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Foreign Language Films Win Top Honors at Columbia Film Festival

By Kristin Sterling

Sergio Umansky's "aqui iba el himno" (here was the anthem) won @radical.media Best Film Award.

When the Columbia University Film Festival was first held in 1987, four student short films were screened as part of a one-night panel discussion on the industry. In stark contrast, the festival marked its 15th anniversary this year with 46 student films and digital video screenings and a dozen screenplay readings over eight days, in New York and Los Angeles. Topics ranged widely from the dark (friendship tested by inner-city crime), to the funny (a former porn-star leads a skin-flick workshop) and the whimsical (an outrageous heist captured in a virtuoso long-take).

"This was the strongest film festival I have seen at Columbia because of the breadth of talent and the large number of excellent films," says Dan Kleinman, chair of the film division. "These students have started their careers with impressive work that promises brilliant things to come."

This year's festival included five foreign language films, three of which were featured in the "Faculty Selects" program, the group of films selected by the film faculty as the cream of this year's crop, including: "aqui iba el himno" (here was the anthem), "vergiss mein nicht" (against sadness) and "La Milpa" (The Cornfield).

Sergio Umansky's (SOA '04) Spanish language film, "aqui iba el himno" (here was the anthem), which depicts rogue cops at work in Mexico City, was the winner of the @radical.media Best Film Award. Umansky, himself from Mexico City, combined a personal experience with other, similar stories he has heard to create the film.

"I wanted to make some form of social comment of the situation in Mexico and many other third world countries," Umansky said. "[Bringing to light] the class difference, the corruption, the violence, the illusion of power, etc."

Jonathan LeMond's "Misdemeanor" will screen at the Tribeca Film Festival in May.

About winning the top award at the festival, Umansky said, "After so much work and such a long and exhausting process, to culminate it by winning the best film award at Columbia is a fantastic and extremely rewarding feeling."

Umansky is one of several student filmmakers who were rewarded for their hard work. Throughout the festival more than $100,000 worth of cash and in-kind awards were presented. Three foreign language films were among the winners.

Sasha Kobow (SOA, '02) won the New Line Cinema Award for Best Director for her German language film, "vergiss mein nicht" (against sadness), that charts the lengths taken by a boy for his mentally ill mother. It was filmed in Kobow's hometown of Konstanz, Germany, in her mother's pharmacy.

"It was really exciting to see my film -- that I, and so many other people, worked on for so long -- on the big screen. Having the film travel to L.A. as part of faculty selects was already great," says Kobow, referring to the May 7-8 portion of the festival that will be held in Los Angeles. "But then, the award! It was a wonderful feeling having the work that I care a lot about being recognized. I am very grateful to New Line Cinema, my amazing teachers and my fellow students who have been so supportive. It [the film division] is a great atmosphere of collegiality, a good spirit."

Since the festival Kobow, like many of her colleagues, has seen some interest from agents and production companies. She is currently finishing her thesis film, "Yme No Ato" (What is Left of the Dream) and is trying to launch one of the two screenplays that she developed during the Columbia program.

The third foreign language film to be honored at the festival was "La Milpa" (The Cornfield), a Spanish language film written and directed by Patricia Riggen (SOA '03). Also set in Mexico, the film portrays an elderly grandmother recounting with her granddaughter a love affair during the days of Pancho Villa.

At the Columbia festival, Riggen won the Lifetime Student Filmmaker Award. "La Milpa" also won the Critics Award for Best Short Film and the Audience Award for Best Short Film at the Guadalajara Film Festival.

Jonathan LeMond (SOA '02) won the Tribeca Entertainment Outstanding Achievement in Screenwriting Award at Columbia's festival for his silent film, "Misdemeanor," which is set in the Upper West Side.

"I wanted to tell a story that dramatized the instinct to steal and reap the benefits versus the instinct to retain one's dignity and starve-- not to come down on any side, just to point out how attractive and repellent each can be," says LeMond. "The fact that she [the protagonist] is homeless raises the stakes; she will literally starve."

As part of the award, "Misdemeanor" will be screened at the Tribeca Film Festival on May 9.

"At first I was shocked since it was a screenwriting award and there's no dialogue," says LeMond. "There's no dialogue because she has no one to talk to. I take the award as a nod of appreciation for how difficult and rewarding it can be to tell a story with only images. I'm honored to have received it, and am excited to screen at the Tribeca Film Festival."

In addition to the major film companies that sponsor the annual festival, local businesses, such as Kim's Video, also participate. This year's Kim's Video Award was presented to Sonny Quinn (SOA '02) for his film, "25, 5 & 3," about a man who is getting out of prison after 25 years, 5 months and 3 days, and is struggling to reconnect with the family he abandoned.

"It is an honor to win an award that comes from someone whose business is movies and films," says Quinn, who is currently finishing a feature-length screenplay. In addition, Quinn and a producer are working on a 1950s style documentary, compiling memories of people with a pulse on entertainment, media and style in 1950s New York.

Among the new awards presented at this year's festival were two by HBO Films to promote the development of minority producers. The HBO Films Young Producers Development Award was presented to Joe Turner Lin for his upcoming film, "Jesus Henry Christ." The HBO Films Outstanding Achievement in Producing Award went to Gustavo Moraes for "Abbie Down East." Moraes is currently in Brazil finishing post-production on his latest short-film.

Other leading festival awards include:

  • The New Line Cinema Award for Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking, presented to Kazuo Ohno for the film "For Our Man." Ohno's film was also named Best Narrative Short at the 2002 South by Southwest Film Festival
  • New Line Cinema Development Award: Eilis Kirwan, "Nostradamus & Me"
  • Hallmark Entertainment Producers Development Award: Ben Odell, "Loopy"
  • Twentieth Century Fox/Farrelly Brothers Outstanding Achievement in Comedy Award: Thorgeir Gudmundsson, "Memphis"
  • James Bridges Development Award: Elias Leon-Simiani, "Archipelago"
  • Best Screenplay (for Faculty Selects Screenplay Readings): Fred Strype, "Anna Down East"

Best Comedy Screenplay (for Comedy Screenplay Radings): Scott Halvorson and Adam Phillips, "Idol of Millions"

Published: May 01, 2002
Last modified:Sep 18, 2002

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