Low Plaza

School of the Arts Producing Diverse, Award-winning Films

By Kristin Sterling

Bertha Bay-Sa Pan

This summer as audiences headed to theaters to see the blockbusters, films with origins at the School of the Arts captured awards presented by industry groups and at international festivals. Among this summer's winners are Bertha Bay-Sa Pan (SOA '97), Kazuo Ohno (SOA '02), Elias Leon-Siminiani (SOA '03) and Patrick Downs (SOA '01).

Bertha Bay-Sa Pan was named Best Director at the Urbanworld Film Festival's 6th annual Film and Screenplay Competition for her feature film "Face." The film, which is adapted from Pan's thesis short film by the same name, is the coming-of-age story of two women caught between the conflicting cultures of their traditional heritage and the surrounding influence of urban life.

" 'Face' is a very universal film," says Pan, who was raised in Taiwan. "I hope it is entertaining and moving for audiences of different cultural, ethnic and educational backgrounds."

Kazuo Ohno's "For Our Man"

Indeed her first feature film has received wide-ranging industry support-- winning the Audience Award at New York's GenArt Film Festival and the Critic's Award for Best Director at CineVegas and was a finalist for the Open Palm Award at September's Gotham Awards.

"I have been very lucky since 'Face' first premiered in the dramatic competition at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year," says Pan. Winning these awards has been an extremely surreal experience, especially since Ethan Hawke is also a finalist for the Open Palm.

In addition to her work on "Face," Pan is co-writing an urban, martial arts, romantic comedy with screenwriter Chuck Wilson, which she will also direct.

Elias Leon-Siminiani

As "Face" had its beginnings as a student short, the Director's Guild of America (DGA) recognized Kazuo Ohno and Elias Leon-Siminiani for their student films with East Coast Student Filmmaker Awards. Ohno won Best Asian American Student Filmmaker, and Siminiani won Best Latino Student Filmmaker, extending Columbia's winning streak at these awards. Film students have taken home more than half of the DGA awards over the past five years, sweeping all four prize categories in 1996 and 1998.

DGA recognized Ohno for his film "For Our Man," which also won the Gold Medal for best film in the alternative category at the 29th Annual Student Academy Awards for this film earlier this summer (Click for the Student Academy Award story).

"For Our Man" is about an older writer who is trying to come up with a story, but who takes a lot of wrong turns along the way. Viewers see into the writer's head as his memories intrude on his writing.

The film also won best narrative short at the South by Southwest Film Festival and Best of Festival at the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

On October 16 classmate Siminiani will join Ohno at the DGA awards ceremony in New York, where their films will be shown to an invitation-only audience. The award includes a $2,500 prize.

Siminiani's film "Dos Mas" is a short drama depicting a love triangle between two brothers and the wife of one of the brothers. It is also a story about contrast -- contrast between the protagonist's dream of love and the reality (nightmare) of it.

Patrick Downs' "Broken"

"Dos Mas" was shot on location in the Murcia region in the south of Spain, near Siminiani's home, and in New York City. While much of the film is in Spanish, the New York scenes feature a voice-over narrated in English by the writer of the film, Siminiani's long-time collaborator and Columbia classmate, Charity Bustamante.

Columbia is "a writer's school," and Charity is a brilliant talent, says Siminiani. "I owe very much to Charity in regard to my American director's experience to date, and I hope this continues in the future," he says.

"Dos Mas" has been licensed by the Sundance Channel for two years and will air in September. The film won the bronze medal in the drama category at the 2002 Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Student Awards (Emmy's). It also has won the Audience Award at "Version Espanola," an Iberoamerican short film festival organized by Spain's national television. Among other prizes, "Dos Mas" was named Best Short at the 2001 Rhode Island International Film Festival.

Siminiani is tremendously pleased with the film's success given the difficulties they encountered while shooting. They were shooting during the worst rain storm of the century in the Murcia region, says Siminiani. They had to be rescued by special forces because the location house was in a remote area and they were trapped. It was a very intense and expensive experience, he recounts.

Siminiani is currently working on his thesis film "Archipelago" that will be the first production by classmate Victor Marin's newly founded production company Alternative Studios. Siminiani has already won the James Bridges Development Award at the Columbia University Film Festival and his film was one of two projects chosen for independent study with internationally renowned filmmaker and film chair emeritus Milos Forman.

The timing of the DGA award couldn't be better for Siminiani, who is currently raising funds for "Archipelago," which he plans to film in Puerto Rico.

While Pan, Ohno and Siminiani are receiving accolades in New York, across the Atlantic Patrick Downs' thesis film "Broken" was named Best Student Film at the 37th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic in July. Nearly 300 films were screened during the 10-day festival which drew 11,000 viewers. In October the film will receive the Best Graduate Student Film Award at the Hampton's Film Festival.

Downs wrote, directed and edited "Broken," which mirrors, parodies and deconstructs the form and visual style of police dramas from "Cops" to "Law & Order" in telling the tragicomic story of a frustrating day in the life of a small town police officer.

"My film is not expensive," says Downs. "But it is invested with everything I know about how to direct actors, how to direct the camera, how to design sound, how to tell a story. The award means that people who love film and have a great deal of knowledge about film have appreciated the work that I have done."

Downs is currently completing a feature script tentatively titled "Sometimes Spiders Punk Their Own Selves," based on the characters in "Broken." He is also working on two feature screenplays: a high-energy drugs-gangs-terrorism-glittering nightlife thriller set in Miami, loosely based on Christopher Marlowe's "The Jew Of Malta," and a supernatural thriller called "Ghost In The Machine," about a detective who is trying to solve his own murder. In October he plans to direct a short film which is culled from the supernatural thriller "The Warning." This fall Downs will also direct the television pilot "The New Americans."

Downs, Pan, Ohno and Siminiani join an ever-growing list of successful Columbia filmmakers. During the past year, screenwriter Sabrina Dhawan's (SOA '02) "Monsoon Wedding" won the Golden Lion at the 2001 Venice International Film Festival and was nominated for a Golden Globe and BAFTA award and director Dave Silver's (SOA '02) "Gasline" won First Prize for Best Short Film at the 2002 Sundance Festival.

Published: Sep 05, 2002
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

Search Columbia News    Advanced Search  Help

Phone: 212.854.5573    Office of Public Affairs