Photo: Nic Lehoux

Award-Winning Filmmaker to Donate $5 Million for New State-of-the-Art Screening Room at Columbia University School of the Arts

November 13, 2012

The Katharina Otto-Bernstein Screening Room Will Be Named in Her Honor


Katharina Otto-Bernstein, an award-winning filmmaker (Absolute Wilson) and an alumna of Columbia University School of the Arts (1992) and Columbia College (1986), has made a commitment of $5 million to create a state-of-the-art film screening room in the Lenfest Center for the Arts, a multi-arts facility now under construction on the University’s Manhattanville campus. Scheduled for completion in 2016, the new venue will be named The Katharina Otto-Bernstein Screening Room.


Plans for The Katharina Otto-Bernstein Screening Room include seating for approximately 150, with advanced digital cinema technology. The new theatre will be essential to the School’s curricular and extracurricular film event programming, including screenings by prominent and emerging filmmakers, lectures and panel discussions, and artist talks on the craft of filmmaking. Many of these events will be open to the public.


“Katharina has always been mindful of supporting future generations of Columbia filmmakers seeking to follow in her footsteps, and in doing so she has symbolized the kind of citizenship in this community and beyond that Columbia strives to teach,” said University President Lee C. Bollinger. “The screening room bearing her name will be a centerpiece of the new Lenfest Center for the Arts. We are grateful for her continued dedication to the School of the Arts and to the University community.”


“It is with great joy that I find myself in the position to give back to the institution that has played an immeasurable role in my development as a filmmaker and as a person,” said Otto-Bernstein. “Over the past 20 years the Film Program at Columbia University School of the Arts has not only paved the way for some of the most gifted auteurs in our business, but it has also made available a teaching staff comprised of industry leaders that is second to none. In this day and age of technological sophistication, it is of the utmost importance that film students have a state-of-the-art screening facility in which to study their craft. There is still a lot to do, but I believe it is our duty as alumni to take a leadership position in ensuring the constant upgrade of our school and the maintenance of its high level.”


“We are very grateful to Katharina for this spectacular gift,” said Carol Becker, Dean of the School of the Arts. “As an alumna and successful filmmaker herself, Katharina knows how much this space will showcase the extraordinary success of the Film Program and how essential the space will be to the future of Film at the School of the Arts.”


The Lenfest Center for the Arts, designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop with Davis Brody LLP as Executive Architect, will be one of the first buildings to open on the Manhattanville campus, and will also house a flexible performance space, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, and a presentation space for readings, symposia and seminars. It will serve as a vital space for engagement in the rich cultural life of Columbia, Harlem and the city at large.


Over the years, Katharina Otto-Bernstein has been a loyal supporter of Columbia University School of the Arts, with a fervent commitment to helping new filmmakers launch their careers. One of her gifts created the FMI (Film Manufacturers Inc.) Fellowships in screenwriting and directing, named for the production company she founded in 1993.


Otto-Bernstein is the recipient of the 2009 Columbia University Alumni Medal of Achievement in recognition of her extraordinary service to the School, has served on the Dean’s Council of the School of the Arts since 1999, and is an Assembly Member of the Columbia Alumni Association.


Katharina Otto-Bernstein is best known as the writer and director of the award-winning documentaries Absolute Wilson and Beautopia; and the author of Absolute Wilson: The Biography, an intimate memoir of the acclaimed theatre and opera director Robert Wilson. She is currently the dramaturge of the new Karol Armitage ballet Fables and the co-producer of the upcoming German-language feature Galapagos based on the unsolved murder mystery that occurred between three illustrious settler families in the 1930s, which will be directed by Oscar-nominated Marc Rothemund (Sophie Scholl). Her distinguished career credits include Coming Home (1992), a television documentary about the unification of German families after the fall of the Berlin Wall; The Second Greatest Story Ever Told (1993), a feature comedy with Mira Sorvino and Malcolm McDowell; and The Need for Speed (1995), a documentary about bicycle messengers in New York.


Graduates of the Film Program include many award-winning directors, writers and producers, as well as editors, actors and cinematographers, including Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Nicole Holofcener (Please Give), Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right), Simon Kinberg (Sherlock Holmes, Mr. & Mrs. Smith), and Ron Nyswaner (The Painted Veil, Philadelphia). The School has an esteemed list of faculty that presently includes James Schamus, Paul Schrader, Ira Deutchman, Annette Insdorf, Richard Peña and Eric Mendelsohn, and has included Milos Forman, Martin Scorsese, Mira Nair and Terry Southern, among many others. Directing mentors over the years have included Sidney Lumet, Mike Nichols and Alan Pakula.