Columbia Filmmakers Head to Sundance 2023; Several Take Home Awards

Jessie Shohfi
January 31, 2023

Update: January 31, 2023

Several Columbia filmmakers took home awards when the winners at Sundance 2023 were announced this past weekend. 

The winners were selected from 111 feature-length films and 64 shorts, selected from 15,856 submissions. 

“This year’s Festival has been an extraordinary experience,” said Joana Vicente, Sundance Institute CEO. “The artists that comprise the 2023 Sundance Film Festival have demonstrated a sense of urgency and dedication to excellence in independent film. Today’s award winners highlight our programs’ most impressive achievements in the current moment of cinematic arts. I hope you will join me in congratulating our winners, as well as thanking all artists across sections for sharing their stories with the Sundance community.”

Radical was granted the Festival Favorite Award, which is voted on by the audience. This is a win for alumnus Ben O’Dell '04, who worked as the film’s producer, and former Adjunct and alumnus Christopher Zalla '04, the writer and director. 

Theater Camp, produced by alumnus Erik Feig (CC '92), took home the Jury Award for Ensemble. The film was also picked up by Searchlight in a deal worth around $8 million. 

The Pod Generation, written and directed by alumna Sophie Barthes (SIPA '03), won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, a $20,000 cash award. This Prize is selected by a jury of film and science professionals and presented to an outstanding feature film focusing on science or technology as a theme, or depicting a scientist, engineer or mathematician as a major character. 

The Eternal Memory, for which alumnus Tatán Donoso ’17 served as executive producer, nabbed the World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize. The film has been sold to MTV Documentary Films. 

Alumna Olive Nwosu ’21 took home the Sundance/NHK Award for Lady. The NHK Award is a $10,000 prize which is presented each year to one filmmaker on the basis of his/her past work (feature film, short film, television drama, music video, or commercial) and the script for the next feature film project. Nwosu was previously selected to participate in the Sundance Screenwriting Lab.

Original: December 21, 2022

The 2023 Sundance Film Festival will feature several films that represent the work of Columbia University filmmakers across writing, directing, producing, editing, and music supervising. 

The Sundance Film Festival is the premiere film festival in the United States. The Festival is hosted by the Sundance Institute, which was founded by Robert Redford in 1981. Aiming to celebrate independent storytelling and to introduce groundbreaking work to a global audience, it consistently features work from Columbia alumni. The Festival will host screenings in Park City, Salt Lake City, and at Sundance Mountain Resort from January 19-29, 2023.

School of the Arts alumni are presenting work in the categories of “Premieres” and “US Dramatic Competition.” In addition, one notable work, Joyland, is being presented in the “Spotlight” category. Joyland premiered at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Jury prize in the Un Certain Regard section–and was the first film from the Indian subcontinent to do so. It is also making waves in its appearance at the festival, as it is unprecedented for a film which premiered at Cannes to play at Sundance.

See below for a full list of Columbia films at Sundance.


Category: Premieres 

Still from "Past Lives"

Past Lives
Theatre alumna Celine Song '14, Writer/Director

Nora, a young Korean girl, is forced to abandon a close friendship with her classmate Hae Sung when her family immigrates to America. Decades later, Nora is married, contentedly settled in New York City—until Hae Sung’s unexpected reappearance sends mighty ripples through her life. Over the course of one momentous week, the reunited friends confront questions of destiny and love as they come face to face with their biggest “what if.” 

Alumnus Ben O’Dell '04, Producer
Former Adjunct and Alumnus Christopher Zalla '04, Writer/Director 

Marking Zalla’s return to Sundance after his film Padre Nuesto won a Grand Jury Prize in 2017, Radical is set in a Mexican border town plagued by neglect, corruption, and violence. The film is inspired by the true story of a frustrated teacher who tries a radical new method to break through his students’ apathy and unlock their curiosity, their potential. . . and maybe even their genius. According to Sundance, Radical "shines a light on the incredible potential children can manifest when an innovative teacher empowers them to think for themselves.” 

Invisible Beauty
Alumnus Frédéric Tcheng '07, Co-Director

Tcheng (Halston, Dior and I) teams up with fashion revolutionary Bethann Hardison to look back on her journey as a pioneering Black model, modeling agent, and activist, shining a light on an untold chapter in the fight for racial diversity. Sundance describes the movie, saying, “The film is an absorbing record of Hardison’s accomplishments and a rare contemplation on the life of a radical thinker.”

