Four Columbia Films Screen at 58th New York Film Festival
BY Felix van Kann, August 25, 2020
Four Columbia films have been selected to show at the 58th New York Film Festival from September 17 to October 11. The Truffle Hunters, a documentary co-directed by alumnus Gregory Kershaw '11, and the feature film Beginning, directed by alumna Déa Kulumbegashvilli '18 and co-produced by alumnus Ilan Amouyal '17, were both announced among the 25 films on the festival’s Main Slate, the historic core of the festival. Meanwhile, the feature film Slow Machine, co-directed by alumnus Paul Felten '04 and produced by alumnus and Adjunct Associate Professor Shrihari Sathe '09, as well as the short film Object Lessons, or: What Happened Whitsunday, directed by Film MA alumnus Ricky D’Ambrose '12 will screen as parts of the Currents series. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s edition will feature drive-in and virtual screenings.
The Truffle Hunters is set deep in the forests of Northern Italy where the prized white Alba truffle resides. Desired by the wealthiest patrons in the world, it remains a pungent but rarified mystery. It cannot be cultivated or found, even by the most resourceful of modern excavators. The only souls on Earth who know how to dig it up are a tiny circle of canines and their silver-haired human companions—Italian elders with walking sticks and devilish senses of humor—who only scour for the truffle at night so as not to leave any clues for others. The film was already nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and was on the 2020 lineup for the cancelled Cannes Film Festival. It was released by Sony Classic.
According to the festival’s website: “This engaging and beautifully filmed documentary immerses the viewer in the forests of Northern Italy, where dogs, accompanied by their elderly, often irascible human owners, scraping by on modest means, seek the precious white Alba truffle. A depiction of both a ritualistic, outmoded way of life and the wild economic disparity of a situation that can lead to acts of greed and cruelty, The Truffle Hunters is revelatory, earthy, and altogether humane.”
Gregory Kershaw is a documentary and narrative filmmaker whose work explores the complexity and beauty of humans and their planet. He was recently a producer and the director of photography on The Last Race. In 2019, he was a Sundance Institute Catalyst Forum fellow and Music and Sound Design Lab fellow.
Beginning, directed by Déa Kulumbegashvilli and co-produced by Ilan Amouyal, tells the story of a usual family whose morning begins to unravel when hidden tensions emerge. Just like Truffle Hunters, the film was also recently named on the Cannes 2020 lineup.
“In her striking feature debut, Georgian filmmaker Déa Kulumbegashvili uses rigorous, compositionally complex frames to tell the devastating story of a persecuted family of Jehovah’s Witness missionaries from the perspective of a wife and mother,” the festival website states. “An occasionally harrowing depiction of women’s roles in both religious and secular society, Beginning announces a major new arrival on the world cinema scene.”
Déa Kulumbegashvili was born and raised in Georgia. She grew up in the remote Caucasus Mountains in the small town of Lagodekhi. Her upbringing in this historic melting pot of various cultures and nationalities is a primary influence in her vision as a filmmaker.
Ilan Amouyal is a producer based in Paris and New York. He holds degrees from Brandeis and Harvard, attended l’Atelier at La Fémis and graduated from Columbia University winning the EP award for best producer in 2017. His projects have aired on HBO, played at the Cannes Film Festival (Directors Fortnight), IFF Rotterdam, and MoMA’s New Directors-New Films.
In Slow Machine, after her relationship with intelligence agent Gerard ends terribly, tired and disillusioned actress Stephanie hides in a house where a band is working on a record, which proves to be less of an escape than she imagined.
The NYFF Festival states, “The thriller genre gets exploded and reassembled in DeNardo and Felten’s funny and alluring work on paranoia, surveillance, and performance. Deftly lensed in 16mm and unfurling as a digressive, tantalizingly off-kilter mystery, Slow Machine is a fascinating work pitched at the intersection of American independent cinema and the avant-garde theater of Richard Foreman and the Wooster Group.”
Paul Felten is a filmmaker and screenwriter. He was born and raised in Reno, Nevada. He has been mostly active as a screenwriter, having written or co-written titles such as Bomb and Francophrenia (Or, Don’t Kill Me I Know Where the Baby Is). Felten is also the former director of Olympia Film Festival and was a participant in the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. Slow Machine is his first feature film as co-director.
Shrihari Sathe is an independent producer and director. Sathe's feature directorial debut, Ek Hazarachi Note (1000 Rupee Note), has received over 30 awards including several recognitions for Best Director and Best Film. Sathe is a 2013 Sundance Institute Creative Producing Fellow and has received fellowships from the HFPA, PGA, IFP, Film Independent, and The Sundance Institute.
Object Lessons, or: What Happened Whitsunday tells the story of an American art collector’s estate plans to build a glass house that will permanently memorialize the collector’s many prints and paintings. The spot selected—several acres of undeveloped parkland in upstate New York—was the site of a young woman’s murder.
According to the festival’s website, the film is “an oblique yet penetrating fable about the sociological connective tissue between the scene of a young woman's murder and much larger ideological and institutional forces-a far-right, xenophobic political party, the estate of a New York art dealer-mapped out across a wordless audiovisual collage of legal documents, archival materials, and upstate location footage.”
Ricky D’Ambrose is a critic and filmmaker in New York City who was born in 1987 in Livingston, New Jersey. Since 2013, he has shot and edited a series of video-recorded directors’ talks for the online film magazine MUBI Notebook, and written film reviews and essays. He works as a journalist for publications including The Nation and industry journal Film Quarterly.