By MCN Editor

ILLUMINATING THE SHADOWS: FILM CRITICISM IN FOCUS A three-day conference on the state of film criticism

Block Cinema Presents

April 21-23, 2011

Block Cinema at the Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art (Northwestern University) is pleased to present a three-day conference entitled Illuminating the Shadows: Film Criticism in Focus from April 21-23, 2011.

This conference, comprised of four panel discussions and four screenings, seeks to shed light on the current state of film criticism, connections to past critics and practices, and future trends and opportunities.

An impressive roster of working critics from Chicago and around the U.S. has been assembled to share their expertise and opinions on the ever-shifting nature of film criticism. The participants include visiting critics Scott Foundas (New York), Dave Kehr (New York) Karina Longworth (Los Angeles), Wesley Morris (Boston), Farran Smith Nehme (New York), and Jonathan Rosenbaum (currently Richmond, VA). Local participants include critics, writers, academics, filmmakers, artists, and a radio host, all of whom write or comment on film: Fred Camper, Alison Cuddy, Nick Davis, J.R. Jones, Ben Kenigsberg, Gabe Klinger, Ed M. Koziarski, Michael Phillips, Ray Pride, Ben Sachs, Hank Sartin, Bill Stamets, Scott Tobias, and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky. Biographies for each appear at the end.

Through on-stage discussions and introductions to a slate of critically acclaimed contemporary and archival films, Illuminating the Shadows will provide insight into the role film criticism, and film writing more generally, has in our contemporary, media-saturated cultural life and how critics and writers on film view the work they do.

Dates: Thursday, April 21 through Saturday, April 23, 2011.

Venue: Block Cinema (at the Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University), 40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston, IL

All events in Illuminating the Shadows are free and open to the public.


Illuminating the Shadows: Film Criticism in Focus

Block Cinema
Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art
40 Arts Circle Drive
Northwestern University
Evanston, IL

April 21-23, 2011

Through panel discussions and on-stage conversations with leading film critics and writers from across the U.S. and from Chicago, and complemented by guest-curated screenings, Illuminating the Shadows: Film Criticism in Focus will explore the state of film criticism at a potentially transformative moment. Technology, journalism, criticism, and cinephilia are always in flux, but the present confluence of changes in all these areas impacts the role of the critic and the nature of film criticism to a degree not previously seen.

A distinguished roster of participants from Los Angeles, New York, Boston, and Chicago (but who can all be read nationally and internationally, thanks to the internet) will navigate this new terrain, seeking to shed light on the changes taking place in film criticism today, and how those changes are connected to still-relevant critics and practices of the past. They will also project forward, looking at new opportunities and trends on the horizon. Amidst all the changes one thing does seem clear: lively and intelligent writing and discussion on film is more prevalent than ever, and most of it is just a mouse-click away.

Special support for this program is provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, the Rubens Family Foundation, and the Office of the Provost, Northwestern University.


7:30pm: Film Screening, Tabloid
Selected and Introduced by Michael Phillips
(Errol Morris, 2010, US, 35mm, 87 min.)
“She was living in a movie long before she came to star in my film,” says director Errol Morris of his latest, formidably self-fabulizing subject and the elliptical center of Tabloid. The woman, Joyce McKinney, is a former North Carolina beauty queen who, in 1977, kidnapped her Mormon sweetheart, tied him up, tossed his magic underwear aside, and…end of story? Hardly: As the scandal hit the British tabloids McKinney became the fame machine Fate had in store for her all along. One of Morris’s tightest, most exuberant documentaries, Tabloid finds Morris setting aside the fog of war and the horrors of Abu Ghraib for a different sort of combat–the war for control of a narrative. Michael Phillips. Special advance screening courtesy of IFC Films.


Panel One: Past Perfect – Critical Histories, Seminal Touchstones, and Rediscoveries
This panel will explore how the past intersects with the present and future by looking at earlier practices of film criticism, the legacy and growing influence and importance of particular critics (such as Serge Daney and Manny Farber), and the critic’s role in bringing to light neglected contemporary films or forgotten films from the past.

