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Critics Campus: Where Are They Now? (Part 2)

18.05.2023 | Critics Campus Interviews
Critics Campus: Where Are They Now? (Part 2)

In the second instalment of a series in which we shine a spotlight on Critics Campus’s illustrious alumni, we speak to Aimee Knight (2016 cohort), Conor Bateman (2015 cohort) and Claire Cao (2019 cohort) about where their professional paths have led since their participation in MIFF’s incubator program for emerging critics.

Applications for Critics Campus 2023 are open until 22 May – for more information or to apply, click here.

Aimee Knight

Since your time as a Critics Campus mentee in 2016, where has your career taken you?

The day after my Critics Campus stint ended, my mentor, Rebecca Harkins-Cross, sent me on an assignment for The Big Issue (TBI), where she was film editor at the time. The feature I wrote (an interview with director Rosemary Myers for Girl Asleep, MIFF 2016) planted a critical seed for me – one that has bloomed into an editorial relationship of six years and counting! After contributing to the magazine’s film pages for a few years, I became small screens editor in 2018, then film editor in 2021, and last year I accepted a role as staff writer. (May I shamelessly plug our current cover story, written by yours truly, on streets now?)

Beyond TBI, I’ve also regularly contributed to Little White Lies, thanks to connecting with editor David Jenkins at Critics Campus. In 2021, I was invited to the Berlinale Talent Press program as a mentee, and to MIFF’s Critics Campus as a mentor, which was a fulfilling, full-circle moment. I’ve also mentored at Melbourne Women in Film Festival’s Critics Lab, done a bunch of live radio spots, written 7000 words on The Muppet Christmas Carol for Letterboxd’s Journal and am chipping away at a book I hope to finish drafting sometime before the end of the decade.

How did Critics Campus help you on this journey?

Critics Campus is the gift that keeps on giving! In the years since I participated, I’ve realised how much I love editing as well as writing, and I trace that back to our live-editing session. Getting to watch editors mark up a document in real time made the otherwise-invisible process so clear and accessible. This is a bit niche, but many of the lessons I learned that day about line editing, in particular, I still use in my own writing and editing practices. I’m also grateful to now share these tips with our contributors at TBI because – having experienced that blessing of mentorship – I feel it’s important to approach editing as a kind of mentorship unto itself.

Every year, I look forward to reading about the latest round of mentees, many of whom I’ve pilfered to write for me. The ‘Critics Campus grad to TBI contributor’ pipeline is strong because I can trust that CC alumni are ready and raring to write professionally. I’ve developed really fruitful connections with other participants over the years, and a real highlight for me has been watching their careers grow. Seeing Claire Cao [note: interviewed below!] and Jamie Tram step up as editors at TBI is a delight – and that I get to call them my friends is even better!

Critics Campus truly has created a community, one that extends far beyond your year of admission, and its rewards keep manifesting long after the week itself has wrapped.


Conor Bateman

Since your time as a Critics Campus mentee in 2015, where has your career taken you?

I’ve mostly moved from written film criticism to video making and film programming, though I did write pieces for publications like 4A Papers and RealTime, and continued to edit the ragtag local film website 4:3 until about 2019. I’ve made video essays for Fandor and RealTime, and video artworks for screenings at UQ Art Museum, Monash University Museum of Art and as part of the online video art project Prototype. I moved into video installations in 2020, collaborating with filmmaker Sari Braithwaite on the five-channel collage work You Will See Me, which is part of ACMI’s centrepiece exhibition The Story of the Moving Image, and I edited artist Jason Phu’s feature-length Analects of Kung Phu, which was at ACMI early last year and has since toured.

In 2019, I co-founded the screening collective Static Vision. We started out hosting one-off screenings in Sydney, but have since moved into festivals (we run an annual themed festival in Sydney and Melbourne) and livestreams (we had a 32-week streak of weekly livestreams during the 2020 lockdowns here in Melbourne, with filmmaker guests like Paul Schrader, Cecelia Condit and Guy Maddin). We’re now working in the film distribution space – one of the films we’ve released, Neptune Frost, took home the inaugural Bright Horizons Award at MIFF last year!

How did Critics Campus help you on this journey?

Critics Campus was what prompted me to take up video essays as a form. Kevin B. Lee was one of the mentors in 2015, and I was able to work closely with him, which helped expand what I thought criticism could be (I attempted to echo Kevin’s advocacy for video essays when I came back as a mentor for Critics Campus in 2018). I think, also, Critics Campus gave me a greater sense of the interplay between programming and criticism – as part of the program, you really do get to experience a broad cross-section of what film festivals are and how they work. (Karaoke factors into things more than you’d expect.) And it was just such a blessing to meet so many passionate, interesting writers as part of the program, some of whom I’m lucky enough to have as close friends today.


Claire Cao

Since your time as a Critics Campus mentee in 2019, where has your career taken you?

Despite cinema having a significant impact on my life, I had done very little film writing before Critics Campus. In fact, my few pieces of film criticism were published in Rough Cut, an online publication created and started by Critics Campus alumni! Since being a mentee, I’m now a full-time freelancer, mostly in the realm of film/culture writing. Last year, I was able to have a film-focused column as Kill Your Darlings’ New Critic and became small screens editor for The Big Issue (I am currently the film editor). I’ve also written essays, interviews and reviews for The Guardian, ArtReview, The Sydney Morning Herald, Frankie and many more.

The program was also fulfilling in a creative sense – it connected me to so many like-minded writers and filmmakers, which has given me a boost in developing my own stories. Outside of writing, I’ve become a much more active festival-goer, and I’ve been an assistant programmer for Sydney Film Festival for the past three years.

How did Critics Campus help you on this journey?

I can trace that entire journey back to Critics Campus! It’s such a rare experience to have a week where you don’t have to think about anything except movies and writing. And you’re surrounded by people who are equally passionate as you are (basically my dream). Everyone involved was genuinely invested in the development of emerging writers and offered such a practical crash-course environment. Pitching, intensive deadlines, editing sessions, feature writing – nobody had ever taught me how to do these things until then. It really pushed me out of my comfort zone, helping me be more open to feedback. I remember a major thing for me was my fear of interviewing: the first ever interview I did for Critics Campus, my heart was pounding. But I emerged with a foundation that I’m eternally grateful for. I’ve since profiled some of my favourite artists such as Rebecca Hall, Daniel Kaluuya and Martin McDonagh, and I really owe it to that first messy interview!

I’ve since done a few writing programs, and Critics Campus still stands out as the one where I’ve forged the most genuine friendships. Maybe it’s the camaraderie of film fanatics, maybe it was the drunken karaoke and heated discussions over breakfast. All I know is that the program has been responsible for so much good in my life – both professionally and personally.

Critics Campus 2023 is
 presented by VicScreen.

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