Still from Clara Sola

Seven Columbia Films Screen at Cannes 2021

BY Angeline Dimambro, June 21, 2021

Seven films by Columbia Filmmakers will screen at the internationally esteemed 2021 Cannes Film Festival. They are: Clara Sola, Murina, Libertad, Down With The King, and Are You Lonesome Tonight?, and the short films Céu de Agosto (August Sky) and Ma Shelo Nishbar (If It Ain’t Broke). This year marks the 74th season of the Festival de Cannes, which will run from July 6 to July 17, 2021.


“In order to achieve this level of longevity, the Festival de Cannes has remained faithful to its founding purpose: to draw attention to and raise the profile of films, with the aim of contributing towards the development of cinema, boosting the film industry worldwide and celebrating cinema at an international level,” said Cannes Film Festival delegate general Thierry Frémaux in a press release.


Both Nathalie Álvarez Mesén ’19 and Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović ’17 will have their features screened as part of the Director’s Fortnight, a parallel selection of the Cannes Film Festival that focuses on new filmmakers and showcases a wide spectrum of films, highlighting the most singular and visionary practices in contemporary cinema.


Clara Sola is Álvarez Mesén’s debut feature film and follows the titular character Clara, who is believed to have a special connection to God. As a "healer," Clara sustains a family and a village in need of hope, while she finds solace in her relationship with the natural world. After years of being controlled by her mother’s repressive care, Clara’s sexual desires are stirred by her attraction to her niece’s new boyfriend. This newly awakened force takes Clara to unexplored territory, allowing her to cross boundaries, both physical and mystical. Empowered by her self-discovery, Clara gradually frees herself from her role as “saint” and begins to heal herself.


Nathalie Álvarez Mesén is a Costa Rican-Swedish writer/director. Nathalie is an alumna of Columbia University’s Graduate Film Program, the Berlinale Talents, and the TIFF Filmmaker Lab. Clara Sola received the CTT and El Taller awards at the 2018 Guadalajara Co-production Meeting. Álvarez Mesén’s short films have screened at Telluride (Asunder), and Venice (Entre Tú y Milagros), where as co-writer she won the Horizons award for Best Short. Her short, Filip, won Best Film Under 15 Minutes at the 2016 Palm Springs Shortfest.


In Murina, directed by Kusijanović, tensions rise between restless teenager Julija, her young mother Nela, and her oppressive father Ante when an old family friend arrives at their isolated home on a Croatian island. As Ante attempts to broker a life-changing land deal and Nela resists the foreigner’s advances, Julija pursues a deeper connection with this powerful new father figure over a weekend laid bare to desire and violence. Murina was written by Kusijanovic and fellow alumnus Frank Graziano ’18


Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic is a writer-director born in Dubrovnik, based in New York. Her short, Into the Blue, was nominated for a Student Academy Award, and won awards at the Berlin International Film Festival, Sarajevo Film Festival, Oberhausen Film Festival, and the Festival de Premier Plans, Angers, among many others. Murina is Antoneta’s first feature film, developed with support from the Résidence du Festival Cannes, Cinéfondation, First Films First by the Goethe-Institut, and Jerusalem Film Lab. She holds an MA from Academy of Dramatic Arts in Zagreb and an MFA in screenwriting and directing from Columbia University in New York. Antoneta is an alumna of the Berlinale Talent Lab, Sarajevo Talent Lab, La Femis Producing Atelier, and the Marcie Bloom Fellowship.

Frank Graziano is a New York-based screenwriter and director whose films explore stories of the contemporary American city. He is the creator of the documentary series Feel My Pain, which follows four of New York's most notorious gangsters of the 1990s as they prepare for a stage play about their lives. Graziano is also a founding partner of Unwashed Films and holds an MFA in directing from Columbia University.

Still from Murina

Libertad, the debut feature film written and directed by alumna Clara Roquet ’16, will premiere in the competition section of Critics’ Week, another of Canne’s parallel lineups. In Libertad, Nora's quiet life is turned upside down when, during her summer holidays, this naïve 15-year-old comes across Libertad, also 15. This new, intense friendship between the two utterly different girls will guide them towards adolescence. 


Clara Roquet started her career co-writing the multi-awarded 10,000 Km (2014), alongside director Carlos Marques-Marcet. Soon thereafter, she started her first writing-directing venture, the short film El Adiós (2015), EFA nominee, which premiered at Toronto IFF and was named as the BAFTA Students Award winner. Since then, Clara has collaborated with directors such as Jaime Rosales, Paula Ortiz, Isabel Coixet, Mounia Akl, and Antonio Méndez Esparza, among others. Libertad is her first feature film.

Still from Libertad

Audiences can catch alumnus Rob Cristiano ’13 in the ACID (Association for the Distribution of Independent Cinema) section of this year’s festival. Created in 1993, The ACID program at Cannes screens nine feature films, fiction or documentary, to give visibility to directors whose work is scarcely distributed, in order to facilitate a theatrical release. Cristiano produced Down With The King (directed by Diego Ongaro), which follows Money Merc, a famous rapper disillusioned with the music industry and the pressures of being a celebrity, as he leaves the city and his career behind to find himself in a small-town farming community.


Rob Cristiano is a Brooklyn-born independent filmmaker. His feature film producing credits include the upcoming Down With The King and festival favorites The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance '18), Bob and the Trees (Sundance '15, Winner of the Crystal Globe at Karlovy Vary Int'l Film Fest '15), Keep the Change (Winner, Best US Narrative Film at the Tribeca Film Festival '17, Winner of Critics' Award at Karlovy Vary Int'l Film Festival '17), My First Kiss and the People Involved (Los Angeles Film Festival '16, Audience Prize at New Orleans Film Festival '16), and Maine (Tribeca Film Festival '18). Prior to receiving his MFA in Producing from the Columbia University Film Program, Cristiano spent five years at MTV, where he produced DVDs of the most successful franchises in the history of the channel. In 2013, the Producers Guild of America presented Cristiano with the prestigious Debra Hill Fellowship for emerging producers. 

