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Critics Campus: Where Are They Now? (Part 1)

By MIFF Staff | 04.05.2023 | Critics Campus Interviews
Critics Campus: Where Are They Now? (Part 1)

In the first instalment of a series in which we shine a spotlight on Critics Campus’s illustrious alumni, we speak to Michael Sun (2019 cohort), Isabella Trimboli (2019 cohort) and David Heslin (2015 cohort) about where their professional paths have led since their participation in MIFF’s incubator program for emerging critics.

Michael Sun

Since your time as a Critics Campus mentee in 2019, where has your career taken you?

I had written a few freelance pieces before Critics Campus; the worst was probably a hacky Wes Anderson takedown in a now-(almost-)defunct publication. Critics Campus made me realise there was a world beyond publishing hot takes – that a career in criticism was possible and sustainable. As part of the program in 2019, I wrote my first piece for The Guardian Australia (where I now work in culture and lifestyle) as well as writing monthly film reviews for ABC Arts. I’ve also contributed interviews and essays to The Saturday Paper, The Monthly, Sydney Review of Books, Australian Book Review and many more; the principles that Critics Campus gave me are still relevant to this day, whether I’m writing on film or beyond. I also came back as a mentor in 2021, and I’m returning this year – which I’m very excited about.

How did Critics Campus help you on this journey?

Critics Campus is honestly the mother I never had, the sister everybody would want, the friend that everybody deserves. I don’t know a better program. Critics Campus taught me how to pitch (and how not to pitch), it made my writing and watching more rigorous, and it also gave me multiple insane groupchats. Critics Campus has formed the bedrock of my critical community, and it’s where I’ve met so many friends, peers and mentors – an invaluable source of camaraderie and knowledge, especially in a time when institutional opportunities for criticism are increasingly meagre and the industry becomes increasingly precarious, both financially and intellectually.

That week in 2019 is a blur – mostly consisting of mad dashes to and from the cinema, trying to speed-write reviews and essays in between. Like SWAT training, but for nerds. My clearest memory from the week is internationally renowned filmmaker Charlie Shackleton belting Kelly Rowland at karaoke (sorry, Charlie), an image etched into my brain with startling precision; it’s the friends you make along the way, etc., etc.

Isabella Trimboli

Since your time as a Critics Campus mentee in 2019, where has your career taken you?

Since being a mentee, freelance writing has become my full-time job, which can be a bit arduous at times but mostly feels like a total privilege! I do a mix of editing, copywriting and criticism – mostly about film and literature. In terms of film writing, I’ve gotten the chance to interview real icons (like Charlotte Rampling) and write the kind of unwieldy criticism (e.g. a piece on Dreamlander and writer Cookie Mueller) that I’m really interested in. I’ve also had the chance to review a bunch of fascinating films by some of my favourite filmmakers (like Claire Denis), which has been a delight.

Then I had the pleasure of returning to the program as a mentor in 2022 and wrote an essay for MIFF’s 70th-anniversary publication, Melbourne on Film, last year.

The program really made me take writing seriously and gave me the desire to be more ambitious and experimental with criticism. I’m hoping to spend the latter half of the year working on a nonfiction book of critical essays.

How did Critics Campus help you on this journey?

It was completely responsible! The program totally changed the trajectory of my writing career, allowing me to focus on the in-depth criticism I am so interested in. There really isn’t any other program like it in Australia – it offers the chance to think deeply about criticism, interact with local and international critics, and workshop ideas and writing.

It provided me with the opportunity to become a serious film critic; it was such a great way to get more comfortable with thinking quickly, sticking to deadlines and learning how to pitch. It pushed me to be more rigorous with my writing.

Maybe most importantly, I had just moved to Melbourne when I did the program, and many of the cohort’s mentors and mentees have become my dearest friends.

David Heslin

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

I’ve been writing film criticism here and there, but my career has mostly been oriented around editing since! I joined the editorial team at Senses of Cinema in 2017, and soon after got the job as editor of Screen Education. Since 2020, I’ve been editing Metro, Australia’s oldest screen publication. I’ve been very, very fortunate to be involved with such valuable and prestigious publications – made what they are, of course, by their brilliant writers, more than a few of whom have come through MIFF’s Critics Campus program – and can’t quite believe that I’ve been able to find a career in film publishing.

Of course, needless to say, it’s not exactly the most lucrative industry, and as we speak Metro is struggling for survival (we’re currently holding an emergency fundraiser). But the cultural value of publications like this is immense, and I know that the impact my work has on the industry and local screen culture amounts to far more than anything you can put a dollar sign on.

How did Critics Campus help you on this journey?

The most valuable thing about it was its insight into film criticism as a profession and a practice, and how those are constituted. A lot of aspiring critics might come through blogging or places like Letterboxd and hone their craft that way, but might otherwise be unfamiliar with the world of pitching, deadlines and distribution cycles. Through the program’s workshops, mentoring and opportunities that it provided for informal chats with working critics and editors, Critics Campus was an indispensable introduction to the industry for me.

I’d never written so much in such a short period of time! I really got a hands-on insight into the life of, say, a Variety critic who attends a Cannes screening in the afternoon and has to turn around a review before going to bed. So that was all highly educational. But more than anything, it was wonderful just to hang out with and get to know seven other young and passionate cinephiles for a week – I look back on it as a special time in my life, for sure.

Critics Campus 2023 is
 presented by VicScreen.

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