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A Professor and Student Contribute Works at Sundance Film Festival

By Kristin Sterling

This intense untitled photograph of a church service by Thomas Roma was used in the film 'Amen.'

Two Columbians contributed to films at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, currently underway in Park City , Utah. School of the Arts Professor Thomas Roma shot the photographs used in the documentary "Let the Church Say Amen," directed by David Peterson. And a short film by student Jowan Carbin, SOA '04, "Welcome to Life," was screened in the short film program. Last year, the festival's top prize went to "American Splendor," by SOA alumni Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini.

"Let the Church Say Amen" director Peterson had been thinking about making a film on black churches when he came across a book by Roma, "Come Sunday" (MOMA/Abrams, 1996), a collection of 86 photographs of African-American churches throughout Brooklyn. Roma spent more than three and a half years working on the photographs in "Come Sunday;" he attended more than 150 services in 52 churches, and the book was published in conjunction with a one-person exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1996. Roma, the recipient of two Guggenheim Fellowships, worked on this project as part of the second fellowship.

Deeply impressed by Roma's book, Peterson contacted him about a collaboration. Within months, Petersen identified the World Missions for Christ Church in Washington , D.C. , as a setting for his powerful documentary. The film shows how one church nourishes love and hope in its members, whose lives are riddled with hardship, and incorporates Roma's black-and-white photographs of the congregation made for the film.

"This documentary does not depict the typical use of black-and-while photos in film," says Roma. "It incorporates moving imagery and still imagery in an interesting way. It begins with a moving color image, then cuts to the next scene with a moving black-and-white image, and then cuts to one of my black-and-white photos."

Roma was glad to have the opportunity to work again with Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Gates, who wrote the introduction to Roma's "Come Sunday" and another book, "Sanctuary"(John Hopkins University Press, 2002), served as "Let the Church Say Amen's" executive producer.

A young student longs to play outside in Jowan Carbin's 'Welcome to Life.'

The film is one of 24 documentaries selected from more than 2,500 entries to screen at the Sundance Film Festival. The film will have its broadcast debut on PBS on Easter Sunday, April 11. It will also be screened at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., on the same day. The Office of the University Chaplain will host a screening of the film on campus prior to the PBS broadcast.

The selection process for the documentary part of Sundance was highly competitive, and Jowan Carbin likewise faced stiff competition for a slot in the short films program. "Welcome to Life" is among 86 short films selected from 3,400 submissions around the world. The short films at Sundance have become a favorite for festival-goers and their creators are considered by production companies and agents as a talent pool of new artists.

Wanting to tell the story of an outsider, it took Carbin seven months to write the script for "Welcome to Life." The film is the story of a sixth-grader who longs to be outside. When the boy and his only friend make a pact to remain pals forever, the moment is destroyed by the emergence of the school bully.

The film was shot on location in Washington , D.C. , in 2002, during the period of the sniper attacks, and Carbin had to cut a large playground scene featuring 30 children from the film, as many parents were reluctant to allow their children to participate in the outdoor filming.

Despite this setback, Carbin, who served as the writer, director, editor and executive producer, created a film that is being acknowledged around the country. Last year he won Best Student Short Film 15 Minutes and Under at the Palm Springs International Shorts Film Festival. He also took second place at the San Francisco Black Film Festival, was a regional finalist for a Student Academy Award. "Welcome to Life" was one of five films selected for the American Black Film Festival and has screened at the Newport International Film Festival as well as Urbanworld, Cinematexas and Fort Lauderdale festivals.

While Carbin will participate in the short film screening, Kazuo Ohno, SOA '02, was selected to participate in the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, Jan. 9-14. The Screenwriters Lab is a five-day writer's workshop that gives 12 independent artists the opportunity to work intensively on their feature film scripts with the support of established screenwriters. Ohno worked on the feature-length script for " Mr. Crumpacker and the Man from the Letter." Four films from previous Sundance Feature Film Labs screened at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.

Published: Jan 21, 2004
Last modified: Apr 26, 2004

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