From the Wall Street Journal
After Years of Focusing on the Nitty-Gritty of Making Movies, Two Publications Celebrate Important Anniversaries
By STEVE DOLLAR
To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of the death of film—and of film criticism—have been greatly exaggerated. “It’s so boring, it’s so tedious,” said Michael Koresky of the topic.
Mr. Koresky is the 33-year-old co-founder of Reverse Shot, an online film journal whose continued existence asserts the vibrancy of both films and journals. Though only briefly distributed in print form, the publication unveiled its 33rd special issue, or critical symposium, this week, marking the 10th anniversary of its founding. The theme? The Life of Film.
From left, Scott Macaulay of Filmmaker magazine with Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert of the online journal, Reverse Shot, in Union Square.
"It’s easy to say film is dead because it’s not like it used to be," said Mr. Koresky, by day a staff writer at the Criterion Collection. He edits Reverse Shot with Jeff Reichert, 34, a filmmaker and vice president for theatrical marketing for the Cinedigm Entertainment Group. "But we’re just as excited and energized by what we’re seeing around us as we’ve ever been."
Filmmaker magazine, another cine-centric New York publication, also has a special edition to trumpet an anniversary: its 20th.
Both are celebrating the occasions with special events in the city: Reverse Shot is hosting a seven-film retrospective at the Museum of the Moving Image that runs through Sunday, with screenings of work by favored directors such as Miguel Gomes (“The Face You Deserve”) and Lucrecia Martel (“The Headless Woman”). Each title is drawn from an essay featured in the latest edition, and the museum will host a panel discussion, “Reverse Shot, Forward Motion,” with the editors on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Filmmaker’s editor in chief, Scott Macaulay, is curating a retrospective of 11 features and two shorts at the Museum of Modern Art running through April 15. The series, “Carte Blanche: Scott Macaulay and 20 Years of Filmmaker Magazine,” traces the evolution of American independent film from the 1990s (Hal Hartley’s “Amateur”) through contemporary breakthroughs (Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone,” nominated for four Academy Awards).
"The last quarter was our best ever," said Mr. Macaulay, who is 50, sharing a table recently with Messrs. Koresky and Reichert at a cafe near everyone’s offices near Union Square. Filmmaker’s revenues are driven by its robust embrace of digital platforms—including a free website that features multiple daily updates. A publication of the Independent Film Project, the magazine also is a quarterly, with a circulation that Mr. Macaulay estimated at 30,000. It reaches a base of film-industry insiders and aspiring filmmakers, with a focus on the nitty-gritty of production and financing to accompany in-depth profiles.
"The worlds have cycled up and down," said Mr. Macaulay, who has cultivated a roster of contributors involved in every facet of filmmaking. "We definitely rode the wave of the indie-film boom of the 1990s and the mega-acquisitions." Subsequent crashes heralded the rise of micro-budget cinema, along with technological developments that have led to "indie film morphing into all these other areas: interactive documentaries, transmedia work, film and video work aligned with gaming."
The editors of Reverse Shot, who launched the endeavor a decade ago with former editors Neal Block and Erik Syngle, focus on original critical pieces in themed issues that may take up the life’s work of a specific director, analyze a single film or confront a major historical moment (such as the Iraq war). They count themselves lucky to have started when they did—a few steps ahead of the social-media boom.
"Five years later, if we had had this idea, we would have started a blog and who knows what would have happened," said Mr. Koresky, who was an assistant editor at Film Comment at the time. Along with his colleagues, he gave a platform to a new generation of film critics whose bylines now proliferate in alternative weeklies and at online outlets such as SundanceNow.com and MovingImageSource.us.
"There’s a lot of group-think in film criticism and we really just want to look at a movie and wrestle with it on its own terms," Mr. Reichert said. "In the early days we were brasher, so there was a reputation for being angrier and confrontational."
Despite their mellowing, the editors still insist on going their own way. “We’re definitely not on any edge,” Mr. Koresky said. “Doing a [special issue] on Steven Spielberg is not fashionable for people who right now are championing ‘Spring Breakers’ or ‘Upstream Color.’ But in some ways, doing Spielberg is more important and that’s why we do it.”
Mr. Koresky emphasized how attentive he is to editorial standards—unusual for the blog era. But neither he or anyone else derives any income from Reverse Shot. Like many of the 30 contributors for this most recent edition, his passion for criticism is subsidized by a day job and that passion is the reason he sees Reverse Shot living a long, healthy life.
"Why we say we’re optimistic is because of that passion," Mr. Reichert said. "Not because you can get paid."
Filmmaker does have a payroll, with a sizable list of freelance contributors. No one’s getting rich—IFP is a nonprofit—but the magazine abides as a prescient compass for emerging talents and new frontiers. “I’m really interested in how film criticism will change,” said Mr. Macaulay, “not only as a result of new ways of watching film but also new ways in which people are interacting with critical content itself.”