Four Columbia Films Nominated for 2021 Oscars

BY Cody Beltis, March 15, 2021

The 93rd Academy Awards ceremony is scheduled to take place on April 25, 2021, more than two months later than the time of the ceremony last year. The awards will recognize films released during a year in which movie theaters were largely closed, thus shifting Oscar attention to the increasing standard of those released on streaming services. Four films created by Columbia filmmakers have been nominated for Oscars this year. These films are: The White Tiger for Best Adapted Screenplay by Associate Professor Ramin Bahrani and associate produced by Film alumnus Mark Haynes ’17, The Mole Agent for Best Documentary Feature, with Adjunct Professor Jonathan Gray of Gray and Schwartz LLP as production counsel, Time, produced by former staff member and CUFF director Lauren Domino, and The Present for Best Live Action Short with alumna Annemarie Jacir '02 as editing supervisor. 

Still from The White Tiger, by Professor Ramin Bahrani

Set in contemporary India, The White Tiger is centered on the murderous rise of a Bangalore driver who climbs from the bottom of India’s caste society to become a chauffeur and successful entrepreneur. The original book, written by Columbia College alumnus Aravind Adiga (CC '97) and adapted for the screen by Bahrani, has been likened to the Richard Wright novel Native Son. The subject describes his rise through poverty and corruption in correspondence with a Chinese finance minister preparing for a trip to Bangalore to learn about democracy.


Bahrani is an award-winning Iranian American writer, director and producer. His films have premiered in Venice, Cannes, Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals. In 2010, legendary film critic Roger Ebert proclaimed Bahrani as “the director of the decade.” Bahrani has won numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a “Someone to Watch” Independent Spirit Award.


He has been the subject of retrospectives around the world and all his cinematic work is housed in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. His feature films have won numerous awards, including the FIPRESCI Prize in London (Man Push Cart) FIPRESCI Prize in Venice (Goodbye Solo), the Grand Prize in Deauville (99 Homes) and a Golden Globe nomination for Michael Shannon (99 Homes). Bahrani’s television film, Fahrenheit 451, for HBO, starring Michael B. Jordan, was nominated for 5 Emmys, including Best TV Movie, and won him a PGA award for Best Television Film. 


The White Tiger was released on Netflix to much acclaim. It was listed among the screening platform’s top ten around the world, number one in 64 countries and watched by 27 million in less than a month. It is also shortlisted for two BAFTA Awards and secured Bahrani a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay at the WGA Awards. The lead actor, Adarsh Gourav, won an Independent Spirit Award nomination as well.

Still from The Mole Agent with Adjunct Professor Jonathan Gray as production counsel

The Mole Agent is a stylish combination of an observational documentary and a spy movie. The story centers around Sergio, who is offered the role of a spy after a casting session organized by Detective Romulo, a private investigator who needs a credible mole to infiltrate a retirement home. Romulo’s client, the concerned daughter of a resident, suspects her mother is being abused and hires him to find out what is really happening. However, Sergio is 83, not 007, and not an easy trainee when it comes to technology and spying techniques. But he is a keen student, looking for ways to distract himself after recently losing his wife. While gathering intelligence, Sergio grows close to several residents and realizes that the menacing truth beneath the surface is not what anyone had suspected.


Adjunct Professor Jonathan Gray is a practicing attorney concentrating in independent film for over 20 years and is the founding partner of Gray Schwartz LLP, which focuses on documentary features. His former company Gray Krauss Stratford Sandler Des Rochers LLP (“GKSSD”) acted as production counsel on hundreds of independent films including The Station AgentPreciousBlack SwanBeasts of the Southern WildBirth of a Nation and Moonlight. Gray is also an Emmy nominated producer. He has produced and executive produced over 40 films.

Still from Time, produced by former staff member Lauren Domino

Time is about entrepreneur Fox Rich, who spends the last two decades campaigning for the release of her husband, Rob G. Rich. Rob G. Rich is serving a 60-year prison sentence for a robbery they both committed in the early 1990s in a moment of desperation.


Lauren Domino is a producer and writer. She produced the short film Alone (NYT OpDoc), which won the Short Film Jury Award: Non Fiction at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Her work as a producer also includes Black Folk Don’t (PBS), Like (Field of Vision, SXSW), The Older Fish (Time Inc., Killer Films), Intersection (Frameline, ABFF), and American Rhapsody (Aubin Pictures). Her work as a writer includes the short film Intersection and the feature film Paper Chase (Gunpowder & Sky), which will shoot this summer. The former director of the Columbia University Film Festival, Domino has produced branded content, photo spreads, and live events for The New Yorker,, The Oscars, Microsoft, and Essence Festival. She was a 2017 Sundance Institute Creative Producing Fellow.

Still from The Present, with Annemarie Jacir '02 as editing supervisor

The Present is a short film that won more than 20 awards at film festivals over the last year, including Best International Short and the Audience Award at the Palm Springs International ShortFest and the Best Short Film Award at the Cleveland International Film Festival. The Present follows Yusef and his young daughter who set out in the West Bank to buy a wedding gift. Between soldiers, segregated roads and checkpoints, how easy would it be to go shopping? 


Annemarie Jacir has been working in independent cinema since 1998. She has written, directed and produced a number of award-winning films including The Satellite Shooters (2001), Until WhenA Few Crumbs for the Birds, and A Post Oslo History. She was named one of Filmmaker magazine's 25 New Faces of Independent Cinema. Jacir’s like twenty impossibles (2003), was the first Arab short film to be an official selection of the Cannes International Film Festival and went on to be a Student Academy Awards finalist, winning more than 15 awards at International festivals. Jacir co-founded Philistine Films, an independent production company, focusing on productions related to the Arab world and Iran. She recently won the Eurimages Award at the Berlinale Co-Production Market for her project The Oblivion Theory.


The 93rd Oscars will be held on Sunday, April 25, 2021, at Union Station Los Angeles and the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, and televised live to more than 225 countries and territories worlwide on ABC at 8 pm ET / 5 pm PT.