Columbia Filmmakers Triumph at 30th Palm Springs ShortFest

Carlos Barragán
June 25, 2024

Columbia University filmmakers achieved notable success at the 30th annual Palm Springs International ShortFest, with several films receiving top honors and special mentions.

Primos, a short film written and directed by Ricardo Varona '22 and produced by Tony Yang '20 and Ida Yazdi '22, who also co-wrote the screenplay, won the prestigious Best Student US Short award.

Primos follows 16-year-old Cristóbal during a road trip to the west coast of Puerto Rico, as he begins to suspect that his crush, Yazmín, and cousin, Marcos, are secretly seeing each other. 

"There's nothing really quite as rewarding as putting something that feels intimate and personal on screen and finding that it becomes a bridge for other folks sharing that intimacy," Varona shared via an Instagram post.

Additionally, two other films produced by Columbia students earned special mentions. Bita Joon, written, directed, and co-produced by Film Student Sara Boutorabi and co-produced by Film student Kali Kahn, received a special mention in the Best Student US Short category. Favours, written by Agnes Skonare Karlsson '22, received a special mention in the Best Live-Action Short 15 Minutes and Under category.

See a full list of winners here.

Original: June 17, 2024

The 30th annual Palm Springs International ShortFest, running from June 18 to 24, 2024, will feature an incredible number of short films by Columbia filmmakers. This seven-day festival is a highlight for short film enthusiasts worldwide, with all films under 40 minutes.

The Palm Springs ShortFest is Academy Award, BAFTA, and Goya-qualifying, annually screening hundreds of shorts from over 60 countries. The lineup of 300+ shorts is curated into thematic programs of approximately 90 minutes each, offering a diverse cross-section of contemporary cinema. Filmmakers from various international backgrounds will engage in Q&A sessions following many of the programs.

See below for a list of the films by Columbia filmmakers that will screen at the festival:


Still from 'Bita Joon'

Bita Joon
Film Student Sara Boutorabi, Writer, Director and Producer
Film student Kali Kahn, Producer

On a seemingly prosaic day in the life of Bita, an Iranian woman with terminal cancer, she comes to grips with her changing relationships with her family as life transforms, evolves and slips away.

Bita Joon will be presented in The History of Us program. From personal to shared histories, this collection of films examines the choices, moments, and people that shape us. 

Still from 'Bruno & Elena'

Bruno & Elena
Javier Hirschler '23, Writer, Director
Zing(Zixin) Chen '23, Producer

On the last day of high school, Bruno finally manages to charm the girl of his dreams and invites her over to his house. But his mother, Elena, won't stay in her room.

Bruno & Elena will screen in the All About My Mother program, which features touching or comedic stories that traverse the world of motherhood, spotlighting the enduring impact our mothers leave on our lives.

Still from 'Esteban Cabeza de Baca’s Time Travels'

Esteban Cabeza de Baca’s Time Travels
Featuring Visual Arts alum Esteban Cabeza de Baca '14

From his studio in Queens, to on-site painting at the US-Mexico border, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cabeza de Baca strives to give form to both his personal story and the still-present legacy of colonialism.

Esteban Cabeza de Baca’s Time Travels will screen in the Art Attack program, a collection that explores the transformative and provocative influence of art through an assortment of documentary, fiction, and animated short films while celebrating the creative process and its ability to heal and challenge.

Still from 'Favours'

Agnes Skonare Karlsson ’22, Screenwriter and Director

In a bustling train station, Sonja struggles to get help to take care of a baby she claims has been abandoned. But is there another mother, or is this Sonja's baby?

Favours will screen on opening night to kick off the 30th edition of the festival.

Still from 'Imogene'

Katie Blair '23, Writer, Producer and Director 
Fay O'Neill '21, Producer
Caitlin Ferrell '22, Producer

Imogene is a single, free-spirited New Yorker in her forties. Unprompted, her absurdly traditional family thrusts a pregnancy on her. But all that can be expected from Imogene is the unexpected.

Imogene will screen in the Parental Control program, which mines the rich stories between parents and their children, whether they span oceans or let in no light.

Still from 'In the Absence of Fruit and Flowers'

In the Absence of Fruit and Flowers
Film student Kali Kahn; Director, Cowriter
Film Student Sara Boutorabi, Producer
Sound Art alum A.M. DeVito '24, Composer

Old wounds are laid bare on Eli’s 23rd birthday when he pays a visit to his estranged father and is met with an awkward surprise celebration.

In the Absence of Fruit and Flowers will screen in the Father Figures program, a collection that showcases dads and fatherhood, featuring stories that highlight the full spectrum of love, frustration, and cheesy jokes. 

