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Vol.25, No. 19 Apr. 7, 2000

2 Columbia Filmmakers Will Premiere Work at MoMA’s New Directors/New Films Series

By Ulrika Brand

Short films by two Columbia-trained filmmakers, Joan Stein, MFA'99, and Amy Epstein, a current graduate film student in the School of the Arts, have been selected by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art for inclusion in the prestigious New Directors/New Films series held this month.

Offering contrasting settings and styles, both films explore the emotional ties of family; Stein's film is a period drama set in Nazi Hungary, and Epstein's is a contemporary comic drama that experiments with form. The works will premiere at the Museum of Modern Art the first week of April along with films from 17 countries, and will also screen in this year's Columbia University Film Festival to take place April 11-18.

Joan Stein's One Day Crossing tells the story of a young family living in Budapest during the last phase of World War II. At that time Hungarian Jews were under the terror not only of the 'Nazi foreign villains' but also the 'Arrow Cross'— Hungary's indigenous Nazi movement. The 25-minute film movingly recreates the world and moral choices confronted by Teresa, a young woman who poses as a Christian to protect her family.

Made as her Columbia masters thesis film, Stein conceived of One Day Crossing as a collaborative project and won the 1999 Polo Ralph Lauren Development Award (a $10,000 grant given in conjunction with the Columbia University Film Festival). She enlisted two fellow students to work with her: Christina Lazaridi, who wrote the script, and Karen Severns, who produced (both are 1999 film alumnae.)

The choice of subject matter for the film was personally inspired. Both of Stein's parents and members of her extended family survived World War II in Budapest.

"Although the film is a work of fiction, the story behind it stems from experiences very close to my heart," said Stein. "I never really understood the inexpressible shadow that the Holocaust cast over me my whole life. The film is an attempt to make some sense of the experience for those who survived and those who didn't."

Stein and Lazaridi interviewed many Holocaust survivors and researched the period in preparation for the project, which was shot in Budapest with an international production team and Hungarian actors. The film is in Hungarian with English subtitles.

Stein came to Columbia's School of the Arts with no prior training as a filmmaker or director. "All I had was a little experience as an actress in college. I was starting from ground zero," she said.

Stein, who attended Rutgers and received her MBA from Georgetown, enrolled in Columbia's film program following a three-year stint in Hungary as a business consultant. It was while working in Budapest for an American firm that Stein's life took a turn. The Bosnian War broke out in the former Yugoslavia in 1991 and she learned of the atrocities taking place only a few hours away. "I felt compelled to do something," she said. She began volunteering on weekends at the refugee camps and eventually decided that making films might be the best way for her to have a positive effect on what was happening in the world.

I've Got You Babe, (An Action Adventure Pic), directed, written and produced by Amy Epstein, a third-year graduate student in the Film Division, is an exploration of a daughter's comic rage toward her father. Not a conventional narrative, the story experiments with form; Epstein describes the film as a comic drama: "It's the journey of a young woman who is trying to break free of her father's emotional hold on her." The role of the father is played by Obie Award winning actor Frederick Neumann.

Epstein's path to the graduate film program at Columbia came through a background in theater. After earning a degree in English literature from Hunter College, Epstein acted professionally in regional theater at Center Stage in Baltimore, the New York

Shakespeare Festival and in numerous downtown theater productions in New York. A member of Circle Repertory Company, she began writing and directing plays and eventually wrote a screenplay that was selected as a Sundance Lab finalist.

"I had been writing for a long time and wanted to understand filmmaking and be in an intensive environment," said Epstein about her decision to apply to the graduate film program. "I was looking for a place to work and keep developing."

I've Got You Babe, (An Action Adventure Pic) will be screened on opening night of the Columbia University Film Festival Fri., April 14, and One Day Crossing will be shown Tues., April 18. For schedule information, please visit www. newworksfestival.com.