The Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA) is a non-profit professional association for film critics working in print, online, on-air, etc. According to the Chicago Reader, the Association was founded in 1988 by two critics; Sharon LeMaire and Sue Kiner. The Association incorporated in 1991 and today features 60 members.
CFCA is responsible for a range of activities associated with screening and critiquing cinema.
- Chicago Film Critics Awards – an annual event honoring “outstanding film works, performances and individuals”.
- Chicago Critics Film Festival – said to be the “only film festival entirely programmed by a critics’ group”.
- CFCA Critic Roundtables – A causal gathering of critics at Chicago schools and universities “to engage the public in critical discussion”.
- Activism on Industry & Rights Issues – CFCA has a keen interest in artist rights.
CFCA has offered annual film awards since 1989, and it also hosts the Chicago Critics Film Festival each year. It also offers professional critics the opportunity to apply for membership in its professional society.
Not just anyone can join; you must be a professional film critic, which in this context means writing film criticism and not just interviewing or profiling a film.
To qualify for this association, the CFCA official site says applicants must submit film reviews of “full-length works in their respective media” and applicants must write in this capacity for six months or more to qualify. There is also a residency requirement; all members must live in Cook County, a nearby “collar county” or part of northwest Indiana.
The CFCA official site explains its approach to criticism; it is viewed as an evolving art form, a work in progress. That means being open to changes in the nature of cinema, how it is created and consumed, and its changing role in society. CFCA is clear; inclusion is a key part of their approach.
The CFCA official site sets a standard for its members, advising them at application time, “CFCA believes in and supports equality across age, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, physical abilities, race, and religion.” It’s the mission of the CFCA to “uphold the diverse voices who make film a vital art form for social change”
To join, applicants have to jump through some 20th-century hoops; the association requires you to provide a letter “written on company stationery and signed by a producer or editor attesting to the paid employment and official status of the critic”.
That requirement might be more flexible than it sounds; this copy reads as though it were written back in the 1990s and simply never updated. But don’t be shocked if you actually are required to submit something on a letterhead.
That said, it’s entirely possible you WON’T be asked to do this based on information found on the application form, which advises critics to “secure a letter from an editor confirming that you are serving as a film critic”. This is required even if you are your own editor, according to the application form
To complete your application, you must submit samples of your film criticism work as published or broadcast.
Don’t waste time submitting samples of writing or broadcasting that does not include actual film criticism (as opposed to interviews, capsule reviews, etc.) and be sure to include evidence that you have been working in this capacity for six months or more. The guidelines for applying state that you must submit a representation of a body of work from one or multiple outlets.
Unfortunately, this association does not accept work for educational broadcasting or publishing, so if your film criticism work includes these it’s wise not to submit them. Do you have a membership in another Chicago-area film critics associations? You can’t hold simultaneous membership in CFCA and a competing association. You are permitted to belong to a national organization.
Those who join CFCA and participate in reviewing film screeners, film festival entries, and related material are expected to adhere to a strict code of conduct regarding the film media they are entrusted with.
The official site says sharing such media via torrents, bootlegging screeners, and recording film screenings “…are a violation of the trust between the association and studios, and a negative reflection on the critics group that will lead to expulsion.”
Those interested in joining CFCA can download an online application form to get started.