Western media students learn what it takes to be a film critic at TIFF
Students are screening independent, international films at the Toronto festival
Western University students are getting a taste of what it takes to be a movie critic at one of the world's largest film festivals in Toronto this week.
Twenty students in Western's PhD Media Studies program are being bussed to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to watch and critique two films a day from Wednesday to Saturday.
Students are expected to see past the glitz and glamour of star-studded red carpet premiers, and engage in complex and imaginative writing through their critiques, said Nataleah Hunter-Young, an assistant professor in the London university's media studies program who spearheaded the project.
"The real objective was to get them to have that experience, to learn that this festival space is open to them as well, that they can play a part in this world," said Hunter-Young.
A major inspiration for bringing the students to the festival came from her hoping to see future critics engage with films in a more creative manner since there is no formal training.
Most of the films that students will be reviewing are from are largely unknown, independent filmmakers from around the world, showcasing diverse stories for students to focus on, said Shawn Cheatham, a graduate student helping to co-ordinate the Film Festival Critics Lab.
"Watching with an enthusiastic crowd that really is engaged and excited is such a different experience for them and they'll have access to things they normally would never get a chance to see," said Cheatham.
They're also getting a behind-the-scenes look at how films land a spot at the festival and get picked up by a distributor thanks to Hunter-Young.
"The film festival world is this kind of hermetically sealed universe to filmmakers. A lot of us want to know how to get our films into big venues like TIFF and it's been really great to have that process broken down," Cheatham said.
The ongoing strike by actors and writers in Hollywood is also going to be touched on to highlight the connections between the makers, the financiers and the labourers who work on set and what the ripple effects could mean for the student's futures in the industry, he said.
A once in a lifetime opportunity
It's a dream come true for Santasil Mallik, an international student from India and a second-year PhD candidate in the program. It gives him the opportunity to share his love of films with people outside of academia by allowing him to write in a more accessible way.
"Having access to such a big festival which is connected on a global scale, attending screenings and getting to know the [film] industry up close is huge for me," said Mallik.
Billie Anderson, a fourth-year student in the program, is looking forward to seeing films that might never be commercially shown again in Canada and is excited to see how her classmates' diverse backgrounds and experiences will impact their critiques.
"We're all going to the same movies so I think it would be really cool to see all of the reviews at the end of this."
No Canadian content on the program
Most of the films the students are set to watch are from foreign filmmakers that are largely unknown in Canada, except among film buffs and festival-goers, Cheatham said.
While there are plenty of Canadian films being showcased, Western didn't choose any because they didn't line up with their scheduling.
"It's just the fact that TIFF has so many films from international filmmakers that we get the treat of seeing things like that," he said.
The films that students are critiquing include:
- Four Daughters by Kaouther Ben Hania (Tunisia) and City of Wind by Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir (Mongolia) on Wednesday.
- Banel & Adama by Ramata-Toulaye Sy (Sahel) and Pictures of Ghosts by Kleber Mendonça Filho (Brazil) on Thursday.
- The Breaking Ice by Anthony Chen (China) and Short Cuts 2023 Programme 05 by a variety of international directors on Friday.
- Smugglers by Ryoo Seung-wan (South Korea) and I Do Not Come To You By Chance by Ishaya Bako (Nigeria) on Saturday.
TIFF wraps up Sunday.
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