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Locarno Critics Academy Welcomes Crop of Aspiring Writers

Aside from being a haven for cinephiles,  the Locarno Film Festival is serving as a classroom for nine aspiring film critics from seven different countries.

The second annual Critics Academy — a branch of the Locarno Summer Academy — allows entertainment journalists from across the globe  to engage with established critics and industry professionals, including filmmakers, distributors, and publicists. The critics, chosen through a strict application process, includes writers this year from India and Serbia.

The two-week long program is a collaboration between the fest, Indiewire, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Swiss Federal Office of Culture (FOC), the Swiss Association of Film Journalists, and new partner FRED Radio.

Eric Kohn, Indiewire’s chief film critic who spearheaded the initiative, said the Academy is meant to teach critics how to create work that has “currency in the marketplace.”

“I’ve been thinking for a long time about how we can sort of combat that narrative that started when there were a number of layoffs — not just with film critics, but with journalists all over the world — that sort of created this perception that the profession was in decline,” Kohn said.

The group meets daily with Kohn and Eugene Hernandez, FSLC director of digital strategy and Indiewire co-founder, during the initiative’s first week to discuss the challenges facing the profession. They also participate in workshops and roundtable discussions with other critics, such as Variety’s Scott Foundas and Jay Weissberg, and Cinema Scope’s Mark Peranson.

Participants then file film reviews and write articles on festival events and guests during the program’s second week. The stories will be published in the festival’s daily newspaper and website, Pardo Live, the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s site, and Indiewire’s Criticwire blog.

The program has kick-started several careers — three of last year’s eight participants are attending the fest this year as working journalists. According to Kohn, the Academy has also created a mutually beneficial relationship between festival organizers and critics.

“We actually found a way, which is good for the festival, but it’s also good for us, to generate more English-language coverage than they’ve ever had over the course of the festival that’s been around for 66 years,” he said.

The Locarno fest runs Aug. 7-17.

The initiative will be held next month for the second year at the New York Film Festival and next year for the first time at the Sundance Film Festival — funded by the Roger Ebert Scholarship for Film Criticism. Kohn said he would love to expand the program to other fests (especially the Vancouver, Los Angeles and American Film Institute festivals), if funding and partnerships permit.

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