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TALENT PRESS 2013: Tom Cottey

Developing a career as a film critic in Britain is no mean feat. The competition is fierce, but becoming a film critic starts with assuming a vocation, rather than a job title.


Tom Cottey

Writing film criticism is less a decision and more a reaction to my greatest obsession: cinema. I began writing about films while studying Film Studies, under the tutelage of two great teachers: Tim Wilkes and Jane Wills. Prior to studying film I had a slight interest in the medium; it was education that galvanised my passion and saw me gain a place at Westminster Film School.

At Westminster I had the opportunity to get hands on with film production. The challenge of making films was eye-opening and exhilarating; I made a lot of mistakes, but I also worked on an Oscar nominated short and made a documentary on Alejandro Jodorowsky. Since film school I have worked in the production and post-production sectors, but film criticism is still important to me – it complements the practical experience.

Developing a career as a film critic in Britain is no mean feat. The competition to write for popular magazines like Empire, Total Film, or Sight & Sound is fierce. Making a living writing is tough. That said, there is a strong (if London-centric) culture of film appreciation, with superb independent film magazines such as Little White Lies and New Empress Magazine, as well as credible blogs.

It is my understanding that becoming a film critic starts with assuming a vocation, rather than a job title. Young writers must tackle film criticism with a keen eye and a discipline for excellent writing. They must network with critics and filmmakers alike and they must generate a reputation. They must care sincerely about the culture of cinema, and maybe then will they begin to prosper.

Working in British film production is much the same as criticism; great dedication is required to succeed. As a result, Britain produces quality films by talented filmmakers. Like Michael Powell, directors including Steve McQueen, Andrea Arnold and Ben Wheatley create bold authored work. Like Hitchcock and Scott, Sam Mendes and Christopher Nolan have made their mark in Hollywood.

To me, the most inspirational figure in British film culture is Mark Cousins. Like the filmmakers of La Nouvelle Vague, he works as both a filmmaker and a critic. His 15-part series The Story of Film: An Odyssey chronicles the history of film as it has never been told before. With experience in production and criticism, I aim to follow Cousins’ lead and react to cinema with images and words.


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