Columbia University School of the Arts filmmakers played definitive roles in films that won major awards at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, which closed January 30.
Project Nim, co-produced by Film Program Assistant Professor and Director of Production Maureen Ryan -- who co-produced the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire -- won the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award. James Marsh, who directed Man on Wire, also directed Project Nim, which traces a chimpanzee who was taught to communicate with language as he was raised and nurtured like a human child. The film was acquired by HBO and Roadside Attractions very early in the festival. Film alumnus Markus Kirschner ('09SOA) is production designer for the film, and alumnus Geoffrey Quan ('08SOA) is production coordinator.
Circumstance, edited by alumna Andrea Chignoli ('07SOA), won the U.S. Dramatic Competition Audience Award. The director, Maryam Keshavarz, said, "I know everyone, especially the cast and crew, have given up a lot to do this, because we believe in this story, human rights, and artistic expression." The film, in which a wealthy Iranian family struggles to contain a teenager's growing sexual rebellion and her brother's dangerous obsession, was purchased by Participant Media at the festival.
And Pariah, executive produced by Film adjunct faculty member Mary Jane Skalski, won the Excellence in Cinematography Award, U.S. Dramatic Competition. The film, in which a Bronx teenager juggles conflicting identities and endures heartbreak in a desperate search for sexual expression, was purchased by Focus Features, of which Film Professor James Schamus is CEO.
Alumna Cherien Dabis (’04SOA) was awarded the 2011 Sundance / NHK International Filmmakers Award, which recognizes and supports a visionary filmmaker on his or her next film. Sundance will work closely with Dabis throughout the year, providing creative and strategic support through development, financing and production. Dabis wrote and directed Amreeka, which started as her thesis film at the School of the Arts and went on to screen in U.S. Dramatic Competition at Sundance in 2009, open the New Directors/New Films Festival that same year, win the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes and be distributed nationally by National Geographic Entertainment.
Columbia University School of the Arts Film Program wins at Sundance follow a strong record: Associate Professor Eric Mendelsohn won the Directing Award: Dramatic at the 2010 festival, for his film 3 Backyards (he won the same directing prize at Sundance in 1999, for his film Judy Berlin). More than 25 of Mendelsohn's students, past and present, were members of his crew for 3 Backyards. And Film alumni won the Grand Jury Prize in Dramatic Competition in both 2008 and 2007, Courtney Hunt (’94SOA) for Frozen River and Christopher Zalla (’04SOA) and Ben Odell (’04SOA) for Padre Nuestro, respectively.