Columbia Filmmakers Shine in 2021 Emmy Nominations

Angeline Dimambro
July 14, 2021

Numerous projects helmed by Columbia University faculty and alumni have been nominated for the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards. They are: Dick Johnson Is DeadThe Social DilemmaLovecraft Country, Indian Matchmaking, and The Handmaid's Tale.

Among the nominees for Exceptional Merit In Documentary Filmmaking is Dick Johnson Is Dead, co-produced by Associate Professor and Chair of the Creative Producing Concentration, Maureen A. Ryan ’92, and former Adjunct Assistant Professor Marilyn Ness. The film, directed by award-winning documentary director Kirsten Johnson, is also nominated in the category of Outstanding Directing For A Documentary/Nonfiction Program. 

Dick Johnson Is Dead follows Johnson as she stages clever ways for her 86-year-old psychiatrist father to die as he falls ill with dementia, while hoping that the magic of cinema might help her turn back time, laugh at pain and keep her father alive forever. The darkly sardonic and whimsically imaginative story is a clandestine love letter from a daughter to a father, which toggles between fact and fiction to create a festive exploration of how film gives us the artistic tools to cope with life’s obstacles.

Film Program alumnus John Wakayama Carey ’14 served as the director of photography on the project, his work earning the film a nomination for Outstanding Cinematography For A Nonfiction Program. Dick John Is Dead was assistant directed by Michael Toscano ’12, with production managed by Adjunct Assistant Professor Sarah Seulki Oh. Several other Columbia filmmakers worked on the project, including Joshua Ryan Troxler ’18, Production Coordinator, Mahak Jiwani ’18, Production Coordinator, Kristy Richman ’19, Production Coordinator/Extras Casting, Markus Kirschner ’09, Production, Federica Belletti '18, Location Manager, Ewing Luo ’18, Production, Frank Liu ’19, Production Assistant, student Alex Yarber, Production Assistant, Jaclyn Noel ’19, Production Assistant, and Christina Wood ’19, Production Assistant. The multiple Emmy nominations build on a wave of awards the film received on the festival circuit.

man in red lit room surrounded by semi-translucent photographs

The Social Dilemma, produced by Film alumna Larissa Rhodes ’14 has also received numerous nominations. A Netflix Original Film, The Social Dilemma is a documentary-drama hybrid that explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations. Directed by Jeff Orlowski, the film is nominated in the following categories: Outstanding Cinematography For A Nonfiction Program, Outstanding Directing For A Documentary/Nonfiction Program, Outstanding Picture Editing For A Nonfiction Program, Outstanding Music Composition For A Documentary Series Or Special (Original Dramatic Score), Outstanding Documentary Or Nonfiction Special, Outstanding Sound Editing For A Nonfiction Or Reality Program (Single Or Multi-Camera), and Outstanding Writing For A Nonfiction Program.

three women in jackets outside

Film alumnus Kevin Lau '13 is on the writing team for HBO's fan favorite, Lovecraft Country. Lau co-wrote the show’s sixth episode, “Meet Me in Daegu,” with series creator Misha Green, and he is credited as story editor on all eight episodes. Lau recently signed an expanded deal with HBO under which he will continue to write, as well as direct and develop, for the premium cable network.

Based on Mark Ruff’s 2016 novel of the same name, Lovecraft Country is executively produced by J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele. The horror drama follows a young Black man named Atticus as he travels through 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his father. Along the way, he encounters secrets and terrors straight out of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction. The show has been nominated in the following categories: Best Drama Series, Outstanding Writing For A Drama Series, Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Jonathan Majors), Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Jurnee Smollett), Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Michael K. Williams), Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Aunjanue Ellis), Guest Actor in a Drama Series (Courtney B. Vance), Outstanding Casting For A Drama Series, Outstanding Cinematography For A Single-Camera Series (One Hour), Outstanding Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes, Outstanding Main Title Design, Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup, Outstanding Music Composition For A Series (Original Dramatic Score), Outstanding Music Supervision, Outstanding Sound Editing For A Comedy Or Drama Series (One Hour), Outstanding Sound Editing For A Comedy Or Drama Series (One Hour), Outstanding Special Visual Effects In A Season Or A Movie, and Outstanding Stunt Performance.  

five headshots framed by heart-shaped outlines

Alumna Smriti Mundhra ’09 executive produced the Netflix series, Indian Matchmaking, which was nominated in the category for Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program.

In Indian Matchmaking, matchmaker Sima Taparia guides clients in the U.S. and India in the arranged marriage process, offering an inside look at the custom in a modern era.

six women in red dresses and white habits

The Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale, which has been picked up for a fifth season, received 21 nominations including Best Drama Series, Lead Actress for Elizabeth Moss, Best Supporting Actor for Max Minghella (CC '09), and Outstanding Cast for a Drama Series. Alumna Jacey Heldrich ’13 served as a series staff writer and alum Eric Tuchman ’87 co-wrote episode nine, “Progress,” and has produced previous seasons.

Alumna Christina Choe ’12 directed two episodes, “Milk” and “Chicago,” the later being nominated for Outstanding Production Design For A Narrative Contemporary Program.

The 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards will air on CBS and Paramount Plus on September 19, 2021 at 8 pm ET.