Nick Davis (Assistant Professor, English and Gender Studies, Northwestern University)

Farran Smith Nehme (Writer, Self-Styled Siren Blog)
Jonathan Rosenbaum (Writer; Visiting Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University)
Fred Camper (Artist; Film Critic)
Dave Kehr (Video Columnist, New York Times)
Gabe Klinger (Film Critic and Journalist; Professor; Curator)

Film Screening: Sailor’s Luck
Selected and introduced by Dave Kehr
(Raoul Walsh, 1933, USA, 35mm, 81 min.)
The playfully salacious and decidedly un-PC pre-Code comedy Sailor’s Luck follows the misadventures of amorous young sailor Jimmy Harrigan (James Dunn). While on shore leave in San Pedro, California, Jimmy meets a young cutie (Sally Eilers) and tries to woo her by entering a dance marathon. Directed by Fox’s rising star, Raoul Walsh, and made before the infamous censorship codes were enforced, the film, with its brazen depiction of ethnic and gay stereotypes, is, as Dave Kehr put it, “the pre-codiest of pre-code movies.” New 35mm print courtesy of Fox.

Panel Two: Present Tense/Future Conditional – The Changing Landscape of Criticism
This panel will explore the current state of film criticism and its possible future. Among the potential topics are: the role of the critic today; changing models of and platforms for criticism; the tension between print and online criticism; the prevalence of amateur or citizen critics; the potential for global reach that the Internet provides; the fragmentation of readership; the role of online and other technical capabilities in expanding or enriching criticism; and the increasing casualness in moving among roles as critic/programmer/maker/advocate/distributor/etc.

Moderator: Scott Foundas (Associate Program Director, Film Society of Lincoln Center)

Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune Film Critic)
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (Film Critic, Mubi; Co-host, Ebert Presents at the Movies)
Karina Longworth (Film Editor at LA Weekly & critic for Village Voice Media)
Wesley Morris (Film Critic, Boston Globe)
Scott Tobias (Film Editor, The A.V. Club)

Film Screening: ATTENBERG
Selected and Introduced by Karina Longworth
(Athina Rachel Tsangari, 2010, Greece, 35mm, 95 min.)
A playful middle-finger to humorless Eurodrama, ATTENBERG is a frank and disarmingly funny contemplation of the strangeness on having a body (so much potential for pleasure; the inevitability of decay and death). Marina (Ariane Labed) is a 20-something virgin whose first affair (with Dogtooth director Yorgos Lanthimos) coincides with her young father/best friend’s dying days. Its title a lost-in-translation scrambling of wildlife documentarian David Attenborough, ATTENBERG incorporates tropes familiar from Lanthimos’ Oscar-nominated sensation—sexual awakening; language play; awkward dancing—but ultimately eschews brutality for poignancy. Director Athina Rachel Tsangari is a major new talent. – Karina Longworth


Panel Three: Critical Voices: Style, Substance, and Scope – The Art of Film Writing
This panel will explore both practical and general topics about film criticism and film writing more broadly. With the inundation of writing about film online and the ability of anyone to participate, what means are there for distinguishing oneself amongst the chatter? Topics may include: defining an audience; determining the scope of one’s writing; the craft of effectively writing on film; working in differing modes (reviews, essays, polemical pieces, etc.); the intersection of criticism and academia; starting out as a writer; and re-tooling to meet new realities.

Hank Sartin (Senior Editor, Time Out Chicago)

Farran Nehme Smith (Writer, Self-Styled Siren Blog)
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (Film Critic, Mubi; Co-host, Ebert Presents at the Movies)
Wesley Morris (Film Critic, Boston Globe)
Scott Foundas (Associate Program Director, Film Society of Lincoln Center)
Jonathan Rosenbaum (Writer; Visiting Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University)

Film Screening: The Forgotten Space
Selected and Introduced by Jonathan Rosenbaum
(Allan Sekula and Noël Burch, 2010, The Netherlands/Austria, DigiBeta, 113 min.)
How many of us know that over 90% of the world’s cargo travels by sea, in anonymous multicolored containers? I’m still learning things from this epic, multifaceted, and ambitious Markeresque essay film about work and concealment in the global economy. It combines the long-term research and analysis of Allan Sekula with the filmmaking experience of Noël Burch to examine the lives of workers in Belgian, Chinese, Dutch, and Pacific American ports—not to mention the alienated experiences of people who attend an art museum in Bilbao, among other related topics. – Jonathan Rosenbaum

On-Stage Roundtable: Criticism in Chicago – A Case Study
Chicago has a rich and eclectic history of film criticism and a unique variety of outlets, including daily and weekly print publications, radio, television, online platforms, and blogs. This informal discussion among a diverse group of critics will cover working in Chicago, the city’s film culture, and the larger issues raised in the panel discussions and how they are manifested locally.

