Films by Columbia Alumnae Win Big at Palm Springs Film Festival

BY Nina Mahesh, February 5, 2020

Still from Cancion Sin Nombre (Song Without a Name), written & directed by Melina León '08, image courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter


Columbia alumnae Melina León '08 and Elisa Lleras '11 were both honored at the 2020 Palm Springs International Film Festival in early January.


Peruvian director León received the New Voices/New Visions Award for her investigative drama Cancion Sin Nombre (Song Without a Name). The award recognizes unique viewpoints from first or second time filmmakers.


Cancion Sin Nombre (Song Without a Name) is León’s depute film and premiered worldwide at the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes to great praise. The Hollywood Reporter called it “visually striking” and “beautifully composed,” going on to say that “Leon seems firmly in command of the material, bringing a strong voice and an even stronger eye to this Kafka-esque tale of low crimes and high-level corruption.”  Variety said, “León’s world-building remains mesmerizing, steeped as it is in local lore, rituals and haunting traditional music.”


The film follows the heavily pregnant Andean peasant woman, Georgina, who is lured to a fake health clinic that promises “medical assistance.” Once the baby is delivered she is pushed out and told to return the next day for the baby. But overnight the clinic and her baby disappear. Turned away or ignored by hostile police and indifferent government bureaucrats, Georgina finally turns to a newspaper reporter, Pedro Campos, for help. Pedro leads an investigation of fake clinics, corrupt medics and professional baby smugglers.


Cancion Sin Nombre (Song Without a Name) is based on a screenplay León started at Columbia inspired by a true account of child trafficking originally reported by Ismael León, her father. The film won Faculty Selects at CUFF 2008. León is a Peruvian director based in Lima and New York. Her short film El paraíso de Lili (Lili’s Paradise) premiered at the New York Film Festival and won 11 awards, including Best Latin American Film at the São Paulo International Short Film Festival.


Still from Tu Me Manques, produced by Elisa Lleras '11, image courtesy of Variety


Another Columbia alumna, Elisa Lleras co-produced, Tu Me Manques, which was selected as one of the Best of Fest.


Tu Me Manques follows a man who goes to New York after the suicide of his son, to confront his son’s boyfriend, played by Bolivian actor Fernando Barbosa. While the two men clash over the father’s inability to understand his son’s sexuality, the boyfriend stages a play to pay tribute to his lost love.


Tu Me Manques film won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Screenplay at L.A.’s Outfest where it had its world premiere. Rodrigo Bellott, writer, director and fellow co-producer, wrote the screenplay, originally a play, in response to the real-life tragedy of losing a partner with an unaccepting father to suicide. As a play, it was only meant to run one night, but went on for months due to unprecedented popularity. Even more notable, the play had such a large impact on Bolivian society that it led to the inclusion of the LGBTQ community in Bolivia’s anti-discrimination law. Its Supreme Court declared May 17 as National Day Against Homophobia in Bolivia.


The Palm Spring Film Festival was held from January 2-13, and screened 192 films from 81 countries.