The Evening Class
The San Francisco blogger encourages us to take a seat at his popular film blog, The Evening Class.
Tell us about your blog.
The Evening Class is informed by the spirit of Ousmane Sembène who frequently stated that cinema was the evening class for discerning adults. Although he was referencing a specifically African context, I have found his comment to be transnationally relevant. Again, in the active spirit of learning rather than the passive spirit of being taught, I focus on the interactive sociocultural qualities of cinema and their spectacular dimension; i.e., I am especially intrigued by the point of contact between audiences and film professionals—be they filmmakers or festival personnel—and the sociality unique to film culture. In that context, I am less focused on critical reviews or formalist concerns and more on festival previews, Q&A sessions and conversations with talent.
How would you describe your readers? Do you have much contact with the people who read you?
I feel blessed to have a diverse reading public whose interests dovetail my own, other confirmed film festival junkies, other film writers both online and in print, aficionados of popular genres, world cinema, and queer cinema, frequently perceived through an auteurist lens; in gist, film enthusiasts. More often I hear from them via email than through comments on the site as many of them are shy to publish their enthusiasm, which they fear is not proper criticism. Frequently I hear from individuals of the Global South who are delighted to have their national cinemas acknowledged and appreciated in a North American venue.
Tell us how – and why – you started your blog?
A few years back I was taken ill and forced to resign from a legal career in the state judiciary. Hospitalized repeatedly over the course of nearly a year, my recovery involved a deep depression over no longer having the strength to return to my previous livelihood. Lacking a daily routine, I found myself one afternoon watching six films in a row on Turner Classic Movies, feeling nearly sick to my stomach from the lethargy. I decided at that point that the least I could do was to write about the films I was watching on television. Once I developed that discipline, I decided next to start up a blog to share the writing with others. Deciding further that I wanted to focus on film festival culture, I then developed working relationships with local publicists and secured my first press credentials. Quite unexpectedly, I discovered that I loved talking to film talent who frequently passed through the San Francisco Bay Area. Interviews have now become my favorite means of writing about film.
Describe your blog day – do you work at home? Go to a café? Sit in an office?
I often watch two or three movies a day, either at press or festival screenings or on screener, and schedule an average of at least one interview a week, though frequently more. The rest of the time, I work out of my home office, writing films up or transcribing interviews. I've learned to work in two to three-hour shifts, with an hour or so inbetween to eat, run errands, garden, or read. It's not a stretch to say that I am working with movies in one capacity or another for over 12 hours a day. I sometimes feel that I work harder now than I did when I worked for the state judiciary; but, because it is impassioned, it flows much more creatively and is much more rewarding.
How do you find things to blog about and how do you decide that a entry is worth being in your blog?
When it comes to films, there is never a lack of something to write about. If anything, there is never enough time or energy to write about everything I wish I could write about. San Francisco has a thriving, rich film culture and the truth is that I know so little about it that I am brimming with curiosity. Hardly a week goes by that a film festival isn't taking place somewhere in the Bay Area. What matters most to me is to write about film for its aesthetic—not its commercial—ends. Which means that I don't have much interest in Hollywood cinema because there are well-established frameworks for those films to be publicized. I prefer to focus on films and filmmakers who might not be receiving as much attention and who deserve it. Give me a first time filmmaker any day, especially one from a foreign country, outside of the mainstream channels. I am also quite enamored with the advancement of cinema literacy through nonprofit repertory programming. As audiences have become more sophisticated about the films they see, it warrants a retrospective appreciation of the work of previous generations of filmmakers, highlighted by the creative curation of programmers in the Bay Area.
What is your favorite blog entry?
I would say the interviews are my favorite aspect of The Evening Class and having—at this juncture—interviewed hundreds of personalities, it's difficult to favor one over the other—they are each a unique moment in time—but, I am especially pleased for having spoken with Guillermo del Toro for Pan's Labyrinth, Charlie Kaufmann for Synecdoche, New York, and Pedro Costa for Colossal Youth (optioned by GreenCine Daily). These exchanges had nothing of the feel of assigned interviews and more the feel of treasured diary entries where—in the true sense of a symposium—I was allowed to rub shoulders with mentors I respect and admire. I feel blessed to have talked to these masters of the interior life and to be graced by their generosity of spirit and the strength of their vision. In terms of my essay pieces, I'm quite proud of my survey of Lebanese cinema, even if it might not have reached as many people as some of my other pieces. Finally, in terms of hostship, I am quite proud of the Val Lewton Blogathon, which inspired great contributions from many respected peers.