Last year Matt Zoller Seitz ’92 took the reins as editor-in-chief of rogerebert.com, the acclaimed movie-focused website of Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert, who lost a long battle with cancer in April 2013. In making the announcement, Ebert’s wife, Chaz, who heads the media company that publishes the site, wrote: “What Roger and I found refreshing about Matt is his ability to spot and encourage talent in other journalists, critics and video essayists. He mentored them with a benevolent style that helped to bring out the best in what they did.”
Seitz, a renowned film critic in his own right, says a University experience distinguished by gifted professors and practical training helped bring out the best in him.
“SMU was a great place to be academically during the late ’80s and early ’90s,” Seitz says. The administration focused on hiring “great faculty, and I became the beneficiary of many of their talents.”
He studied creative writing with C.W. Smith, now SMU professor emeritus of English, poetry with the late Jack Myers, and film with one of his favorite professors, Marty Rubin, now the associate director of programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago.
While working as an archivist at the Southwest Film/Video Archives with the late G. William Jones, Seitz gained an appreciation for film history. Jones, an SMU alumnus and professor, was a devoted film collector and preservationist, most notably of rare African-American movies from the 1930s-1950s. The archives, now known as the G. William Jones Film and Video Collection, are housed at SMU’s Hamon Arts Library.
Seitz’s stint as a student reporter also played a pivotal role in his future. “I learned a lot of what I know about journalism working for The Daily Campus,” he says. “I still treasure those very late nights that I spent there.”
Shortly after graduating from SMU, he joined the staff of the Dallas Observer, where his writing got rave reviews. Citing his “lucid and insightful film criticism,” the Pulitzer Prize committee named Seitz a finalist for the 1994 award for criticism.
Around the same time, he met director Wes Anderson, the auteur behind movies such as The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Over the years he periodically interviewed the writer-director. Seitz combined those interviews with essays on Anderson’s work and lush movie visuals in the book The Wes Anderson Collection (Harry N. Abrams, 2013). New Yorker writer Richard Brody praised the lavish volume “as an indispensible resource, as well as a delight,” crediting Seitz as “the first critic to discern Anderson’s prodigious artistry.”
A companion piece to the book, a video essay series on Anderson that Seitz did in 2009, can be viewed on rogerebert.com.
In addition to his role with that website, Seitz is a respected television critic for New York magazine and its entertainment site, vulture.com. He also founded “The House Next Door” blog, now part of Slant Magazine, and is founder and publisher emeritus of the “Press Play” blog on indiewire.com. And, he has had a hand in more than 100 hours of video essays on cinema history.
Although he headed to the East Coast years ago and now lives in Brooklyn with his two children, Hannah and James, the Dallas native reveals that the Hilltop will always have a special place in his heart. He met his late wife, Jennifer Dawson, at SMU. She died suddenly of a heart attack in 2006.
“We met working together at the SMU Bookstore at the student center,” he says.
Among his fondest memories: hanging out with her at Mary Hay Hall and sharing Snuffer’s famous cheddar fries.
In a touching tribute to his wife, published on salon.com in 2010 on what would have been her 40th birthday, he wrote about their student days and later years, saying she was “as important an influence in my development as a critic as any teacher or editor I ever had.”
Clearly, Seitz had met his match at SMU.
– Sarah Bennett ’11