Critics Campus: Where Are They Now? (Part 3)


In the third instalment of a series in which we shine a spotlight on Critics Campus’s illustrious alumni, we speak to Kristen S. Hé (2015 cohort), Keva York (2017 cohort) and Merryana Salem (2020 cohort) about where their professional paths have led since their participation in MIFF’s incubator program for emerging critics.

Applications for Critics Campus 2024 are open until 20 May – for more information or to apply, click here.

Kristen S. Hé

Since your time as a Critics Campus mentee in 2015, where has your career taken you?

Before Critics Campus, I’d done a little bit of freelance writing and contributed to a film and music review site called The Essential (RIP) that was a passion project between friends. Going through Critics Campus – back when the schedule involved filing reviews nightly for a week – really emboldened me to jump into freelancing. Ironically, I shifted my focus almost entirely to music journalism, mostly because there seemed to be more writers competing for fewer avenues to consistently writing about film, especially in Australia. Since then, I’ve written for the likes of Billboard, Vulture, NME Australia, The Guardian, Junkee and more than a few now-defunct publications. It’s mostly been rewarding, and a game of finding editors and publications that will further articulate your voice rather than moulding it to fit a stricter editorial style. Although sometimes it’s about finding your voice within strict parameters, too! But, ultimately, the size or prestige of the publication has nothing to do with the quality of the work.

Back in 2015, we spent a lot of time asking whether traditional, review-based film criticism was losing its relevance, and would have to adapt to survive. I think we’ve all gradually learned that that was beside the point – that, because the journalism industry has constricted, film criticism has become less about what your writing might mean to others, and more about how it furthers your own artistic development, and insight into yourself. Make of that what you will!

How did Critics Campus help you on this journey?

MIFF is always the most wonderful time of year, but to be in the thick of it with Critics Campus is like having the volume turned up to 11. Every film you watch becomes a little existential experience: How do I relate to this? How can I write about a genre I know nothing about? You question yourself, but it’s ultimately deeply affirming, especially to go through it with your peers. The Critics Campus experience – including the late-night ramen and karaoke – makes up some of my most cherished memories. But, honestly, the specifics of what I learned from it are hard to recall; it’s all just become part of my DNA.

So here’s something I wrote about it in 2016: “More than anything, it was fascinating to learn how the mentors went through the same struggles we have. Not one of them took a straightforward path to being a professional film critic, and that’s oddly comforting to know.” I guess in the end, where and what you end up doing is less important than what you take with you. I’ve since written pieces that explore identity, am working on my first feature screenplay, acted in fellow campus alumnus Kai Perrignon’s debut feature, and am now training to be an end-of-life doula, all of which come from the same source: how we can use art to examine and reconstruct ourselves in ways that can honestly be kind of terrifying. Film criticism is one small part of that whole, but Critics Campus was a huge part of the journey.


Keva York

Since your time as a Critics Campus mentee in 2017, where has your career taken you?

Geographically speaking, I’ve found myself in such cinema hotspots as Cannes, Locarno and, most recently, Berlin, for the Berlinale and Berlin Critics’ Week. Amid the chaos and punishing schedules of these big festivals, I’ve been stoked to score interviews with personal idols like Todd Haynes and Adam Sandler, as well as to be able to count on a familiar face from home or abroad cropping up whenever I’m having trouble finding a venue, looking for a movie buddy or just need to know where the free coffee is.

I’ve found that exciting portals into film culture are also accessible from my desk in Melbourne, however. Since 2018, I have regularly reviewed films for ABC online, grappling with new releases and attempting to chart my own path through The Discourse. I’ve also hosted many a Q&A – shout-out to Static Vision, the Melbourne-based screening collective / distributor co-founded by Critics Campus alum Conor Bateman, who’ve let me loose on such luminaries as Paul Schrader and the cast of Project X. In the last couple of years, I’ve increasingly been pursuing longer-form writing on subjects close to my heart – among them, Crispin Glover, Elaine May and Mark Borchardt – and have been lucky to have my words appear in some of the film publications I most admire, including Reverse Shot, the Metrograph Journal, MUBI Notebook and Screen Slate.

How did Critics Campus help you on this journey?

Doing Critics Campus is like joining a cult that’s actually really supportive and mind-expanding and isn’t going to rinse you for everything you’ve got (if you end up spending all your dough on Blu-rays or flying to international festivals, that’s on you). I was thrilled to return as a mentor in both 2021 and 2023 – not least because it’s so rare to have the space to examine what it means to be a critic today in both practical and philosophical terms, and to do so in the company of some of the finest minds in the biz, established and emerging, local and international. I don’t think I’d still be writing about film if it weren’t for the community I’ve found through it – I mean, no-one’s doing it for the money – and Critics Campus really feels like it was my initiation ceremony into that world.


Merryana Salem

Since your time as a Critics Campus mentee in 2020, where has your career taken you?

One of the major takeaways I had from MIFF’s Critics Campus program was learning about film programming. As passionate as I was about film critique, program curation was never something I had considered or even knew existed. However, after a few sessions of learning about program curation from some of the most incredible critics and film programmers, I had never felt more excited. Thankfully, shortly after my time at MIFF, I applied for a position programming short films at Sydney Film Festival. While I did not get the advertised position, the co-directors were so impressed with my application (much of which was informed by the knowledge I had gained at MIFF) that they offered me an ongoing program assistant position, which I have held since 2020.

I cannot express how cool it is that part of my income every year comes from doing what I love: watching and analysing movies for a major Australian film festival. It is a job I love and would not have, or even knew existed, without Critics Campus.

How did Critics Campus help you on this journey?

Being unable to drive due to a disability and growing up away from the capital cities, I did not have a great deal of access to Australian film culture. The highlight of Critics Campus, for me, was connecting with people who loved film in the same meticulous and feverish way I did. Even though I was part of Critics Campus in 2020, when it was online due to lockdown restrictions, I still felt an unforgettable rush of joy meeting the others in the program (including my fabulous mentor, Adolfo Aranjuez), sharing our film opinions and debriefing after a rigorous day of putting our skills to the test. They’re friends I treasure and keep to this day. I am hugely grateful to Critics Campus for opening up my world and helping me find some excellent film-adoring friends.

Critics Campus 2024 is
 presented by VicScreen.