Interview: Adam Nayman
How did you become a film critic? Did you always want to be one, or is it something that you fell in to?
Adam: I grew up in a very film-centric household and was encouraged to write about the movies I was watching by my parents, who were both journalists. When I was 11 or 12 years old I started buying used books of film criticism by Pauline Kael and Stanley Kauffman, and using the Internet (in its very early days!) to read Jim Hoberman in the Village Voice. By the time I was in university, I was reviewing films for a campus newspaper and when I was 21 I got hired by Eye Weekly to write in their film section.
Have you ever felt pressure to write comments in your reviews that you did not fully agree with?
Adam: Not directly: I've always either had editors who resisted that sort of pressure, or I've chosen to write reviews for publications that make a point of being anti-establishment. There was one incident where a magazine's advertising department took some flak from a distributor after I panned a very popular film, but my editor stood by me -- the review ran word for word.
Have you ever faced controversy after one of your articles had been published?
Adam: I don't go looking for controversy. I know some filmmakers have been pretty ticked off reading stuff I've written, but I've tried to resist writing anything outside the work itself (though I was admittedly pretty nasty about Jason Reitman when I did UP IN THE AIR for Cinema Scope). More frequently, I've gotten positive feedback from filmmakers (and a few actors) who have been interested in things I've written, not always because they're admiring reviews. I will say that it's not that easy to hide behind a byline, especially if you have been writing for as long as I have (twelve years and counting).
What is an average work day for you? Do you work a typical 9 to 5?
Adam: I don't work a 9 to 5, but an average work day is in some ways just as intense. The morning usually consists of "housekeeping" stuff, i.e. coming up with/following up on pitches, conferring with editors about assignments, and doing revisions on things that were sent back the day before. That, or there are press screenings at a movie theatre at 10 am, which means you have do to the housekeeping earlier or start it after lunch. I usually don't do my writing until the afternoon, but there's usually also screeners to watch (or films to revisit for longer or more scholarly pieces) so I often am doing two or three different assignments at once (though not watching and writing at the same time, of course!). Many weekday evenings are taken up by screenings as well. There are admittedly some very slow days that let me catch up on other things -- the gym, or having some semblance of a social life -- but in September, during TIFF, I'd say I'm doing 14 hour days factoring in viewing and writing and interviewing.
What review or contribution are you most proud of?
Adam: I'm usually proudest of the things I write for Cinema Scope which is the best film magazine in Canada and arguably all of North America. I also work as a contributing editor there and each quarterly issue is a highlight of my working year. I recently did a piece on the cinema of Neveldine/Taylor that I thought was pretty good, and got a compliment (in blog post form) from David Bordwell in his review of Cinema Scope 50. I mean, it doesn't get better than that, right?
What is your favourite movie?
Adam: Depends on what day of the week it is, or what you mean by "favourite." I just finished filling out my Sight and Sound ballot for the 10 best films of all time, which was hard enough. So I'll just go with the first film on that alphabetical list: BEAU TRAVAIL, directed by Claire Denis (2000). It's a suggestive, mysterious, singular movie with maybe the most exhilarating final sequence I've ever seen. I'd probably say Denis is my favourite director at the moment, with the Dardenne brothers and Jia Zhangke close behind.
What is your greatest (career) accomplishment thus far? Do you have any memorable highlights?
Adam: I love that I've gotten to go to festivals and sit down and talk with David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Olivier Assays, The Coen brothers, the Dardenne brothers, Claire Denis, Bruno Dumont, Francis Ford Coppola, Athina Rachel Tsangari, Theo Angelopoulos, Bela Tarr, Todd Haynes, John Sayles, Apichatpong Weerasathakul, Jia Zhang-ke, Tsai Ming-Liang, Catherine Breillat, Michael Haneke, Allan King, Guy Maddin, James Gray, Lisandro Alonso, Maren Ade, Denis Cote, Kelly Reichardt, and many, many others.
It's surreal to think about, actually.