Alison Cuddy (Host, Eight Forty-Eight, WBEZ 91.5 FM)

Andrea Gronvall (Freelance film critic, Chicago ReaderTime Out Chicago,
Christy LeMaster (Contributor, Eight Forty-Eight, WBEZ 91.5 FM; Cine-File; and Director of the Nightingale Theatre)
J. R. Jones (Staff Writer, Chicago Reader)
Ben Kenigsberg (Film Editor, Time Out Chicago)
Ray Pride (Film Critic, Newcity; News Editor,
Ben Sachs (Freelance Film Critic, Chicago Reader, Cine-File Chicago)
Ed M. Koziarski (Filmmaker; Writer, Chicago Reader, Reel Chicago, Time Out Chicago)
Bill Stamets (Freelance Writer, Chicago Sun-TimesNewcity)


Fred Camper has been writing film criticism since his late teens, initially in the form of film society program notes, a number of which were published in film periodicals, such as Film Culture and Cinema (U.K.), beginning in 1968. He published many pieces in theChicago Reader, and has curated and introduced film programs internationally. He has taught at several colleges and universities, has been writing art criticism for several decades, and in the last six years has been making his own art, principally photo based digital prints. His Web site is

Alison Cuddy hosts WBEZ 91.5 FM’s award-winning newsmagazine program Eight Forty-Eight, which covers the life of the Chicago region. Originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Alison joined WBEZ in 2001 as a producer for the nationally-syndicated talk program Odyssey. She holds an M.A. in English from the University of Pittsburgh and a B.F.A. in Cinema Studies from Concordia University in Montreal.

Nick Davis is an Assistant Professor of English and Gender Studies at Northwestern University, where his research and teaching focus on film studies, including courses in queer cinema, contemporary women filmmakers, and the history and practice of American film criticism. He is also the author of the film reviews at, with many years’ experience as a festival journalist and juror.

Scott Foundas is the Associate Program Director for the Film Society of Lincoln Center, where he also serves as a contributing editor to Film Comment magazine and a member of the New York Film Festival selection committee. From 2003-2009, he was film editor and chief film critic for L.A. Weekly. His writing on film has also appeared in The New York Times, DGA Quarterly, and Cinema Scope. He is a member of the National Society of Film Critics and has served on official juries at the Cannes, Sundance, Venice, and Florida film festivals. In 2010, he was named Critic of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club.

J.R. Jones began editing the film section of the Chicago Reader in 1997. He was named a staff writer in 2002 and lead film reviewer in 2008. The Association of Alternative Newsweeklies has twice honored his Reader reviews in its annual awards for best arts criticism. His writing has appeared in many publications, including the Kenyon Review, New York Press, Amsterdam Weekly, and Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000. He is a contributor to Film Comment’s “Critic’s Choice” column, and his movie-related commentary has been featured at

Dave Kehr is a veteran film critic who is doing his best to transform the video column of the New York Times into a wide-ranging weekly essay on diverse aspects of film history. After graduating from the University of Chicago in 1975, he has worked as a film critic for several major publications, including the Chicago Reader, Chicago Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, The New York Daily News and the New York Times. He was a founding member of the National Film Preservation Board. His website was singled out by Film Comment as “a prime Web destination” and by Cineaste as an “exemplary model of productive cinema discussion and interaction.” The University of Chicago Press has just published a collection of his early pieces, “When Movies Mattered.”

Ben Kenigsberg edits the film section at Time Out Chicago, where he has served as a critic for nearly five years. A mainstay at the Village Voice film section from 2002 to 2006, he has also written for L.A. Weekly, The New York Sun, In These Times, and Time Out New York.

Gabe Klinger has written for Cinema Scope, Film Comment, Cahiers du Cinéma España, Sight & Sound, and other publications. In addition, he has written chapters for books on Philippe Garrel and Rogério Sganzerla, contributed liner notes to DVD and Blu-Ray releases for Masters of Cinema, Home Vision Entertainment, and Re:Voir, and essays for the catalogs of events such as the Buenos Aires Festival of Independent Cinema and the Jeonju Film Festival. In 2004 he was selected in the Berlin Film Festival “Talent Press” and in 2010 was invited to serve on the FIPRESCI critics jury of the Cannes Film Festival. Aside from his activities as a critic and writer, he is an assistant professor at National-Louis University in Chicago and is involved in programming activities.

