How to write film criticism: Fernanda Solórzano and A. O. Scott share their experience

Fernanda Solórzano make comments. Photo by Alvaro Delgado/FNPI.

Fernanda Solórzano make comments. Photo by Alvaro Delgado/FNPI.

By Jorge Tirzo

Writing film reviews can be difficult. Film is a popular art form, and many people distrust critics. This is one of the challenges that critics such as Fernanda Solórzano and A. O. Scott must face every day.

Scott is the famous New York Times critic, while Solórzano has collaborated with influential media across Latin America such as Letras Libres, a Mexican magazine. Both agree that even with the backing of big papers, the task of the critic is to use his subjectivity and write intimately.

 

Earning the reader’s trust

Anyone can write about film, but to do so journalistically requires approaching the task with a sense of responsibility and an investigative spirit. Both journalists agreed on this point and shared some of their strategies for connecting with readers.

A. O. Scott said, “You have to know as much as possible. It is about having your own voice, an intimate way of writing. You must speak to the readers and appeal to their trust. You have to be sensitive to how your audience may feel about certain movies.”

 

Writing methods

A. O. Scott shared with the Gabriel García Márquez fellows some details on how he approaches writing. He said, “I try to write in a single draft. If I do not have a lead, I generally cannot write the rest. I usually spend 75% of my time on the lead.”

The New York Times critic pointed out that when writing a review, one must use adjectives carefully. “When you use too many adjectives they begin to replace your arguments. When you say that something was ‘surprising’ you are really not providing an argument for that and your reader will never find out why you are saying that.”

 

Transformations in audiovisual narration

The internet and mobile phones have transformed the rituals of audiovisual consumption. Now millions of people follow TV series through subscription systems or online digital streaming services. Fernanda Solórzano believes that this transformation may be positive in terms of how we understand stories.

Solórzano said, “I like the idea that people are revisiting their interest in stories. It is ironic that TV series are similar in a way to nineteenth century novels. For many people, cinema has been reduced to watching action scenes for two hours instead of following the development of complex characters. I hope that new audiences that are interacting more closely with storylines will rediscover things that they were missing out on.”

Both guest lecturers agreed that in the near future film and TV criticism should consider that the border between the two is blurring. They consider terms such as “audiovisual narration” more appropriate for describing products that challenge these traditional categories.

 

This dialogue was presented as part of the Gabriel García Márquez Fellowship in Cultural Journalism. A. O. Scott and Fernanda Solórzano will be advising the fellows as they write their pieces about the 54th Cartagena Film Festival.

This fellowship has been possible thanks to an alliance between the Colombian Ministry of Culture and the FNPI (New Journalism Foundation), with the support of The Cartago Foundation, the Cartagena Film Festival (FICCI), Red Assist, Banco de la República, and the Ardila Lülle Organization, which permanently supports the FNPI as an institutional partner.