Illuminating the Shadows: Film Criticism in Focus: Block Museum - Northwestern University
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Illuminating the Shadows: Film Criticism in Focus

Illuminating the Shadows: Film Criticism in Focus

Event Details

Date & Time:

Thu April 21, 2011 - Sat April 23, 2011


The Block Museum of Art
40 Arts Circle Drive
Evanston, IL 60208


Open to the public


Through panel discussions and on-stage conversations with leading film critics and writers from across the US and from Chicago, and complemented by guest-curated screenings, Illuminating the Shadows: Film Criticism in Focus will explore the state of film criticism at a potentially transformative moment. Technology, journalism, criticism, and cinephilia are always in flux, but the present confluence of changes in all these areas impacts the role of the critic and the nature of film criticism to a degree not previously seen.

A distinguished roster of participants from Los Angeles, New York, Boston, and Chicago (but who can all be read nationally and internationally, thanks to the internet) will navigate this new terrain, seeking to shed light on the changes taking place in film criticism today, and how those changes are connected to still-relevant critics and practices of the past. They will also project forward, looking at new opportunities and trends on the horizon. Amidst all the changes one thing does seem clear: lively and intelligent writing and discussion on film is more prevalent than ever, and most of it is just a mouse-click away.

All programs and screenings are free and open to the public.

Special support for this program is provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Rubens Family Foundation, and Medill School of Journalism and Office of the Provost, Northwestern University.



Thursday, April 21, 2011 7:30 PM FREE
(Errol Morris, 2010, US, 35mm, 87 min.)

Selected and introduced by Michael Phillips

“She was living in a movie long before she came to star in my film,” says director Errol Morris of his latest, formidably self-fabulizing subject and the elliptical center of Tabloid. The woman, Joyce McKinney, is a former North Carolina beauty queen who, in 1977, kidnapped her Mormon sweetheart, tied him up, tossed his magic underwear aside, and…end of story? Hardly: As the scandal hit the British tabloids McKinney became the fame machine Fate had in store for her all along. One of Morris’s tightest, most exuberant documentaries, Tabloid finds Morris setting aside the fog of war and the horrors of Abu Ghraib for a different sort of combat–the war for control of a narrative.—Michael Phillips

Special advance screening courtesy of IFC Films.


Panel One: Past Perfect—Critical Histories, Seminal Touchstones, and Rediscoveries

Friday, April 22, 2011 1:00 PM FREE

This panel will explore how the past intersects with the present and future by looking at earlier practices of film criticism, the legacy and growing influence and importance of particular critics (such as Serge Daney and Manny Farber), and the critic’s role in bringing to light neglected contemporary films or forgotten films from the past.

Moderator: Nick Davis (Assistant Professor, English and Gender Studies, Northwestern University)


  • Farran Smith Nehme (Writer, Self-Styled Siren Blog)
  • Jonathan Rosenbaum (Writer; Visiting Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University)
  • Fred Camper (Artist; Film Critic)
  • Dave Kehr (Video Columnist, New York Times)
  • Gabe Klinger (Film Critic and Journalist; Professor; Curator)

Sailor's Luck

Friday, April 22, 2011 3:00 PM FREE
(Raoul Walsh, 1933, US, 35mm, 81 min.)

Selected and introduced by Dave Kehr

The playfully salacious and decidedly un-PC pre-Code comedy Sailor’s Luck follows the misadventures of amorous young sailor Jimmy Harrigan (James Dunn). While on shore leave in San Pedro, California, Jimmy meets a young cutie (Sally Eilers) and tries to woo her by entering a dance marathon. Directed by Fox’s rising star, Raoul Walsh, and made before the infamous censorship codes were enforced, the film, with its brazen depiction of ethnic and gay stereotypes, is, as Dave Kehr put it, “the pre-Codiest of pre-Code movies.”

New 35mm print courtesy of Fox.


Panel Two: Present Tense/Future Conditional—The Changing Landscape of Criticism

Friday, April 22, 2011 5:00 PM

This panel will explore the current state of film criticism and its possible future. Among the potential topics are: the role of the critic today; changing models of and platforms for criticism; the tension between print and online criticism; the prevalence of amateur or citizen critics; the potential for global reach that the Internet provides; the fragmentation of readership; the role of online and other technical capabilities in expanding or enriching criticism; and more.

