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From Graduation to Cannes :: An Interview With Ryan Lattanzio

Ryan Lattanzio, a student theater assistant at the PFA Theater, has been selected to serve as a jurist at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Lattanzio, who writes about art and film for The Daily Californian and moonlights for a host of other local publications and blogs, including the San Francisco Chronicle, is a recipient of a College to Cannes award from the San Francisco Film Society. As a result, he will hop on a plane for the south of France to help select the festival’s Visionary Award just mere hours after being handed his diploma from Cal—a B.A. in English.

First off, congratulations! You must be incredibly excited to be recognized for your writing, much less to be getting a paid trip to Cannes. What is the “Visionary Award”?

Thank you! I am very excited, especially since I will be boarding my 6 a.m. flight the day after my graduation. As for the “Visionary Award”—the name of which might still be up for debate—it’s basically a new award that’s bestowed upon a burgeoning filmmaker whose work is selected for Cannes’s Critics’ Week. Critics’ Week is like the underground supplement to the festival’s main program, and it features smaller, more experimental films. Alongside four other international students and jury head Celine Sciamma (a young French director who made the films Water Lilies and Tomboy) I will help select one outstanding film from the ten Critics’ Week selections. Hopefully there will be time to check out some of the main programs, too.

Are there any other particular films or activities you’re hoping to take in during the festival?

The lineup has not yet been announced, but will be on April 19th so I can tell you more about my wishes and desires at that point. After the festival ends, I will spending four days in Paris, living out, however briefly, the bohemian fantasy of traveling alone after graduation. I also expect to meet a lot of film personalities and critics. Tim Roth is leading the Grand Jury this year, so it would be really cool to meet him, too.

How did you get started writing about film?

I was around 13 years old when I started a blog for my film reviews and top 10 lists. I also wrote a lot of customer reviews on Amazon.com. If you Google my name, you will find some buried treasures: the embarrassing reviews I wrote as a teenager. I was first published in an official capacity when I started writing about art and film for The Daily Californian in January 2009. Since then, I’ve served as the lead film critic throughout the semesters.

Are there any writers, critics, teachers, or others that have made a particularly large impression on your writing style or the way you look at films?

For an English major, I read a surprisingly small amount of literature. I mostly read art criticism, essays, and critical theory—I find these things to be the most pleasurable to read, and I also find in this kind of writing ways to improve my own style and sensibilities. I like long form pieces. The Peter Traverses of the world do not interest me. The folks at AV Club are doing amazing stuff, I think. Roger Ebert is pretty much a god to me. I love any writer willing to look at a subject pragmatically, without pretensions or jargon.

I’ve also had the privilege of studying under a few spectacular professors at Berkeley. D.A. Miller in the English department is my Honors Thesis advisor, and I’ve taken two classes with him. He’s a really intelligent professor who really gives you the “Berkeley” experience. I’m also taking a class on literary theory right now with Dorothy Hale, and she is just terrific. These two have taught me to be inquisitive, and skeptical of the world. In the best way.

How did your experiences at BAM/PFA influence your writing?

Working at PFA has afforded me the opportunity to see hundreds of movies I otherwise wouldn’t, whether because they are out-of-print or because they were films I kept putting off. I recently enjoyed the Robert Bresson series at the PFA Theater. Au Hasard Balthazar was a film I postponed for years. It was serious and challenging and strange, which is exactly how I like my movies. I’ve also met a lot of great people inside and outside of the institution. It’s essential for the pending grad to have a hefty Rolodex at hand, so to speak.

Are there any particularly memorable moments or highlights from your time working here?

I enjoyed working the gala we had at BAM/PFA last year. I spotted David Byrne in a neon green suit, which is a dream come true. I’ve always loved working the film festivals at the PFA Theater and having the chance to listen to directors like Walter Salles and Aaron Katz speak to the audience. Also it was great having the Kuchar brothers around for a few weeks, right before George died in September.

What are your post-graduation plans—both immediate and long-term? Are you hoping to make a career out of film writing?

I’m sort of pretending like life after France doesn’t exist. I plan to move to LA, just to see a new city, and hopefully find some kind of job. I’ll take anything, and am available to start work immediately (hint, readers!). I’m not sure if film writing is what I want to do for the long-term. Film criticism seems more and more like a dead enterprise, but I don’t want to get into it because it’s dry and depressing. How to establish your voice as a film critic among tens of thousands of other critics, online and in print, is something we all struggle with. I think it might be liberating to try something new.

The College to Cannes award is made possible by the San Francisco Film Society’s Colleges & Universities program, in partnership with the Consulate General of France in San Francisco, the French American Cultural Society and Semaine de la Critique

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