Indiewire/Sundance Fellowship Prepares Students for Careers in Film Criticism

William Faulkner once said, "The artist doesn't have time to listen to the critics." He was, of course, lying. Artists throughout time have had a love/hate relationship with what we'll ominously call "the critics," and while certain fields of criticism have been around for centuries, others are relatively new. Not surprisingly, many of these nascent fields also lack clearly defined paths for those who want to make a career of it. The area of film criticism specifically comes to mind. How does an aspiring film critic make that dream a reality in an Internet-dominated world?

Enter Indiewire and the Sundance Institute, which hope to create the next generation of experienced and savvy film critics with their inaugural Indiewire/Sundance Institute Fellowship for Film Criticism. Six fellows will receive a grant for expenses and other support to attend and cover the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden, and Sundance, Utah. During the festival, students will pitch stories and write coverage to be published on Indiewire's Criticwire blog and other outlets, participate in a series of workshops, and meet with professional film critics, distributors, agents, publicists, and festival programmers.

Applicants must have completed a minimum of three years of undergraduate study or have a maximum of two years of film-related writing experience. Indiewire and Sundance are particularly interested in candidates exhibiting a "diversity of voices, backgrounds and cinematic interests."

On the surface, the fellowship isn't revolutionary. After all, the Andy Warhol Foundation has programs devoted to visual art criticism, while PEN/America supports literary criticism. That being said, we're talking about fellowships for film criticism — a relatively rare phenomenon. (For more information on Sundance's film-related grants, check out IP's guide in this area.) The fellowship becomes even more important once it becomes apparent that, to quote the Guardian newspaper, film criticism is in "crisis."

For starters, aspiring film critics still lack a clear career plan. Traditionally, some began their careers in journalism and dabbled in film criticism before making a full-time switch. Others, meanwhile, took criticism courses, but usually as part of a larger cinema-related curriculum. And when aspiring critics do graduate, the landscape is bewildering. Fewer newspapers and magazines are employing full-time critics, while the Internet has crowded the marketplace by giving voice to a seemingly limitless number of amateur critics.

Although we don't want to knock classroom-based education, there are certain practical, in-the-trenches lessons that even the best professors can't teach. While film criticism students may learn about the complexities of plot development, filming techniques, and the use of special effects in Citizen Kane, a classroom experience can't possibly prepare them for the fast-paced, deadline-driven environments of film festivals and start-ups. And it's precisely this latter element — known in popular parlance as the "real world" — that the Indie/Sundance fellowship is most concerned with. Fellows will "emerge with a deeper awareness of the practical challenges involved in gaining a foothold in entertainment journalism while navigating the specific demands of the film world."

No offense to Orson Wells, but that's the kind of stuff you can't get in textbooks.