Moderator: Scott Foundas (Associate Program Director, Film Society of Lincoln Center)


  • Michael Phillips (Film Critic, Chicago Tribune)
  • Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (Film Critic, Ebert Presents At the Movies)
  • Karina Longworth (Film Editor, LA Weekly; critic, Village Voice Media)
  • Wesley Morris (Film Critic, Boston Globe)
  • Scott Tobias (Film Editor, The A.V. Club)



Tuesday, November 22, 2011 8:00 PM
(Athina Rachel Tsangari, 2010, Greece, 35mm, 95 min)

Selected and introduced by Karina Longworth

A playful middle-finger to humorless Eurodrama, ATTENBERG is a frank and disarmingly funny contemplation on the strangeness of having a body (so much potential for pleasure; the inevitability of decay and death). Marina (Ariane Labed) is a 20-something virgin whose first affair (with Dogtooth director Yorgos Lanthimos) coincides with her young father/best friend's dying days. Its title a lost-in-translation scrambling of wildlife documentarian David Attenborough, ATTENBERG incorporates tropes familiar from Lanthimos' Oscar-nominated sensation—sexual awakening, language play, awkward dancing—but ultimately eschews brutality for poignancy. Director Athina Rachel Tsangari is a major new talent.—Karina Longworth. Special advance screening courtesy of The Match Factory.


Panel Three: Critical Voices: Style, Substance, and Scope—The Art of Film Writing

Saturday, April 23, 2011 1:00 PM FREE

This panel will explore both practical and general topics about film criticism and film writing more broadly. With the inundation of film writing online and the ability of anyone to participate, what means are there for distinguishing oneself amongst the chatter? Topics may include: defining an audience; determining the scope of one’s writing; the craft of effectively writing on film; working in differing modes (reviews, essays, polemical pieces, etc.); the intersection of criticism and academia; starting out as a writer; and re-tooling to meet new realities.

Moderator: Hank Sartin (Senior Editor, Time Out Chicago)


  • Farran Nehme Smith (Writer, Self-Styled Siren Blog)
  • Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (Film Critic, Ebert Presents At the Movies)
  • Wesley Morris (Film Critic, Boston Globe)
  • Scott Foundas (Associate Program Director, Film Society of Lincoln Center)
  • Jonathan Rosenbaum (Writer; Visiting Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University)


The Forgotten Space

Saturday, April 23, 2011 3:00 PM
(Allan Sekula and Noël Burch, 2010, The Netherlands/Austria, DigiBeta, 113 min.)

Selected and introduced by Jonathan Rosenbaum

How many of us know that over 90% of the world’s cargo travels by sea, in anonymous multicolored containers? I’m still learning things from this epic, multifaceted, and ambitious Markeresque essay film about work and concealment in the global economy. It combines the long-term research and analysis of Allan Sekula with the filmmaking experience of Nöel Burch to examine the lives of workers in Belgian, Chinese, Dutch, and Pacific American ports—not to mention the alienated experiences of people who attend an art museum in Bilbao, among other related topics. —Jonathan Rosenbaum


On-Stage Roundtable: Criticism in Chicago—A Case Study

Saturday, April 23, 2011 5:30 PM

Chicago has a rich and eclectic history of film criticism and a unique variety of outlets, including daily and weekly print publications, radio, television, online platforms, and blogs. This informal discussion among a diverse group of critics will cover working in Chicago, the city’s film culture, and the larger issues raised in the panel discussions and how they are manifested locally.

Moderator: Alison Cuddy (Host, Eight Forty-Eight, WBEZ 91.5 FM)


  • Andrea Gronvall (Freelance film critic, Chicago Reader, Time Out Chicago,
  • Christy LeMaster (Contributor, Eight Forty-Eight, WBEZ 91.5 FM; Cine-File; and Director of the Nightingale Theatre)
  • J. R. Jones (Staff Writer, Chicago Reader)
  • Ben Kenigsberg (Film Editor, Time Out Chicago)
  • Ray Pride (Film Critic, Newcity; News Editor,
  • Ben Sachs (Freelance Film Critic, Chicago Reader, Cine-File Chicago)
  • Ed M. Koziarski (Filmmaker; Writer, Chicago Reader, Reel Chicago, Time Out Chicago)
  • Bill Stamets (Freelancer Writer, Chicago Sun-Times, Newcity)

Contact The Block Museum of Art for more information: (847) 491-4000 or email us at