The Filmsnobs’ Response to Hearne Christopher’s Kansas City Star Article about the Resignation of Shawn Edwards from the Kansas City Film Critics Circle

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On March 4, 2005, Hearne Christopher, JR used his gossip column to comment on Shawn Edwards’ resignation from the Kansas City Film Critics Circle. He and Edwards called the KCFCC a “clubby” and “unprofessional” “clique of film geeks.” Christopher tried to make KCFCC President and Lawrence Journal-World critic Jon Niccum seem petty, as if ten bucks was just another example of those clubby film critics’ rampant jealousy of Shawn Edwards. In fact, in a , in a previous column, Christopher mocked “old school critics who still find fault with new school critics like Fox-4's Shawn Edwards.” Apparently, Christopher’s agenda is to promote Edwards as some young, hip film criticism superstar because Edwards is often quoted by the studios to promote their movies–commonly known in film criticism circles as a “quote whore” who lavishes ostentatious praise on the worst of movies. And the KCFCC? Must be stuffy old guys sitting around talking about auteur theory. Except for the Filmsnobs, of course, whom the Star named one of Kansas City’s top artists under the age of thirty.

Normally, we wouldn’t get so hot and bothered by this, but a reputable organization, which has done a lot for us, was defamed by a pair of questionable journalists. The Filmsnobs are particularly bothered by Edwards’ charge of “unprofessionalism” toward Mr. Niccum, especially from a “journalist” whose shameless ego has been documented in Variety, USA Today, and other national magazines. Perhaps if the Filmsnobs were TV critics with buddies at The Kansas City Star, we might be able to air our petty grievances to the major local newspaper. We’re just guys with a URL and a dopey web site, without the awesome responsibility of telling Fox-4 viewers that Sweet November will give you “a renewed passion for life” or that The Chronicles of Riddick is “One of the best sci-fi films ever!” The Filmsnobs would like to respond to Shawn Edwards.

Edwards is a critic for Kansas City’s Fox 4 News, 103.3 FM, and other formats in the area and around the country. He’s a big name in a sizable market; when people find out that we are KC-based film critics, we are almost always asked about Shawn Edwards. They puzzle over his enthusiasm for White Chicks, The Animal, or his declaration that Britney Spears is “like a comet. A talent of her magnitude only comes around once in a lifetime and you can’t take your eyes off her when she is on screen in this totally cool and delightfully hip movie.” It seems like the only two movies he didn’t like last year were Sideways and The Lady Killers, which Edwards said was “race-baiting.”

We don’t know much about Edwards personally because he was rarely around the KCFCC. When he did participate, it was primarily negative criticism and complaint. “The KCFCC didn’t do enough for members” or “The KCFCC puts membership standards too low” are examples of his reported distress. But with this input came not action, but mere hand-ringing. Edwards, despite his national influence, never offered to take leadership to improve the organization. He never gave suggestions for reformation of procedure or management. He never used his stature for the betterment of the Circle. Instead, Edwards only showed up a couple times a year to complain. He acted as though being in the KCFCC was a requirement for a film critic in the Kansas City metropolitan area. It’s not. Current members nominate their peers. Accepting the nomination is voluntary, so it’s as if Edwards joined the organization simply to complain about the organization.

As far as we can tell, because the KCFCC didn’t directly serve Edwards’ ego, Edwards had no use for it. He doesn’t understand that the KCFCC is a union that gives strength to its individual members. Through this organization, hard-working critics from all around Kansas City get opportunities to improve their craft. For the Filmsnobs, being a member of the KCFCC is a big deal. We get access to screenings and studio material we could never get on our own. We get the opportunity to meet moviemakers and discuss their art with them. We get to talk about film criticism with talented writers from a variety of formats. For smaller, hard-working, serious film critics like us, being in the KCFCC has enriched and deepened our knowledge of film, given us a legitimacy we would otherwise not be able to have, and been an important part of our growth as writers.

The media is facing great change right now, and the KCFCC is embracing that change. Readers now have a variety a media to choose from, and writing talent is now spread across the traditional and alternative media. Under this threat, many critics’ organizations have responded defensively. They’ve excluded talented writers not from the traditional media, and thus they’ve lost a lot of their audience. They’ve held their nose to television film critics, critics at the local paper, and on-liners who’ve built considerable readerships.

However, under Niccum’s leadership, the KCFCC’s voice has grown stronger. Studios recognized that Kansas City is a great film market, and that it’s critics–even the ones not on Fox-4--influence that audience. Niccum has built studio awareness, as well as recognition in the larger media. The annual awards used to be a small affair; Mr. Niccum’s reforms have garnered status rising to profiles in Entertainment Weekly and USA Today. He’s helped bring national directors to Kansas City for us. He’s helped develop membership criteria to accommodate the shift in the media without lowering standards. This represents a clear difference in the character of these two critics: When Niccum saw problems with the organization, he took charge and fixed those problems. When Edwards saw problems, he quit and sulked to a gossip columnist.

The Filmsnobs are certainly not jealous of Edwards’ national recognition. But for Edwards to claim to be a “professional” over his former peers at the KCFCC is almost laughable in light of his own behavior. Did members of the KCFCC have a good time during the last KCFCC meeting? Yes. Did these members include the Filmsnobs? Yes. Indeed, we had a great time meeting with fellow film critics for a chance to recognize the best in 2004 cinema, as well as enjoy a good meal with good company.

Having fun and getting down to business are not mutually exclusive activities, as Edwards’ comments may suggest. He ruled this behavior as “unprofessional.” This, from a “critic” who regularly embarrasses the group by lavishing ridiculous praise of the worst of film. This is not a matter of taste: There is a clear quid pro quo between Edwards’ regular flights to LA junkets and his declarations that Dreamcatcher is full of “whiz-bang action and creepy excitement.”
Edwards’ complaints are curious from a “professional” who felt the need to send a mass e-mail replete with snide tone and sarcasm to studio publicists and members alike in late January. Based on the e-mail’s content, Edwards was displeased with the time it took for some studios to release Academy Award-nominated films in the KC area. However, because of the KCFCC, the Filmsnobs received these films on screener and were able to review them before they came to Kansas City. Once again, all negative and snotty grievances from Edwards who can’t see past his own inflated ego. Personally, we found this stunt “unprofessional, and we can only imagine what those studio representatives thought when they read this example of a “professional” e-mail. (Perhaps Hearne would be willing to write a column about that incident?)

Edwards may not need the KCFCC to get him to the “Are We There Yet?” buffet. The Filmsnobs hope Edwards finds satisfaction with his other memberships, as we’re sure we will find satisfaction with his absence. The KCFCC has tried to build up the film criticism profession. Shawn Edwards, when quote-whoring with a “celebrity hottie” from a reality TV show, only tears it down. We would only ask that Edwards take all the time and energy to criticizing his peers and focus it on something positive and useful. Perhaps Christopher could write a gossip column about that. Probably, though, Edwards’ stint in the KCFCC was like a comet, a brief smear across the night sky of film criticism that will fade into darkness over time.

--- James Owen, a.k.a. Jimmy O
KCFCC member since August ‘03

—Stephen Himes, a.k.a shimes
KCFCC member since July ‘04