Thursday, June 04, 2009

A Tribute to Frank Gabrenya

(Still from Melvin and Howard, which is showing on June 4 at the Wexner Center for the Arts as part of "A Tribute to Frank Gabrenya")

It seems like every couple days Movie City News links to yet another article about a film critic being laid off. Newspapers are struggling, and local arts coverage is often one of the services deemed non-essential by decision makers. Syndicated film reviews, often coming from New York or Los Angeles, replace of the hometown voice and perspective. It may make business sense, although I wonder if losing writers with whom readers form relationships is productive in the long run.

Frank Gabrenya wrote about film for the Columbus Citizen-Journal before moving onto the Columbus Dispatch in 1987. Frank was the fulltime film critic there until this April when he was among 45 Dispatch employees let go.

While the Columbus area has more film critics than the average reader might expect, Frank was the most prominent and, I’m guessing, the longest serving in this community. He continues to write the occasional freelance review for the Dispatch, but it’s not the same as seeing his name attached to bylines for the pieces covering most of the new releases every Friday. (Of course, no disrespect is intended to Nick Chordas and the other freelancers. Nick is doing an admirable job striving to keep a couple locally written reviews in the Dispatch each week.)

Tonight, as a way of saying thanks for his years of service, the Wexner Center for the Arts presents "A Tribute to Frank Gabrenya". He will introduce the Jonathan Demme comedy Melvin and Howard. The program begins at 7 p.m.

Back in 1997, when my Now Playing co-host Paul Markoff and I were new film critics, we asked Frank if he would include us in his annual column surveying local critics on their favorite films of the year. We were (and still are) largely unknown to most in the Dispatch’s readership, but he gladly welcomed us into the fold. It's the least I can do to say thanks here for his help, cooperation, and friendship through the years and to be among those honoring him by attending this evening's tribute.

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