Nurturing the Craft of Film Critiquing at the MAMI Young Critics Lab
The Young Critics Lab, an initiative by Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, is a learning platform that aims to create value in terms of film criticism. Each year, the lab calls for young aspiring film critics from different colleges. Out of the thousands of entries received, only a handful get the chance to understand the nitty-gritty of film writing & critiquing. This year, the workshop has gone pan India and has gathered a huge response from fresh talents.
On the occasion of the recently concluded two-day workshop, we spoke with Mr. Baradwaj Rangan, Chief Consultant – Programming and Mentor at MAMI, and Smriti Kiran, Creative Director, MAMI, to understand the functioning of the Young Critics Lab and to discuss the possibilities of an Indian school of film criticism.
Below are the excerpts:
Baradwaj Rangan, Chief Consultant – Programming and Mentor, MAMI
What are the key factors that contribute to the holistic development of film journalists?
The key thing for any journalist is to be open towards any kind of film and to have an interest in all kinds of films. They should know about film history. One cannot just walk into a theatre without any kind of knowledge about the history of films and say, “Okay, I want to review this film.” Proper knowledge and a right approach are the pre-requisites of a film journalist.
How does the Lab aim to create a growth curve for its line of critics?
We are trying to expose young people to certain sensibilities. We want the young critics to learn about the rigor, the craft and to understand the line of work. You have to watch the film on a Friday and give a review on the same day. Hence, it becomes very important to understand the scope of a critic’s work, what is being written about films across the globe and, how people bring their own personality to the basic structure of film writing. Your review will stand out only when your voice is different from other people’s voices. So, we try to tell the young critics to bring their own style into the already set writing structures.
The rawness of the writers will never fade away. Their instinctive response will always be there
How does the Lab bridge the gap between learning, development and execution?
We give them (participants) material like essays and other things so as to prepare them. They’re then taken through the process and are told about what and how it needs to be done. Tomorrow, when they write a review of their own, they won’t face any hurdles because the training and application will stay with them.
Earlier, noted film critics like Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian, have mentored the budding critics at the workshop. This year, Time magazine’s Stephanie Zacharek has been invited as the mentor. What is Stephanie expected to bring to the table?
The way in which people in the West view films is very different from the Indian system of film critiquing. So, she will bring her knowledge and sensibilities to the Lab and will explain how things are done on an international platform or what are the things that she looks for in a film. Accordingly, she will impart her skills to the writers.
It often happens that a mentee gets influenced by the powerful aura and the resultant opinions of the mentor. Since film writing or the art of critiquing is a matter of individual opinion, how does the lab plan to safeguard the rawness of its young critics?
The influence happens anyway. You read someone’s works and you’re so enamored by their craft that you want to become like them. Having said that, a style develops when you read five different people, pick five different things from them and make your own thing out of those five. So, the rawness of the writers will never fade away. Their instinctive response will always be there.
The workshop will only teach them as to what they need to look for in a film and to be honest about it. For example, if a film talks about feminism, it doesn’t automatically become a great film. It needs to be backed by strong content to let the message spread across.
Your review will stand out only when your voice is different from other people’s voices
A lot of film writers use the storytelling technique to critique films. Will the Lab emphasize on this aspect of critiquing?
The Lab is solely about film criticism, it tells the aspiring critics about the nuances. Writing style is something that will organically grow over a period of time. We are taking them through important reviews so they know how to construct one and go about it. So, the budding critics are introduced to the basics of the craft. Writing style is something that will evolve with the advancement of time and experience.
Smriti Kiran, Creative Director, MAMI
Over the years, how has the Young Critics Lab changed, what different is it offering from last year?
Earlier, the Young Critics Lab used to happen just two days before the festival. The aspiring critics or film writers used to carry on their writing and navigate the festival and were finally given an award. So, when we (the mentors and directors of MAMI) came on board, we felt really strongly about nurturing a community of writers on film and critiquing. We saw the Young Critics Lab as a wonderful platform for creating value for people who are really interested in pursuing writing on films. I’m a believer of the deepest form of learning. An academic curriculum cannot teach you everything. Of course, it can give you a primer, but it can’t cover everything, or clear doubts or help in understanding all themes when you’re about to embark on a journey of learning & application.
So, the first thing that we did was to extend these two days of workshop to six and we separated them from each other by organizing 2 days of workshop each in August, September and just before the festival in October. We started by giving writing assignments to the people who came and marked their progress. The general assumption of any writing workshop is that you already know writing and you enhance or hone your skills. That is not our approach to the workshop at all. We help the writers discover their writing styles. The idea is not to tell anybody if they’re wrong or right but to tell them about different perspectives and to may be amalgamate them in order to bring out new perspectives. We also started inviting international mentors so as to give the young critics an idea of how it’s done in the West. Also, from next year we will make the MAMI Young Critics Lab, a year round workshop.
What’s the process behind the selection of a mentor for the Lab each year?
We look at international standout names that have a great body of work. We also look at their working knowledge of Indian cinema. There is so much work that we (the Indian critics) do with Western films and their processing, therefore, it becomes very important to understand how they (the critics in the West) are viewing films and what the world view is. You will be surprised that the muscle is the same, only difference is that of language.
The idea is not to tell anybody if they’re wrong or right but to tell them about different perspectives and to may be amalgamate them in order to bring out new perspectives
How important is it to mould these young minds at an early stage and help them understand the nuances of critically appreciating films?
In the Indian film ecosystem dominated by celebrity gossip, writing has been lost. The environment itself is not inspiring enough for impressionable minds. If you’re writing then you need to respect the craft itself. The formative years of writers define their approach to the job and so, it becomes very important to unlock imaginations to tell them how great writers like Pauline Kael or Roger Ebert view the cinema and how beautifully different are their opinions. It doesn’t change your style but, it plants a seed to ponder over.