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Student Films Selected for Prestigious Sao Paulo, Palm Springs and Telluride Film Festivals

By Kristin Sterling

Marie Regan's "Traveler"

Marie Regan, SOA'02, made her first film at the age of 13. But when she went to Thailand as an exchange student she was so moved by international issues that she decided to put down her camera, and instead of filmmaking, Regan went on to work in an African literature publishing house in London, a Calcutta street clinic and a school for government ministers in Spain where she taught English.

She could not forget, however, her childhood passion, and in 1997, Regan enrolled in Columbia's School of the Arts, where she wrote and directed the short film "Traveler," about a 92-year old woman who feels the weight of a lifetime of restriction when her driver's license is revoked. The film goes on to twist the "road movie" as the woman claims the right to define her own road.

Like dozens of SOA film students whose films have screened at international festivals such as Sundance and Telluride, Regan's decision to pursue her art paid off. In August, "Traveler" took first place among student films under 15 minutes in length at the Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films and qualifies for next year's Oscar competition for Best Short Film. And ten days after returning from Palm Springs, Regan headed to Brazil where "Traveler" was one of seven American films invited to the Sao Paulo International Film Festival, one of the most prestigious and competitive international film festivals.

"Traveler" was among 63 films from 39 countries included in the international program, and Regan was selected for a special filmmaking program, Kin-Noite, in which she was paired with Brazilian short film director Carlos Dowling. They were given a theme and a camera at 8:00 a.m. and wrote, shot and edited the film that screened at 10:00 p.m. that same day.

It was a difficult task, but Regan believes it instilled good discipline as a filmmaker in a new city. The film was based on the Portuguese word "afeto," meaning affection and according to Regan was well received by the audience. She expects that it will air on Brazilian public television later this year.

Patricia Riggen's "La Milpa"

"The personal connections I made with both U.S. filmmakers and independent and international filmmakers and festival directors [at Palm Springs and Sao Paulo festivals] enriches me in terms of relationships for the future and inspires me to refine my own work," says Regan.

Joining Traveler in both the Palm Springs and Sao Paulo festivals was the Spanish-language film "La Milpa" -- "The Cornfield" -- by Patricia Riggen, SOA'03. Set in Mexico, the film portrays an elderly grandmother recounting with her granddaughter a love affair during the days of Pancho Villa. Riggen won audience awards at both festivals and at a festival in Mexico.

"Both Sao Paulo and Palm Springs are huge short film festivals and it's very rewarding to be chosen among so many other quality films," says Riggen. "Some say audience awards are the most significant for a director's career because we are ultimately working for the audience. In this case, audiences from three different countries have liked it. This tells me that the story was able to break language and cultural barriers. This is the best reward I can think of."

"La Milpa" has participated in eight festivals around the world since its premiere last March in Guadalajara, Mexico, and has won nine awards to date. The film has also been accepted in the Drama International Short Film Festival in Greece as well as international festivals in Chile and Mexico.

Regan and Riggen weren't the only Columbia students to be recognized in Palm Springs. Sergio Umansky's, SOA'03, Spanish language film, "Aqui Iba el Himno" -- Here is the Anthem -- took second place for student live action films over 15 minutes. The film follows two wealthy teenagers in search of marijuana in Mexico City and their run-in with rogue cops.

These three Columbia films were among nearly 300 selected for the Palm Springs festival from a record 1,400 entries worldwide. Palm Springs is the largest short film showcase in North America, known as a scouting ground for new filmmaking talent.

In addition to the screening at Palm Springs, Umansky and classmates Jonathan Lemond, SOA'02, and Kazuo Ohno, SOA'02, represented Columbia at the Telluride Film Festival, held over Labor Day weekend in Colorado. These classmates had the only student films from the United States to be accepted at this year's festival. Like Sao Paulo, Telluride's competition is for selection. The Telluride Film Festival is unique in that it does not disclose the program prior to the opening session and it focuses on the creative talents behind the films, offering access to them through a series of panel discussions, seminars and post-screening question and answer sessions.

In addition to "Aqui Iba el Himno," Lemond's silent film, "Misdemeanor," in which a struggling runway is faced with an ethical dilemma and tries to redeem herself, was screened, as was Kazuo Ohno's Student Academy Award-winning film "For Our Man".

The students also agree that participating in a film festival is a learning experience. "Whether or not there is an award in each film festival you learn something," Riggen explains. "You meet somebody, you watch other interesting films and you hear the audience reacting -- or not -- to your own."

Published: Sep 27, 2002
Last modified: Sep 26, 2002


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