NOUSE MET SPOTLIGHT president Avvayar De Mel, at Merchantgate, a handful of minutes past midday. Somewhat conveniently, it's just ticked past the Red Lion’s opening hour, and so we head inside to start talking about Spotlight, York's only specialised Film and TV magazine.
Initially we start discussing why there is space on campus for a magazine like Spotlight, and why Avvayar, Mattia and Elly are the right people on the revived committee to help fill the gap. De Mel explains that the difficulties in fitting quality film and television articles into other newspapers and how Letterbox reviews don’t allow space for a specialised magazine catering towards just film and TV. She also mentions her sadness at how Spotlight discontinued during COVID and how it helped the motivation to restart the society, creating quality cinematic journalism on campus.
There is already a strong film community on campus with the York Student Cinema Society and the World Cinema Society, so there is a market for an outlet that will focus solely on film and TV journalism.
On the theme of revival, given that Spotlight is back and it’s their main question in their first issue, Nouse asks the Spotlight president, “Is cinema back?” De Mel argues that “cinema culture is coming back and I’m quite excited about it”. Furthermore in the post-Covid-19 world, the way movies such as Barbie and Oppenheimer, and recent offerings like Saltburn and The Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes were marketed, showcases that the film industry is confident in people coming back to the cinema. The Barbenheimer event gripped the world with many fans seeing both films on the same day and encouraging others to dress to the theme of the film they were going to see. It brought back an excitement and energy to cinema that was lost during the pandemic. Cinemas are an example of what is known in philosophy and sociology as a third space, a space that is outside of the home or workplace. De Mel points out there has been a decline in third spaces since the pandemic which may be contributing to the rise of the cinema. De Mel explains “whilst Barbenheimer might’ve been an accident, it was a reflection of a trend within young people to want to have third spaces.” Her mostly convincing reflection on the underlying root of cinema culture’s revival and our most loved lost haunts within society display a critical level of thinking that no doubt she’ll bring to her role as editor of Spotlight. Even if Hollywood's revival has its pitfalls, Spotlight’s feel in good hands.
Given such a response to the opening question, it felt only appropriate to ask what, in a grander sense, film and TV means to Spotlight’s president. De Mel highlights that “Film and TV are one of the most beautiful art forms” and that growing up with film being “such an expressive form, allows for its magnificence in a higher sense." For De Mel, not only is film illustrious and august in character but also that “it’s such a fun way to bond with friends and family.” She makes this point clear by going on to describe her passion for the earlier phases of the Marvel movies during her childhood and her current enduring love of Hotel for Dogs in contrast with herequal love of more arthouse-catered films such as Apu Sansar.
The conversation leads into a question surrounding pretentiousness, a theme throughout our interview, and within the film industry, that some films are of higher value than others. De Mel points out that films are made for distinctly different reasons. One film may be loved for a certain reason and it doesn't devalue it in any way in comparison to another.
Passionately elaborating on what makes a film valuable, in her own opinion, firstly it is its cinematography and direction, the technical aspects of a movie, and the highbrow artform in a traditional sense, but also whether the film has heart. For her, films may be highbrow and beautifully shot, but there should be an underlying sense of heart, of warmth, that the film allows for happiness and entertainment if that is its end goal.
Just because a prig might dismiss the idea with the waft of a hand and an upturned sneer of cold command, doesn’t mean the endeavour is any less valuable or worthwhile. It might in fact mean that given its nature, it reaches a larger group of people and consequently touches more in the way in which only films can. The markedly subjectivist and relativist nature of her viewpoint on the philosophy of films fights against the wind of the film industry and especially those who write about films. However, De Mel argues, this inclusivity is especially important for Spotlight and how Spotlight is run as a magazine.
Again, focusing on pretentiousness, De Mel makes it clear that writing for Spotlight doesn’t include a towering barrier to entry, requiring encyclopaedic knowledge of films and TV, where only the most correct of opinions are tolerated. Instead, Spotlight is open to everyone, no matter how much they know about films. Films are there to be enjoyed as one of their primary purposes, she explains “we want people to write about films without worrying about specific knowledge”.
Overall, it is De Mel’s love of films. Of their art and their scope, of their capacity for entertainment and humour, of their beatific nature and pure expression, for inspiring her to revive Spotlight and silver screen journalism across campus.