entries will be assessed, they may like pure objectivism.
Lastly, and another fine reason to give criticism a crack: there are just so damn many movies. Some will make it to wide release and promotion, many will not. Hearing a well-formulated argument of why a film is good will frequently lead people to check out films they never would have dreamed of seeing, be they festival gems fallen by the wayside, indie darlings, entertaining popcorn films, or Kurdish neo-Western dramas (My Sweet Pepper Land, well worth your time).
Some analytical examples, perhaps for inspiration:
‘Kubo and the Two String’s make very little attempt to hide their handcrafted artificial origins, which turns even the subtlest scene into a jaw-dropping spectacle of sheer human effort’. — MovieBob.
‘Whoever cast Street Fighter is a genius. Guile, who is an all-American Top Gun cast-off, is played by the conspicuously Belgian Jean-Claude Van Damme; which instantly transforms this into a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. And I bloody love Jean-Claude Van Damme movies’. — Andy Farrant, Outsidexbox.
‘Star Trek: Into Darkness criminally misuses its special effects budget: turning an epic sci-fi drama into a fest of samey explosions and urban destruction’. — Me, just then.
Be coherent, justify every point, have a narrative flow, be objective or not, and get cracking.