Literatures, Languages & Cultures

Meet our graduates: James Hanton (Film Studies)

Starting his critic career in The Student during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, MSc Film Studies graduate James Hanton traces his journey from Social Anthropology to Film in this blog post, and shares insights and advice for students eager to try their hand at reviewing live shows.

By James Hanton, MSc Film Studies graduate (2023)

James with his dissertation, in front of a piece of art on the 4th floor of 50 George Square
James poses with his finished masters dissertation in front of a piece of art in 50 George Square

Originally from Moray in the north of Scotland, I came to Edinburgh to do a Social Anthropology MA (Hons) undergraduate degree, which I finished in 2019. I then took a two-year break from studying before deciding to apply for the MSc Film Studies programme at the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC).

Although my academic background was primarily in the social sciences, I had written about film, television, theatre, and other media in a number of my Honours-level assignments during my undergraduate degree. I decided to apply for the masters programme because I wanted to deepen my understanding of film as an art form and mode of expression, as well as enhance my own ability to engage critically with cinema.

In the summer of 2023, I completed my MSc dissertation, titled '"Maybe You Could Love Me": Animation, Emotion, and Realism in the Fictional World of Netflix's Arcane' and graduated with a Master of Science with Distinction.

What is Edinburgh like in the summer?

I enjoy studying and working while the festival season is in full swing. I appreciate that it can be more disruptive for other people, but never do I feel more connected to the university’s international community than during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

I firmly believe that, during the month of August, Edinburgh is the most exciting place in the world to live and to work. I understand that the festivals harbour a lot of issues that need to be resolved as a matter of urgency, but I also know that the city would be immeasurably worse off without them.

To feel so integrated into the university community when the whole world suddenly appears on your doorstep is really breathtaking. It reminds you that studying at Edinburgh helps you to feel like a part of something bigger than yourself. It reminds you that this is a university and a city where the whole world is welcome to share their creative or intellectual impulses, no matter how out of the ordinary they may be.

James Hanton, MSc Film Studies, 2023

Starting your career as a critic

I began writing reviews for The Student, the University of Edinburgh’s student-led newspaper and the oldest student newspaper in Europe, during my undergraduate degree in January 2016. The following year, I spent my first Edinburgh Fringe as an accredited member of the press, reviewing shows at venues across the city for The Student. I have reviewed shows at the festival every year since then, and in 2018 helped to coordinate The Student’s coverage as an Editor-in-Chief.

As well as helping me to hone my writing and criticism skills, which I still hope to use as part of my career in some shape or form, I have made some incredible memories and lifelong friends. I have also covered the Edinburgh International Film Festival for a range of outlets since 2019.

The Student were fantastic, providing me with much-needed guidance for how to approach my writing. For any aspiring critics, I would encourage you to get involved with your local student publication at the earliest possible opportunity, as there will likely be no better place for you to find your feet and to discover what doors can be opened to you with experience in the arts and in journalism. Read as much of other people’s work as you can as well – it is the easiest way to learn what a review should sound like, contain, and provide to the reader.

James Hanton, MSc Film Studies, 2023
James with his press pass at the Fringe Festival
James showing off his press pass during the Fringe Festival

I have always enjoyed seeking out the lesser-known acts at the festival; those performers for whom press coverage means even more than it does for the bigger productions that fill all of their seats almost every night. Monkey Barrel Comedy, Greenside, theSpaceUK, and The Free Fringe in particular always manage to find some of the most unique acts around.

My favourite ever Fringe memory comes from a 2019 show called Hauntology, where I was almost the only one in the audience. The show proved to be one of the most bewitching, enjoyable things I have ever experienced, and I am still friends with the lead performer to this day.

For film, the Cameo Picturehouse is a fantastic venue full of atmosphere. I was also delighted to hear recently that a deal to save the Filmhouse had been reached. Edinburgh became a poorer place when that majestic venue had to close its doors.

Related links

Read James' Fringe reviews on The Wee Review website

Find out more about James' time at The Student

Visit James' homepage to find more of his written work covering film, television, and theatre

Are you interested in studying film with us?

Exploring crucial concepts in the development of film theory and film-philosophy, our one-year taught masters programme (MSc) centres on the criticism, analysis and interpretation of auteur cinema, with a focus on European and American film. The programme can also be completed on a part-time basis over two years.

Find out more about postgraduate study in Film at Edinburgh