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Young Writers Program Mentor Encourages Everyone to Be A Critic

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By Michael Andrews (Ebert Young Writers Program)

As part of the inaugural Ebert Young Writers Program, I’ve had an unforgettable time. In just the past week, and still several days left before HIFF 2015 comes to an end, I’ve met with directors, producers, actors, publicists, critics, and have had my reviews published on HIFF website. And on top of that, I’ve been able to gain a wealth of knowledge about films and the industry from program mentor, Kevin B. Lee. (And I’ve watched some amazing movies for free, too.)

Since I’ve had such an amazing experience with the program, I wanted to talk with Kevin about the program and what he hopes it will provide for film fans in Hawaii.

One of his biggest goals as mentor is “encourage students to improve their modes of communicating and of expressing themselves critically. And not just through writing, but through other forms of media. I definitely appreciate the multifaceted aspect of film criticism these days; communicating with people through social media and video. That’s really exciting.”

Kevin is a renowned video-essayist, critic, and writer; and his work has been published on Fandor’s digital magazine, Keyframe, as well as other sites like Indiewire, but much of his writing began on his personal blog.

“I was writing about films a lot, blogging a lot. And in the course of blogging about movies, I started getting interested in putting videos on my blog. That got me thinking, maybe I could do these little video essays, kinda like what you see in the extras for a DVD. And I could use my film making background – I knew how to edit, and I could use those skills to practice criticism.”

And this experience and aptitude is invaluable in the age of YouTube and social media. “That’s what I feel like I bring to this program,” he says of his experience with multimedia. Anyone with an internet connection has access to social- and multimedia, meaning that information and varying perspectives are more available now than ever. Mindful of this, a major goal for the program is to “promote a general sense of film literacy” among the majority.

“Everyone has the ability to express their opinions, to broadcast or disseminate their opinions through social media. In a sense, everyone’s a critic. But then the question becomes: how can we improve the state of criticism? Or the quality of the conversation already happening? It doesn’t have to be left to professionals. All it takes is just having thoughtful people take part in the conversation.”

Anderson Le, the programming director of the festival, has said that HIFF is a populist festival. And it seems that he and Kevin are very much in the same school of thought when it comes to encouraging the ‘common man’ to form thoughtful opinions and join the conversation about film.

“Anderson Le wanted to have a program to really promote criticism in Hawaii film culture; to get people to think more deeply and more thoughtfully about movies. A good way to do that is to create an educational program where students can have the opportunity to practice film criticism. I really want to support the idea that no matter what career path you take in life, that you have a stake in our culture. And movies are a big part of our culture; to be able to have a really smart, articulate, and passionate conversation about our culture is very important to me. I think that’s what this program can really provide.”

And while the program is definitely open to those who aren’t considering a career in film, those who are pursuing a future in the industry shouldn’t be discouraged or think that the program isn’t for them as well.

“We’re exploring the question of how to carve out a career. We’ve brought in several industry professionals as guests to speak. We bring them in to talk about their experiences, so you can get a feeling of what it might be like to have a career in this industry.

But, anyone should apply. Anyone who cares about movies enough that they want to spend a significant amount of time talking, thinking, and writing about them. We have people whose majors are in science and technology. It’s important to think about your relationship to movies even if you don’t have a career in film. What do they mean to you?”

As a fan of movies, this has been a phenomenal experience for me. The opportunity to meet and work with industry professionals and other like-minded individuals has been enlightening and shouldn’t be missed. If you are a (or know any) high school or college students who loves movies, keep an eye out for the application-opening announcement from HIFF in the future.

As a part of our Ebert Young Writers Program for the Arts, we will be publishing the participants reviews and interviews they produce for the workshop on the official HIFF blog. 

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