From Film Festivals to Oscar Qualifications, 'The Fuse' by Kevin Haefelin ’22 Makes Waves

Aisha Amin
December 08, 2023

Film alumnus Kevin Haefelin '22 has had a busy few months. His thesis short, The Fuse, premiered at several world renowned festivals including the Rhode Island International Film Festival, Hollyshorts, Cleveland International Film Festival, and Woodstock Film Festival. The film won the Jury Award for live-action short at The New Hampshire Film Festival, was shortlisted for BAFTA’s best live action short film award, and recently won The Gotham's fifth annual Focus Features & JetBlue Student Short Film Showcase.

The Fuse is both poignant and tenderly comedic, following a struggling senior garbageman who, after losing his job, decides to hang up on life; but a blown fuse sends him wandering the streets of Harlem and leads him to new revelations. 

The film's win at New Hampshire qualified The Fuse for the Academy Awards, and Haefelin's team has been running a series of screenings around the world to introduce audiences to the touching short film. 

Festivals and film screenings have gotten The Fuse noticed by more than your average audience, too. During the film's screening at Woodstock, actor Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket, The Dark Knight Rises), was particularly touched by the film. Modine runs Cinco Dedos Peliculas production company alongside his producing partner Adam Rackoff, and after a conversation with Haefelin, Modine and Rackoff signed on as executive producers to help support The Fuse.

Close up of a bird in a cage and a hand, feeding the bird.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of The Fuse is the natural and authentic performance of its lead actor [Gabino]. Haefelin recalls seeing Gabino for the first time playing dominos in Spanish Harlem. At the time, Haefelin and his casting director were struggling to find a lead who felt "right," and three months before principal photography, they decided to try a new tactic—flyering in Spanish Harlem to see if they could find a good match. While no one responded to the flyers, the exercise got Haefelin out into the community, where he met a group of men who were interested in the project. Through these connections, he later got to meet and speak with Gabino, who was at first reluctant to do the film. However, after Haefelin explained the concept, Gabino—who himself is a retired sanitation worker—remarked, “I don't want to make a film, but I want to make this one because it's my life.” 

And so the creative collaboration was born. The Fuse is a blend of Haefelin's original script, and Gabino’s real experiences as a sanitation worker in New York City, which helped inform the final look and feel of the film. Now, Haefelin and Gabino have developed a friendship and creative partnership they hope to continue into the future.

“I don't want to make a film, but I want to make this one because it's my life.” 

Preparing for and shooting The Fuse was also a new and unique experience for Haefelin. Shooting during the Covid-19 pandemic brought up a host of challenges that Haefelin and his team met with open-mindedness and creativity. "I had a lot of support from Columbia," he recalls. "Especially during the pandemic, it was so hard, and [Columbia] did everything they could to have us make our films while keeping everybody safe and healthy. It was hard to work with [the protocols], but it was something that had to be done; and as creators, as artists, it was good training to find creative ways around problems. I think this is the ultimate thesis—to learn to solve those problems. That was a good, good learning experience." 

Nowadays, in addition to attending screenings globally and campaigning for the film, Haefelin is grateful to continue his filmmaking. Alongside his wife and producing partner Youmi Haefelin-Roch, Haefelin is working on a new short film. The Fuse was the third in what was planned to be a trilogy of New York films Haefelin made during his time as a graduate student at Columbia. After falling in love with filming in the very rich and dense cultural environment that is NYC, Haefelin decided to extend the project, and is in post-production on a fourth installment of the series that he describes as “an experimental film that mixes poetry, sculptures, cinema and dance. And the main character is a nine month old baby.”

He has also delved into the world of feature filmmaking, with two features in the pipeline. One will film in Japan in 2024, and another, which was developed through the Torino Film Lab, will film in Georgia. Haefelin has roots in the South, remarking: “I spent a lot of time in the South when I grew up. So this is also home to me.. I'm very passionate about all the landscapes and the people."

The Fuse is available to stream on Omeleto through the month of December, and in 2024, the film will be available for twelve months on JetBlue’s seatback entertainment systems under the “Gotham Selects” movie category and on Focus Features digital streaming platforms. 

The shortlist for the 2024 Academy Awards will be announced on December 21, 2023, and official nominations will be announced on January 23, 2024.

Learn more about the film at and watch a trailer below.

Kevin Haefelin (he/him) is a writer/director from Switzerland based between New York and Geneva. He graduated from Columbia University with an MFA in Screenwriting and Directing, and is a member of the Swiss Film Academy and BAFTA Connect. He was invited to participate in the Kyoto Filmmaker's Lab in partnership with Shochiku Studios and the Biennale di Venezia College Cinema. Kevin’s work revolves around societal issues and uses comedic tones. He is particularly sensitive to social injustice and misrepresentation and has been striving to voice concerns and anchor his pieces in contemporary settings. His films have been invited to 32 countries within international film festival programs, including 17 Academy Awards® qualifying festivals, and have won over 60 awards. His body of work has been showcased at museums and landmarks such as Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, Kyoto Museum, but also Brooklyn Museum, Lincoln Center, World Trade Center & Apollo Theatre in New York City, and TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. He was nominated for the Pardi di Domani Award at Locarno Film Festival, IMDb New Filmmakers Awards, BAFTA Student Film Awards, Swiss Film Award (Quartz), and his work has been broadcast and pre-bought by the Swiss National television (RTS) and appeared on demand on Xfinity by Comcast NBCUniversal, Mubi and Amazon Prime.