Still from Down with the King

Shipei Wen ’19 will have his first feature, Are You Lonesome Tonight?, premiere in the Special Screenings portion of Cannes 2021. The film, which was co-written by fellow Columbia Film alumni Noé Dodson ’19 and Yinuo Wang ’16, takes its title from a mythic American song, made famous by the version recorded by Elvis Presley. A psychological police thriller that exploits the labyrinth of guilt, pardon, and redemption, sublimely highlighted in a colour palette that is reminiscent of the world of Wong Kar-wai.


Shipei Wen is a writer-director based in Shenzhen. He received his professional training in film production (directing) at Columbia University. His short film The Carpenter premiered at the Palm Spring International Shortfest. His credits as cinematographer include Iron Hands and Ping Pong Coach, which both premiered at Tribeca Film Festival, where the latter won the Best Short Film Award. After ten years of learning and making short films, he decided to forget what he had learned and be an honest and instinctive storyteller.


Noé Dodson is a screenwriter and director who graduated from the Film MFA Program at Columbia University. He also specializes in photography and the fine arts, having previously earned his BA at the Institut National Supérieur des Arts du Spectacle et des techniques de diffusion (INSAS). He also produced and served as an editor for the upcoming film Something Solid. Dodson also served as one of the co-editors on Are You Lonesome Tonight?


Born and raised in China, Yinuo Wang is a bilingual screenwriter with an MFA degree in Film from Columbia University. Since moving to New York in 2011, she’s been traveling between China and the US, striving to tell stories that resonate across different cultures. Her shorts have screened and won awards in numerous film festivals including Venice, Taipei Golden Horse, Palm Springs, Cleveland, Newport Beach, Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Her feature scripts have won development awards in Berlinale Talents, Busan's Asian Project Market, and Shanghai International Film Festival. Besides writing for films, Yinuo currently works as a creative writer & strategist at Google.

Still from Are you Lonesome Tonight?

Appearing in the Cannes Court Métrage showcase is Céu de Agosto (August Sky), a short film co-written and directed by alumna Jasmin Freitas Tenucci '20. Céu de Agosto follows a seven-months pregnant nurse as she deals with growing anxiety and gradually finds herself attracted to a Pentecostal church member in her community. Fellow alumni Saim Sadiq ’19, (co-writer), Kári Úlfsson ’20 (producer), Fernanda Frotté ’17 (editor), and Brúsi Ólason ’20 (editor) were also key creative collaborators for the short, which is among ten films that were chosen from over 3700 submissions by the festival’s selection committee. 


Jasmin Freitas Tenucci is a writer and director known for Tempero SecretoLook Out For Cows, and Descompasso. She co-produced the short film Darling (directed by Saim Sadiq ’19), which won the Orizzonti Award for Best Short Film at the 76th Annual Venice International Film Festival


Saim Sadiq is a Pakistani filmmaker. His short film Nice Talking to You was an official selection at South by Southwest 2019, Palm Springs International Shortfest 2019 and won Vimeo’s Best Director award at Columbia University Film Festival 2018. The film also made the BAFTA Shortlist for Best Student Film. A recipient of the Kodak Student Scholarship Gold Award, Sadiq is currently developing a pilot for MakeReady in Los Angeles and working on his first feature, Gulaab, which was selected for the Open Doors Hub at the 2018 Locarno Film Festival.


Kari Úlfsson is an independent film producer currently living in Reykjavik, Iceland. Úlfsson recently graduated with a Film MFA in Creative Producing from Columbia University in New York with a focus on marketing, distribution and development. Growing up in the environmental sciences and having priorly worked as a park ranger, he longs to combine these two fields—film and nature. 


Fernanda Frotté is a screenwriter and film editor currently based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where she works as a screenwriter for Rede Globo. Before pursuing her MFA in Film at Columbia University, Frotté earned a BA in Social Communications and Film Studies from Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro. She has directed two short films: Out There (2016) and May This Memory (2018). She also served as the co-writer of Refuge (directed by Federico Spiazzi '18), which had its world premiere at the Montclair Film Festival in May 2019.


Brúsi Ólason is an Icelandic director, screenwriter and editor, based in New York. Ólason grew up on a farm just outside of the town of Selfoss in the south of Iceland. Before moving to New York, Ólason worked at the Icelandic National Theatre. In 2017, he founded the production company Kvarki Films with Kari Ulfsson. He has directed five short films and his film Victoria showed at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2018.

Still from Céu de Agosto

Rising third-year Film student Omer Ben-David served as the producer for the short Ma Shelo Nishbar (If It Ain’t Broke), which will compete in the shorts category of Critics’ Week. Written and directed by Elinor Nechemya, the film follows Alona and Hagar who, like lost girls on a winter's day, ramble through the streets of Haifa. One is escaping her life, the other her future.


Omer Ben-David is an Israeli-born Writer-Director and Producer. During his BA studies at the Steve Tisch school of film at Tel-Aviv University, Ben-David directed four short films that went on to screen around the world, winning several awards. Upon graduation, Omer produced a full-length feature film, a number of award-winning shorts and numerous music videos and commercials for top leading bands and brands. He is currently pursuing an MFA in Film at Columbia University.

Still from Ma Shelo Nishbar (If It Ain’t Broke)