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Ragtag series to spark talk about art house films

Thursday, September 18, 2008 | 6:21 p.m. CDT; updated 6:44 p.m. CDT, Thursday, September 18, 2008

COLUMBIA - Ragtag Cinema is starting a new community discussion about films that brings in the knowledge and perspectives of film critics from across the country.

Starting Sunday and Monday, the Critic's Series will bring in critics, particularly those with a grounding in art house films, to feature two films of their choice.

"With the Critic's Series, what we're wanting to do is bring in different, prestigious critics from around our country to talk about films that they think are valuable," said Whit Loy, director of public relations, marketing and membership for Ragtag Cinema. "These are something more unique and something that they think are valuable and worthwhile films."

This month Chicago film critic Ray Pride will start off the Critic's Series by showing "Irma Vemp" on Sunday and "Late August, Early September" on Monday. Both films are by French director Olivier Assayas, whose editing techniques have influenced Pride. Viewers are invited to participate in a film discussion with Pride after the showing.

Pride is a film editor and contributor for Newcity Chicago, Movie City News, Variety.com and Movie City Indie. Loy said his expertise fits the Critic's Series' mold; Ragtag aims to show Columbia's citizens art house films that they most likely wouldn't see anywhere else.

"I think most of the critics that we are choosing are very seasoned, and they have a solid, national reputation for their writings about films," Loy said. "We're wanting to collect critics that are exposed to a lot of art house films and are intellectual and engaging."

Pride said he values films with unexpected twists and turns that highlight life in an unconventional way.

"I'm looking for films where, suddenly, the director shows you something that no one knows," Pride said. "I'm looking for surprises and fresh ways to look at the world. American movies are so story-driven, and there's no breathing room for behavior."

Pride said that when he watches a film for review, he has to separate two parts of his brain to play the roles of both critic and viewer.

"I'm lucky that two parts of my brain are working at once - I can look at something analytically and forget what I was thinking about five minutes ago," Pride said. "With the film unfolding and what I'm thinking about, it doesn't get in the way of each other. That's why you take notes, it lets you get lost in the film."

Pride, who has visited Columbia to photograph the True/False Film Festival, said he thinks smaller cities are ideal for independent film festivals. He also thinks Ragtag's offerings are as strong as those offered in Chicago's art house theaters.

"It's great to come to a place like Columbia and discover a bunch of smart, earnest and interesting people are on the street," Pride said. "It's an ideal community for this kind of thing."

Loy said the role of the film critic is far from dead, and there will always be a need for critical opinion to provide broader perspectives.

"I think it's ridiculous that someone would say we don't need critics anymore because that's like saying we don't need experts anymore on the subject," Loy said. "Film critics have seen substantially more films than the average person. It's their job."

Adam Fendelman, a 2000 graduate from the MU School of Journalism who is now a film critic in Chicago, said that although technology "threatens the role of the accredited film critic" because anyone can express their opinions online, in the end, someone with a broad range of knowledge and experience stands out.

"I think (with) the rise of the Internet and the rise of bloggers, essentially anyone can be a film critic," Fendelman said. "The film critic isn't there to please the public. It's to be an objective third party assessor of entertainment."

Unlike Pride, who set out to be a film critic, Fendelman jumped quite unexpectedly into the suit of a film critic by founding HollywoodChicago.com in 2007. The Web site started as his blog but slowly gained momentum. Fendelman said he realized that to become a recognized film critic, he needed to establish certain guidelines in his work.

"At the beginning, I was just some guy with a blog," he said. "I wanted more than that. I started learning what it takes to be accredited. I started researching what I needed to do. I transformed what was a blog into the publication and started making money on it and started hiring other freelancers."

Experience and the fact they know what they're talking about makes film critics credible, said Matthew Freundlich, assistant film programmer at Ragtag. He quoted the writer Susan Sontag who said, in essence, that art should strive not for self-expression but for self-transcendence. Freundlich said the same rule applies to film critics. The role of a critic goes beyond analyzing the surface of a film, he said, to putting its content in context.

"The Critic's Series is not so much for self-promotion," Freundlich said. "It's just like a film review where you walk away from it and feel like you've learned something, or you've got a different perspective."

 


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