OPEN MIC: Carnival Barking, or the Art of Reviewing Films

Will Stephenson—film student, columnist, curator, radio host and friend of GFI—looks at SOUL OF SAND and his own process for critiquing films

As an amateur critic and programmer based in Athens, Georgia, I spend a lot of time arguing the merits of films that many readers and viewers are otherwise just as happy ignoring, like stop-motion animation from the Czech Republic or 1940s zombie movies based on Jane Eyre. This is almost always rewarding and sometimes shockingly easy, as the greatness and/or strangeness of the objects can often speak for themselves, in which cases my job (which I feel lucky to have, even at an unprofessional level) consists of something like carnival barking.

But in writing about new art-house releases or curating a series with no readymade theme, the challenge (and appeal) generally involves attempting to dispel certain preconceptions about genres, national cinemas, and canons—all of which begin as useful classifications or critical tools, but can very easily lead to a disheartening reduction in the types of films people see and the ways they relate to them. The best critics work to collapse tired categories and oversimplifications, contesting and expanding our received notions about the medium. They surprise us, basically. And not to lapse into boosterism, but this is also a way of describing the Global Film Initiative’s objective, and it’s why I’ve enjoyed interning here. The films we distribute are difficult in that

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