Still from 'Nomad'

Film student Lucas Chengze Li, Screenwriter, Director, and Producer
Film student Galia Mengge Qin, Producer

An Asian American cowboy travels to New York City for a rodeo competition, but finds himself out of place and alienated. After days of wandering the concrete jungle, his quest takes a turn after he intervenes in a distressing situation.

Nomad will screen in the A City Symphony program. These films take audiences through the streets, sounds, and stories of metropolises real and imagined, historic and contemporary.

Still from 'The Nominees'

The Nominees
Gabriele Urbonaite ’21, Editor

Having lost out on the award for the best actress of the year, Aldona becomes the hero of the day.

The Nominees will screen in the Behind the Camera program. This segment pulls back the curtain on Hollywood, following films that delve into behind-the-scenes shenanigans.

Still from 'Places I've Called My Own'

Places I’ve Called My Own
Adjunct Assistant Professor Sushma Khadepaun '20, Screenwriter & Director

In the midst of her IVF treatment, Zee returns to India for her father's funeral. There, she finds a mother in denial about her sexual orientation, a married ex-girlfriend, and the patriarchal shadow that continues to hang over the home.

Places I’ve Called my Own will screen in the Home Is Where the Heart Is program, a collection about home, always something more than a dwelling. Home is our collective pasts, our memories, our loved ones and our shared hopes for a better future.

Still from 'Primos'

Ricardo Varona '22, Writer, Director
Ida Yazdi '22, Writer, Producer
Tony Yang '20, Producer 

During a teenage road trip to the west coast of Puerto Rico, 16-year-old Cristóbal begins to suspect that his crush, Yazmín, and cousin Marcos are secretly seeing each other. 

Primos will screen in The Sun Shines Bright program, a collection that embraces the summer spirit with warm-weather films replete with sizzling tension, fleeting romance, and scorching holidays.

Still from 'Room Tone'

Room Tone
Mike McNamara '16, Producer

When a sound guy's attempt to capture “room tone" is constantly thwarted by the noisy antics of his coworkers, he takes extreme measures to achieve silence.

Room Tone will also screen in the Behind the Camera program.

Still from 'Sadness'

Andrew Ellmaker '14, Director of Photography
Raj Trivedi '17, Main Cast

Set against the unraveling milieu of late-’60s America, two people forge a connection through the mysterious ether of a radio signal.

Sadness will screen in the Brief Encounters program. These films examine the abiding impact of terse exchanges and fleeting interactions. 

Still from 'Special Delivery'

Special Delivery
Emily Everhard '24, Director 
Caroline Moore '23, Producer

A foley artist for pornography falls in love with a porn star during an ADR session.

Special Delivery is part of the Behind the Camera program. This segment pulls back the curtain on Hollywood, following films that delve into behind-the-scenes shenanigans. 

Still from 'Three'

Film student Amie Song, Screenwriter and Director
Film student Jingwen Fang, Producer

At her birthday party, a Chinese woman who has recently moved to the United States to live with her daughter strives to keep her daughter's private life from her new friends.

Three will be featured in the Beneath the Surface program, an enigmatic collection of films with "something brewing and bubbling up beneath the surface.”

Still from 'Waterbirds'

Hangcheng Xu ’24, Screenwriter, Director, and Editor
Hongwei Wu ’23, Producer

After a breakup, a Chinese woman in her late twenties embarks on a search for a new apartment in New York City.

Waterbirds will screen in the Crossroads collection, where characters stand at a crucial juncture, facing pivotal decisions and life-altering events.

Still from 'What Do We Call This?'

 What Do We Call This?
Tony Yang ’20, producer

After the sudden death of her husband, Julia is left a single mother and forms an unexpected kinship with the only other person who can truly understand her grief.

What Do We Call This? will screen in the Alone Together collection, a selection of shorts that live in the distances from which we are able to reach one another. They remind us we are never alone, even if we are simply united in solitude.

Still from 'Wrong Bathroom'

Wrong Bathroom
Donovan Toledo ’22, producer

A transgender high school student is pressured into a misogynistic conversation with his peers in order to be considered “one of the guys."

Wrong Bathroom will also screen in the Crossroads collection.

Still from 'Yaya'

Leticia Akel Escárate '18, Writer and Director

Yaya is a young woman with Down syndrome who is tired of being ignored and infantilized by everyone around her. While working at her uncle’s grocery store, Yaya befriends Genesis, a rebellious teenager who challenges her to break free.

Yaya will be featured in the On the Job program, a collection including funny and fraught portraits of working life, from new hires to reluctant retirements and everything in between.


Tickets for the 2024 Palm Springs ShortFestival are available here. See the full lineup of films here.