Sundance 2008: Cornering the All-Male Critic’s Panel – Kim Voynar comments for AWFJ

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Although I sometimes have a bit of what Laura Linney referred to at this year’s Telluride Film Festival as an “allergic reaction” to film festival panels that focus on women in filmmaking, I also understand the need to have such panels. The point has been made, not inaccurately, that so long as women continue to be marginalized in Hollywood, the need for panels that highlight women’s accomplishments in film will still exist. Unfortunately, that marginalization exists across the board in our industry, extending also to women who work as film journalists.

As a case in point, at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, there was a panel titled “Critics Cornered,” which focused on whether critics still matter and the impact of blogging on film criticism. The panel, moderated by LA Weekly’s Scott Foundas, was a “panel of critics” that included Owen Gleiberman from Entertainment Weekly, Mark Bell from Film Threat, Eugene Hernandez from IndieWIRE, and Sean P. Means from the Salt Lake Tribune. You might notice that of the five names who were participants on that panel, not one was a woman.

This might be understandable if there were no female critics present at Sundance, but of course, that wasn’t the case. Mahnola Dargis from the New York Times was there, at least for part of the fest, as were several members of AWFJ and a lot of other female film journalists who aren’t AWFJ members. One might think, given the presence of all these female film critics at the fest, the organizers of the panel could have put one or two women on there to balance out the testosterone a bit.

Just to be clear, I have nothing against any of the men who participated on that panel. They didn’t organize it, and so far as I know, they didn’t know when they agreed to be on it who else would be up there with them. But as Eugene Hernandez noted during his opening remarks, he’s not even a film critic, he’s a film journalist. His focus in covering fests is on the more on the business side of indie films, filmmakers, and indie film culture than on writing critiques of films. This is not to pick on Eugene, who has been around the fest circuit for a long time (this was his 15th Sundance) – he’s more than qualified to speak about film in any capacity he chooses, he knows a lot about the industry, he knows a lot about film, and he has smart things to say about film whatever the context.

But the point remains, there were a lot of women film journalists working the fest who are primarily film critics, and for a panel called “Critics Cornered” to not include a single woman among the folks onstage is just a slap in the face to every female film critic working at Sundance. This year’s awards at Sundance included many women filmmakers who came to the fest with unique visions and films that clearly resonated with audience members and juryists alike. Any one (or two, or three) of the women working Sundance as press could have brought to that Critics Cornered panel a different perspective than the panel had by only including men.

I have no idea who organized this specific panel, or why no women were included on it.* It’s entirely possible that they invited one or more women to participate who declined; I do know that no AWFJ members who were at Sundance were asked to participate on it. An email sent to one of the publicists for Sundance was unanswered as of this writing, but to be fair, the Sundance staff is probably taking a well-deserved break. It’s worth noting that the Sundance Institute and the Sundance Film Festival have a solid history of supporting female voices in filmmaking, which makes the absence of women on the Critics Cornered panel that much more puzzling.

This week I head to the Oxford Film Festival in Oxford, Mississippi, where I’ll participate in a panel on New Media in Film Criticism. Two of the four participants on that panel are women. Here’s hoping that next year when Sundance plans a panel related to film criticism, they remember to include both male and female critics in the discussion.

*Anne Thompson was indeed asked to moderate, but had to leave. It would have been nice for them to invite another woman since Anne was unable to participate, but even with her moderating the panel, it still would have also been nice to include a female critic on the panel itself.

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Kim Voynar

Kim Voynar was an internationally recognized film critic for a decade, covering the film festival circuit and independent cinema for Movie City News, Cinematical, IndieWIRE and Variety, before transitioning into producing films in 2010. She has served on juries and expert panels for many prestigious film festivals, including the Seattle International Film Festival, SXSW, Sarasota Film Festival, Dallas International Film Festival, Miami International Film Festival, Oxford Film Festival, and deadCENTER Film Festival. After three years producing for a Seattle-based prodco, she's now producing and consulting independently under her boutique production shingle, Lateralus, and is working on some killer projects with avant-garde music group The Residents, Will Calhoun (Living Colour), and Ken Stringfellow (Posies, REM), and consulting on some projects in the VR space with Hollywood producing legend Scott Ross (Apollo 13, Benjamin Buttons, Titanic). Her hobbies include trendsetting Seattle street style, staying up late nights pondering post-apocalytpic survival techniques, and deep thinking on virtual reality and the mathematical perfection of logarithmic spirals and fractals.