Ed M. Koziarski co-wrote, -produced and -directed the feature film The First Breath of Tengan Rei and the short film Homesick Blues.  He writes regularly about the art, business and drama of filmmaking for the Chicago Reader, Reel Chicago and Time Out Chicago, and has done so for Filmmaker Magazine, CS Magazine, New City Chicago, PerformInk, and the Daily Southtown. He teaches producing at Chicago Filmmakers.

Karina Longworth is the Film Editor at LA Weekly and the co-founder/former editor of Cinematical (a film news and discussion blog now owned by AOL), and until October 2009 was the editor of SpoutBlog (a daily film culture blog now owned by indieWIRE). Formerly a regular contributor to the national morning radio show The Takeaway, Karina has freelanced for Vanity Fair, New York Magazine, TimeOut New York, indieWIRE, Slate, The Daily Beast, Filmmaker, Las Vegas Weekly and other print and online publications. She has a BFA in Film from the San Francisco Art Institute, and an MA in Cinema Studies from New York University.

Wesley Morris is a film critic at the Boston Globe. His writing has appeared in Slate and Film Comment. He’s a frequent contributor to NPR.

Farran Smith Nehme has blogged at the website Self-Styled Siren ( since 2005, writing at first under a pseudonym. She revealed her identity in 2010 after programming the “Shadows of Russia” series on Turner Classic Movies with Lou Lumenick of the New York Post. In 2010 and 2011, she raised money for film preservation through the “For the Love of Film” blogathon with Marilyn Ferdinand of Ferdy on Films. She also writes the “Retro Fit” column at the online magazine Nomad Wide Screen.

Michael Phillips is the film critic of the Chicago Tribune, and appears regularly on WGN-AM radio and CLTV News. Between 2006 and 2010 he co-hosted “At the Movies,” including the final season with A.O. Scott. Earlier in his career Phillips covered film for the Twin Cities weekly City Pages and Minnesota Public Radio, and more recently served as drama critic for several newspapers including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. He has taught arts criticism and film history at the University of Chicago, the USC/NEA arts journalism workshop and, most recently, the University of Georgia.

Ray Pride is film editor of Newcity and news editor of Movie City News. His photography has been exhibited, as well as featured by Variety, Filmmaker, Focus on Film, and Little White Lies. He has been a contributor to Cinema Scope, Filmmaker, indieWIRE, Nerve, and Time Out New York, among other publications.

Jonathan Rosenbaum was the principal film critic at the Chicago Reader between 1987 and early 2008. Since then, he has established and maintains a web site at < <> > and works as a freelance writer, lecturer, programmer and teacher. His most recent books are The Unquiet American (2009) and Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia (2010).

Ben Sachs is a contributor to the Chicago Reader and the local website Cine-File. He has served as a programmer at Doc Films and the screening salon NWA. With Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, he authored “A Decade with Takashi Miike,” a series of essays published by in 2010. He is also a musician, playwright, and certified direct-care provider for adults with developmental disabilities.

Hank Sartin is a senior editor at Time Out Chicago, where he edited the film section from 2005 through 2010. His film and book reviews have appeared in the Chicago Reader, the Chicago Free Press, the Windy City Times, the Chicago Tribune and other publications.

Bill Stamets is a freelance reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times and Newcity. Earlier he wrote for the Chicago Reader, In These Times, Gab and the New Art Examiner. As a freelance news photographer, he contributed to the agency Impact Visuals. His Super-8 films have screened in group shows at Chicago Filmmakers, Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. He currently teaches part-time at the School of the Art Institute and Columbia College Chicago, after teaching part-time at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Scott Tobias is the film editor of The A.V. Club, the arts and entertainment section of The Onion, where he’s worked as a staff writer for over a decade. He also contributes reviews for’s movie section, and his work has appeared in Time Out New York, City Pages, The Village Voice, The Nashville Scene, and The Hollywood Reporter. Along with other members of the A.V. Club staff, he co-authored the 2002 interview anthology The Tenacity Of The Cockroach and Inventory, a collection of pop-culture lists released in 2009.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky is a film critic for His writing also appears in Cine-File Chicago and The Chicago Reader. He co-hosts the PBS program Ebert Presents At the Movies with Christy Lemire.

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