'The Dissolve' Keeps Film Criticism Professional, Even Online

Sep 26, 2013

The 2013 Milwaukee Film Festival kicks off tonight, offering a representative mix of films produced these days, from the shorts and animation to the full-length blockbusters in their 35mm glory.

The Dissolve is an online film criticism site based in Chicago.
Credit Pitchfork

But a more formal take on the "State of Cinema" comes Saturday night, with a keynote address from editors and contributors of the Chicago-based online film magazine, The Dissolve.

It’s only been around since July, but in those few short months has already made a splash in film world for the quality and depth of its writing.

Keith Phipps is the editorial director of the magazine and  Scott Tobias is an editor; they'll be giving the keynote on Saturday afternoon along with Tasha Robinson and Nathan Rabin, at Collectivo Coffee on Prospect Avenue.

The pair say the biggest trend in cinema today is how audiences find films. Tobias says movie theaters are no longer the only place you can see a movie.

"If you live in Des Moines, and you want to see an independent film, there are options for you," he says.

Phipps says it's the audience that's driving the trend, who want more variety - and better quality.

"There's going to be discontented audiences who want more and want to be able to seek them out and I think more and more it's going to be through things like On Demand and digital platforms and probably things we haven't even thought about yet," he says.

It's not just how we view movies that's changing, Tobias says, but also how we write about them. Film criticism is not exclusively printed in newspapers anymore; rather, it's mostly done online today.

Tobias says criticism's also become "more of a hobby than a vocation for many," and Phipps agrees.

"There's more film writing out there than ever before, as best I can tell," Phipps says, "and a lot of it's really good and a lot of it's not necessarily done by people who are doing this professionally. So we feel lucky to have carved out a little place for ourselves."

But Phipps warns that online flamewars could get a detriment to film criticism.

"I think sometimes a lot of film writing can kind of get stuck in an echo chamber where someone writes something, and someone responds to it, and someone responds to a response," he says. "We kind of let this cycle play itself out and that can get a little dull after a while."

Phipps and Tobias will be giving the "State of the Cinema" keynote address on Saturday, as part of the Milwaukee Film Festival, which starts tonight. The German comedy "The Break Up Man" kicks things off at the Oriental Theatre at 6:30 this evening, followed by the traditional, and legendary, opening night party at Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin.