David Heslin, editor of Screen Education

David Heslin, photo by Abbey Thorpe
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“These days we are at a point where writers expect to write for free which I fear is leading to a real devaluation of writing as a profession.” David Heslin, editor of Screen Education, sub-editor at Metro Magazine and member of the Senses of Cinema editorial team, speaks to Abbey Thorpe.

Were you always interested in writing about film and what drew you to that specifically?

It occurred to me very early on that it was something that I wanted to do. I think I fell in love with cinema around the age of 16 or 17. I started watching things from around the world, such as classic European films and basically everything that I could get my hands on. I realised that cinema was an art form that I adored and as I was starting to get interested in writing I thought that marrying those two things together would be perfect. However, at that stage I did not think becoming a film critic would be much of a viable career, so I tried to do other things and then I finally came back to it.

Is there any experience that stands out from interviewing a filmmaker?

Most of the interviews that I have done happened in the one weak period at Melbourne International Film Festival a few years ago. In some cases, I was interviewing people whose work I really admired and who had been around for a long time, so it was hard not to be nervous. I tried to prepare by having as many questions as possible prepared before time but also tried to be flexible enough to go off those questions and pursue a train of thought. I found it nerve wracking, but it was a positive experience.

How many times have you attended Melbourne International Film Festival and has your experience changed over the years?

This is the 10th year that I have attended, I went the very first year I moved to Melbourne in 2009 and have been going ever since. I always feel like I am discovering new things at the festival, there is always something really interesting showing. Sometimes you don’t know what you are getting into, films can really blow you away or really disappoint you. As I’ve gotten older I have learnt a lot more about film and now look out for things that I wouldn’t have in the past. It’s just a time of year that I really love.

How were you able to work your way up to becoming one of the editors of Senses of Cinema?

It took me a long time to get published in Senses of Cinema. I remember they would send these call outs for writers and each time I would put my hand up and get turned down. I didn’t have any experience and didn’t really have any film criticism published but eventually they took a punt on me. I wrote a 1000-word piece on ‎Luis Buñuel’s 1960s surrealist Mexican film Simon of the Desert. From there I started contributing regularly up until June of last year when I was finally asked by one of the outgoing editors whether I would be interested in doing it, I jumped at the opportunity because I love the publication and it was a dream come true to be involved in it as an editor.

Has editing Screen Education Magazine and sub editing Metro Magazine opened you up to other forms of film criticism that you usually wouldn’t be exposed to?

There is a lot of writing that I hadn’t been greatly exposed to in the past before starting work on those magazines. One thing about both magazines is that they both publish long-form criticism from 2000 to 3000 words. I haven’t even written things that long, so I had to adjust my approach when reading them. I think it’s great working with people that are so talented and who can express really complex and thought-provoking ideas in a longer format that we don’t usually see in newspapers and magazines.

Do you see film criticism changing in the coming years and are there any changes that you would like to see?

Not to be too pessimistic but I feel like there are a lot of the changes and not necessarily for the better. These days we are at a point where writers expect to write for free which I fear is leading to a real devaluation of writing as a profession. I read recently that there is only one full time film critic left in Australia, which is pretty grim. The magazines that I work for are quarterly magazines and have a long production schedule. We have more time to check facts, do structural editing and to do really meticulous proofreading and I feel like there are very few publications out there like that. Most are overworked and underpaid and it’s very sad because there is something really valuable about that long production process and longform writing and I can hope that it can persist in some way.