Debbie Zhou was a participant in the Berlinale Talents Press in 2020. She is a Managing Editor of the online film publication Rough Cut, and has written about film and theatre for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, The Saturday Paper and Metro.
Jessica Kiang is the Berlin-based International Critic for Variety, and also writes regularly for The Playlist, Sight & Sound and the BFI. She has served on festival juries from Iceland to Egypt to Austria, most recently adjudicating the Platform competition at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival.
We speak to Debbie and Jessica about their experiences as mentee and mentor, respectively, during MIFF 2018’s Critics Campus.
What’s your top highlight from Critics Campus 2018?
Debbie: There was a moment at the Centrepiece Gala – the last social event of Critics Campus – with all us mentees in a circle, clutching each other’s shoulders, kicking our legs up to the music, purple lights swimming across the dancefloor. It’s ridiculously cute and gross, but it says everything about how we had gelled in that week: a lifelong connection that has taken us far beyond MIFF.
Jessica: It’s a tie between sampling a food culture that can support a pop-up truffle kiosk, and our impromptu karaoke night, when I realised that, as much fun as MIFF was for me, for the Class of ’18 it was properly meaningful. I got to be a small part of this crop of articulate, fabulous weirdos making lasting connections through impassioned movie bickering and bad song choices. It was an honour. Still, the truffle kiosk maybe shades it.
Why is Critics Campus important?
D: It is a creative hothouse of brilliant minds learning together against the backdrop of a buzzing, international festival! You bond with others who share your passion to write about films, your curiosity, your desire to improve. In a freeing, energetic environment, you experiment; you hear diverse perspectives that, in turn, spark lightbulb moments that challenge you to further explore your own voice.
J: New-talent programs feel particularly valuable in the critical sphere because the landscape is daunting to inexperienced writers; they need to realise it’s no less so for ‘established’ critics! It’s perhaps ironic that the key learning from even the best program (and MIFF’s is the best) should be that you already have all you need to be a critic, but that demystification, coupled with inspiration, is what MIFF does so well. One-on-one mentorships are crucial – of course, if you loathe your partner-in-crime, it could be a nightmare. Thankfully, Debbie and I are almost equally adorable.