You Hurt My Feelings
Alumna Nicole Holofcener '08, Director

This film marks Holofcener’s fourth appearance at Sundance. Starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, You Hurt My Feelings follows what happens when a novelist's long standing marriage is suddenly upended—all because she overhears her husband giving his honest reaction to her latest book. The film is “a cleverly-observed, witty film that delicately skewers its sharply-drawn, imperfect characters’ insecurities, privilege, and narcissism.” 

A man and woman dance in a dark room

Alumna Hannah Janal '15, Executive Producer
Alumnus Ali Betil '14, Executive Producer

Set in contemporary Paris, Passages follows married couple Tomas and Martin as they each step outside the boundaries of their relationships, finding sexual connection with others. Their affairs unleash feelings of jealousy, and cause Tomas to question whether the relationship can survive the betrayals. The film is “an intensely intimate piece that refuses to shy away from the messiness of life.”

The Pod Generation (Premieres) 
Alumna Sophie Barthes (SIPA '03), Writer/Director 

Barthes’ third feature film stars Emilia Clarke and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Rachel and Alvy, two people in a not-so-distant future. Here, amid a society madly in love with technology, tech giant Pegazus offers couples the opportunity to share their pregnancies via detachable artificial wombs or pods. And so begins Rachel and Alvy's wild ride to parenthood in this brave new world. The Pod Generation is “a social satire of detachment parenting [which] delves into the fraught, comedically tantalizing relationship between technology, nature, and society.”

Category: Spotlight

Alumnus Saim Sadiq '09, Director
Alumna Maggie Briggs '19, Co-Writer
Alumna Apoorva Charan '18, Producer
Alumna Jasmin Tenucci '20, Editor

As the Ranas, a happily patriarchal joint family, yearn for the birth of a baby boy to continue the family line, their youngest son secretly joins an erotic dance theater and falls for an ambitious trans starlet. Their impossible love story illuminates the entire family's desire for a sexual rebellion.

Film alumna and Dean's Council member Katharina Otto-Bernstein '92 ('86 CC), whose mentorship program has set up many Film alumni for success, also serves as a producer on the film, after Sadiq's previous short film Darling was a recipient of the Katharina Otto-Bernstein grant. Associate Professor Ramin Bahrani ’96 (CC)  serves as Executive Producer and Mona Maahn '22 as Associate Producer. The creative team behind the film also includes Rob Bellon '19, Esteban Garcia Vernaza '20, Bane Fakih '19, Mark Sean Haynes '17, and Kaiser Wahab '99 (Law)

Category: US Dramatic Competition

Alumna Cheryl Wang '22, Music Coordinator

Randall Park’s directorial debut, this graphic novel adaptation follows Ben, Miko, and Alice as they navigate a range of interpersonal relationships and traverse the country in search of the ideal connection.

Sometimes I Think about Dying
Alumna Cheryl Wang '22, Music Coordinator

Daisy Ridley stars as Fran, who likes to think about dying—it brings sensation to her quiet life. When she makes the new guy at work laugh, it leads to more: a date, a slice of pie, a conversation, a spark. The only thing standing in their way is Fran herself.

Theater Camp 
Alumnus Nick Lieberman (CC '16), Co-writer and Co-director
Alumnus Erik Feig (CC '92), Producer

Theatre Camp marks the (co) directorial debut of Molly Gordon, who also stars alongside Ben Platt as members of the eccentric staff of a theater camp in upstate New York. When the camp’s beloved founder falls into a coma, the staff must band together with the founder's crypto-bro son to keep the camp afloat.

Landscape with Invisible Hand 
Alumna Dede Gardner (CC '90), Producer

Based on the National Book Award-winning novel by M. T. Anderson, Landscape with Invisible Hand  follows what happens when Earth is taken over by aliens who control the economy, and a pair of teenagers must come up with a plan to save their families.

Category: World Cinema Documentary Competition

Still from 'Eternal Memory'

The Eternal Memory
Alumnus Tatán Donoso ’17, Executive Producer

Oscar-nominated director Maite Alberdi (The Mole Agent, 2020) follows couple Augusto and Paulina, twenty-five years into their marriage and eight years into Augusto’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The film documents their daily lives as the couple “face this challenge head-on, adapting to the disruptions brought on by the taxing disease while relying on the tender affection and sense of humor shared between them that remains intact.”