We invite you to get to know our members in this monthly series about their work and careers. In this month’s “Meet a Critic”, we are pleased to introduce you to Justine Smith, a freelance writer from Montreal.
How long have you been writing about film?
I’ve been writing about film since about 2004-2005. I remember quite vividly writing about Pandora’s Box (1929) in my math class in my last year of high school. At the time I believe I had a small blog but had mostly been writing and discussing films on various message boards.
How did you start? Was there a specific film that sparked the desire to write?
I don’t remember a specific moment or a specific film. Ever since I can remember I was looking to express myself, but was never particularly comfortable in conversation and felt I had an artistic inclination. In my last couple of years of high school, I had been losing my focus on my passion for drawing and illustration because I felt that I didn’t have the talent or drive to pursue that as a career. So, I started writing more. Writing about film something that offered me a lot of escape from my life, seemed like a natural direction. I don’t think I started writing with the idea of a career in mind.
What was the first film you ever reviewed/wrote about?
Genuinely unsure, but the question spurred me to look out for the first blog I remember having. That begun in 2007, where my first review was about the Jean Renoir film Partie de campagne (1936). I wrote about the movie, “When the rain finally does come, Renoir uses this brilliant tracking type shot as the camera speeds backwards along the river. It’s one of those euphoric moments that is pure poetry. It’s almost as if all that was said and done that day didn’t happen, or didn’t mean anything… on one level, this is true. It doesn’t change the lives of the characters, although they all live with the memories of that summer afternoon.” For the first time, I was paid for writing? I think it was for Cleo: A Feminist Film Journal.
What is your favourite memory about being an online freelance writer?
Not sure — I can’t really think of a specific moment. Literally anytime [an outlet] accepts a pitch I send is pretty amazing.
I always want to be better and more seasoned than I feel. I wish I had a stronger voice, so I work on writing on a daily basis. I want to be able to write for an audience that doesn’t necessarily know about film, and have them feel who I am and for films they’ve never even seen.
What has been the biggest challenge about being an online freelance writer?
Sometimes it can be a bit difficult to find the motivation, not always because I don’t want to write but because the atmosphere isn’t right. Writing mostly from home is a double edged sword, and my husband always works from our apartment, so my thoughts can be crowded. Finding my flow can be difficult.
Honestly, though, the most challenging thing is budgeting. While many outlets I write for are very reliable with paying quickly, or at least on some kind of schedule, there are many sites that are more difficult to really rely on for payment. If I had an unexpected expense, or just have a bad month this can be incredibly difficult. I am lucky that I have family and friends who can sometimes carry me over for a handful of days, but it’s likely the most difficult part. I’m still working on building up a portfolio and making reliable connections with editors, so some months fare better than others in this respect.
What are your writing goals? How would you like to expand your writing?
My writing goals, I wish I could face them more directly. I always want to be better and more seasoned than I feel. I wish I had a stronger voice, so I work on writing on a daily basis. I want to be able to write for an audience that doesn’t necessarily know about film, and have them feel who I am and for films they’ve never even seen. I am pretty obsessive about finding my own voice, so I spend a lot of time reading and challenging myself. Often, I feel overwhelmed by ebbs and flows of my emotions and work ethic which for me challenge my abilities more than anything else. I would love a genuine opportunity to be challenged to be better because I have a habit of settling into a comfort zone out of fear of failing.
In your opinion, what is the best movie ever made?
The Red Shoes (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1948)
Find more of Justine’s work on her blog Beyond the Red Room, follow her on Twitter at @redroomrantings, and on Letterboxd at @philosopherouge. Join us again next month when we highlight another critic.
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