Maria Garcia is a New York City-based film critic, and the author of Cinematic Quests for Identity: The Hero’s Encounter with the Beast (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015). She is also a regular contributor to Cineaste, America’s leading magazine on the art and politics of the cinema.
Founded in 1967, Cineaste is today widely regarded as one of the most important film quarterlies published anywhere in the world. The journal’s unique editorial focus is reflected in the in-depth nature of its feature articles and interviews, as well as its film, book, and DVD reviews, written by leading film critics, journalists, and scholars.
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1. Do you remember a specific moment that kickstarted your love of cinema?
As a girl, my father and I never missed the “double feature and a cartoon” Saturday matinee at our local “movie house.” Many of these were repertory films, silent screen and screwball comedies especially, but my father’s favorite were John Ford westerns. I loved them, too (and still do), because so many featured female characters living dangerously on the frontier. In my freshman year at college, Merce Cunningham’s troupe performed there and he asked me to appear in a documentary short he was making with a cinematographer friend. It was a bit of a bore as all I did was leap from one end of the dance studio to the other. When I saw the edited footage of us, the lighting style, the fades, etc., I was hooked! My father had not only introduced me as a girl to America’s most important director, but he had given me an appreciation for an art form.
2. Could you please pick out and tell us about some highlights from your long career as a film critic, author, feature writer and intrepid traveller?
In terms of my career as a film critic, I would have to go back to graduate school when I saw my first Robert Bresson film, Diary of a Country Priest. His use of sound was so revolutionary, I could think of nothing else, and so I wrote my M.A. thesis on the film. I devoted a chapter of my book, Cinematic Quests for Identity: The Hero’s Encounter with the Beast to Bresson’s female characters. As a final note, my husband and I went to Mongolia because we wanted to witness the land of The Story of the Weeping Camel.
As for being a feature writer, I have so many wonderful memories of filmmaker interviews, it is hard to choose one or even two. Catherine Breillat and the Dardenne Brothers, all of whom I interviewed on multiple occasions, as well as Celine Sciamma (who I interviewed for her debut film as a director), were among the most erudite, and the most fun because I could get so deep into the craft of filmmaking with them. I was told by the distributor of Heavenly Bodies that I was the first of only two critics to request an interview with director Alice Rohrwacher; I was not surprised, as most male critics I knew didn’t bother to see the film. She is among the finest filmmakers in the world and I have had the privilege of interviewing her multiple times. She’s also surprisingly candid.
I remember that Pat O’Connor as a gentleman of the old school who refused to allow me to pay for lunch. He quoted Yates twice in the course of our interview. Pat is best-known for Dancing at Lughnasa, but Cal and The Ballroom of Romance are beautifully crafted films as well. He told me that Irish school children of his generation often sang portions of the poet’s poems in class to piano accompaniment! In 2002, I interviewed Jafar Panahi for The Circle; I had the first spot at 11 AM, and when I arrived at the distributor’s office, he had just come from the airport where he had been detained the previous year. Coffee was brought in, and Panahi confessed that he had not eaten since the night before. The distributor was apologetic and said they would get him breakfast. I pulled out a freshly made croissant from my bag and offered it to him. I had stopped at my favorite French bakery a half hour before the interview. Panahi laughed, and asked what else I could pull out of that bag. A chocolate croissant, I replied. He stuck with the plain one.
3. Which article that you’ve written for Cineaste are you most proud of?
“Surviving a Non-Linear Way of Work,” in which I interviewed several notable picture editors, Anne V. Coates and Chris Lebenzon among them, about that transition to digital editing. I love writing articles about the craft of filmmaking and Cineaste is the only consumer magazine that accepts long form journalism these days.
4. What is one lesson you’ve learnt from your teaching in graduate and undergraduate departments of English, film and writing?
That good film criticism (or literary criticism) and teaching are alike in the sense that you are explaining the art form to students in each case, and fostering an appreciation for a particular art form and, by extension, an appreciation for the significant role that art plays in all of our lives. I think that the decline of big screen film viewing, in a theatrical setting, is an incalcuable loss; like an opera, or a musical performance, or live theater, films can have a cathartic effect, and the space we share in a movie theater enhances that feeling. I always screen films as a class, even if we have to watch a movie in two parts.
5. Do you have any work coming out soon you’d like to let our readers know about?
I am working on another film book, a series of essays on female writer-directors, but I don’t really want to discuss it. As a freelancer, I rarely know what I’m going to do next.
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Find out more about Maria on her compendium website here.
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