Five Ways to Create an Open Critique Environment

Here at JuiceMedia, we find it important to not just encourage and assist young filmmakers in creating film, but also immerse youth in how to think and talk critically about what they consume!  Throughout the term, at the start or end of the day, youth and interns are encouraged to find a video or film that they have enjoyed and/or created and share it with the group for discussion.  The group then is able to comment on what they liked or didn’t like about the film, pushing to also discuss story related ideas such as symbolism, meaning, and formal elements such as audio or cinematography.  We call this practice “media share”.  Here are a few tips to ensure a critique environment open to growth and development!

1. Establish the meaning of constructive criticism beforehand
As filmmakers, it can be hard to put out work that one has made or feel personally connected to for critique, because it is a vulnerable position for the filmmaker. For this reason, it is important to establish that constructive criticism should be intended to help the film be better, not to direct criticism at the filmmaker personally.  For instance, commenting on the pace of the film is something that could improve the film, while commenting on whether or not you like the filmmaker as a person is not conducive to improving the film.
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2. Ask open ended questions
To keep the discussion open for exchange and conversation, it’s best to ask open ended questions that invite critique participants to think.  Example general questions could include: How did you interpret the story?  What kinds of shots or camera techniques did you notice, and how did those enhance the film?  What improvements could be made?
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3. Encourage the “why”
Though open ended questions are a good way to create an open environment for discussion, to further the depth of the critique, ask the question “why”, particularly if a response is a claim without an explanation. For instance, if a facilitator asks “What did you think about the film?” and a participants responds, “I liked it”, then you can ask why, and their response could lead to deeper analysis.  Although the “why” question can have the potential to expand the conversation, the way it is presented is very important, too.  If not presented as a genuinely open question, it can come off as a challenging or intimidating question.  Additionally, if a participant responds “I don’t know”, it’s ok to try to ask the question in a better way, or move on, as it’s easy to shut someone down if they feel pushed.
Yo Conversations GIF-source

4. In a bigger group, split it up into smaller discussion groups
In large groups, it can be difficult or intimidating for participants to speak up in the discussion.  A strategy to combat this is to split the bigger group up into smaller groups to digest the question first.  This means that everyone gets a chance to share thoughts with each other.  Also leave time for having each small group report back to the large group one thing that they discussed.
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5. In smaller groups, change the spacial structure
Within smaller groups it’s easier for participants to speak up, but changing the spacial structure can really affect the conversation dynamic. Instead of the person sharing being at the front of the room standing and presenting the questions to a sat group, change up the hierarchy and have everyone, including the facilitator, sitting in a circle talking. Little changes like this open the conversation up to everyone because everyone is at the same level, even if there is one person ultimately guiding the critique’s conversation.
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Let us know if you’ve led critiques before and have any additional tips for open and productive sessions!

— Leah, intern

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