Vanessa Erazo, 34, specializes in Latino films and appreciated the insider’s look she had been given of the industry. “I think [the Critics Academy] provided what [Kohn] set out to do in that it provided a realistic picture of what’s going on right now,” she said. The prospects for budding critics no longer seemed so dire, and she was much more pragmatic about them. “It’s just a changing world and you need to find your own place in it.” Mark Lukenbill, 21, a senior at New York University, agreed. Although staff positions for critics are now few and far between, “you can carve out a personality and niche for yourself and if people are interested [they’ll follow],” he said.
When young film buffs think of the golden age of American film criticism, they usually imagine the late Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris, effortlessly exchanging barbs and bon mots in a smoky New York bar. Kohn once mentioned this idea to Sarris and his wife, film scholar Molly Haskell—they laughed. No, they said, we went through the same daily grind critics do now, except we had typewriters, not keyboards.
The Critics Academy is Kohn’s and Hernandez’ way of helping aspiring critics realize that there is still room for them, no matter how harsh the professional climate may seem.
Michael Pattison, 26, is proof of that. Pattison had a masters in film but had only been writing criticism as a hobby before he was selected for the Locarno Academy in August. Being able to put faces to people he had only known through their bylines was exciting, and meeting the cast, crew, and publicists for various films broadened his understanding of criticism as a profession.
“You become aware immediately that writing’s not this solitary, insular profession,” Pattison said. “You’re meeting people who have actually had a human contribution to something that you’re writing on,” he said, and “you become very much aware that what you’re writing is actually going to have an effect on people’s lives, and people’s enjoyment and appreciation of cinema.”