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Vox Visits: David Wilson, founder of the True/False Film Festival

Vox Magazine’s staff hosted renowned filmmaker and Columbia native David Wilson, co-founder of the¬†True/False Film Festival, for the weekly critique of the magazine.

Although Wilson isn’t a magazine journalist, he understands quality when he sees it, a side effect of his critical director’s eye.

He also understands the challenge the Vox staff faces as both students and editors. He talked a bit about his experience as a student in film school.

“When you leave film school, there’s a moment where you stop having excuses,” he says. “When you’re putting something out into the public, you don’t have excuses anymore.”

“You just have to let your work stand.”

Even though the Vox staff has other responsibilities as students (Lord knows I do) we compete with full-time journalists at large local magazines like Feast and Inside Columbia.

“That’s the kind of high bar that’s set for you all,” he says. “And generally, pretty impressively, Vox pulls it off.”

After the short pep talk, Wilson dove into some critical review of the issue, bringing new perspectives to certain stories. He focused heavily on the questions reporters asked through the stories, imploring reporters and editors to pose deeper, more insightful questions to the interview subjects.

“If I’m being interviewed, I’m totally down to answer some hard questions,” he said. Are your questions hardball enough?

“Really good interviews take me out of my comfort zone,” he said. Wilson is often interviewed about True/False, and sometimes the interviews fall below par.

“I can almost always predict 75 percent of the questions,” he said. “If I can do that, I don’t need to be thinking. If I’m not thinking, I’m not going to say anything profound.”

Posing harder questions will generate better stories, but with a city magazine that covers lots of local arts and culture, simply grilling interview subjects or writing more critical reviews won’t create good content.

“There’s an idea that art coverage promotes the things that are going on,” Wilson said. “One is rightfully hesitant to level harsh criticism to give a bad review of something, to call someone out on something.”

The intimate nature of local coverage gives these criticisms more weight.

“If it’s gonna be a negative review, [the author] better have a sense of what they’re saying,” he said. “I don’t need to see positive reviews, but I need to see smart reviews.”

He pulled an example of a film critique done for a class that, while negative, wasn’t intellectually driven. The critique was the only English-language review of the film online for five months.

This is an example of how local reporting, due to the relationships between reporters and local sources, is highly sensitive.

“I would welcome a careful criticism of my films, but it’s gotta be smart and you gotta be ready to stand behind it,” Wilson said.

Take these insights and apply them to your work going forward. Good luck!