Still from Charm City Kings, written by Sherman Payne '10, showing in the US Dramatic Competition, image courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Three Columbia Filmmakers Win Big at Sundance 2020

BY Felix van Kann, February 5, 2020

It’s been a successful 35th edition of the Sundance Film Festival for Columbia filmmakers with three films taking home prestigious prizes. Charm City Kings, written by alumnus Sherman Payne ’10, won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast. Dick Johnson is Dead, a documentary produced by faculty member Maureen A. Ryan and faculty member Marilyn Ness, as well as a number of alumni (see full list below) was awarded the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Innovation in Non-fiction Storytelling. Finally, Time, a documentary produced by former CUFF director Lauren Domino, received the Directing Award: U.S. Documentary


The first major player on the festival circuit took place from January 23 to February 2. Seven films by Columbia filmmakers including writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, etc. showcased at the festival while two more films screened at Slamdance.


The complete list of accepted filmmakers is below.





With the start of the new year, comes the 35th edition of the Sundance Film Festival. The first major player on the festival circuit takes place January 23 to February 2. Seven films by Columbia filmmakers including writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, etc. will showcase while two more films will screen at Slamdance.


The complete list of accepted filmmakers is below.


Category: US Dramatic Competition


Charm City Kings

Sherman Payne '10, Writer


Mouse desperately wants to join The Midnight Clique, the infamous Baltimore dirt bike riders who rule the summertime streets. When Midnight’s leader, Blax, takes 14-year-old Mouse under his wing, Mouse soon finds himself torn between the straight-and-narrow and a road filled with fast money and violence.


Category: Midnight



Jake Gyllenhaal ’02, non-degree alum CC, Producer


Still from Relic, image courtesy of Sundance Film Festival


When octogenarian Edna inexplicably vanishes, her daughter Kay and granddaughter Sam rush to their family’s decaying country home and find clues of her increasing dementia scattered around the house in her absence. 


Category: Next!


Black Bear

Lawrence Levine ’08, Writer, Director and Producer

Sophia Takal Barnard ’07, Producer


Still from Black Bear, image courtesy of Sundance Film Festival


At a remote lake house, a filmmaker plays a calculated game of desire and jealousy in the pursuit of a work of art that blurs the boundaries between autobiography and invention. 


Eugene Kotlyarenko CC ’07, Director and Producer


Still from Spree, image courtesy of Sundance Film Festival


Kurt Kunkle, a rideshare driver thirsty for followers, has figured out a deadly plan to go viral. As his disturbing livestream is absurdly embraced by the social media hellscape, a comedienne emerges as the only hope to stop this rampage.


Category: Premieres 


The Glorias

Julie Taymor, Honorary alum '99, Writer and Director 


Still the The Glorias, image courtesy of Sundance Film Festival


In this nontraditional biopic, against the backdrop of a lonely bus on an open highway, five Glorias trace Steinem’s influential journey to prominence—from her time in India as a young woman, to the founding of Ms. magazine in New York, to her role in the rise of the women’s rights movement in the 1960s and beyond.


The Last Shift

Albert Berger '83, Producer 


Still from The Last Shift, image courtesy of Sundance Film Festival


Stanley, an aging fast food worker, prepares to work his final graveyard shift after 38 years. When he's asked to train his replacement, Jevon, Stanley's weekend takes an unexpected turn. 


Lost Girls

Anne Carey, Faculty, Producer


Still from Lost Girls, image courtesy of Sundance


When Mari Gilbert's daughter disappears, police inaction drives her own investigation into the gated Long Island community where Shannan was last seen. Committed to finding the truth, her search brings attention to over a dozen murdered sex workers Mari will not let the world forget. Inspired by true events.


Category: Spotlight


The Assistant

James Schamus, Faculty, Producer

Ramsey Scott, CC '10, Art Department Coordinator
Scott Macaulay, CC '84, Producer


Still from The Assistant, image courtesy of Sundance Film Festival


A day in the life of Jane, an assistant to a high-powered film executive.


Category: Documentary 


Dick Johnson is Dead

Maureen A. Ryan, Faculty, Producer
Marilyn Ness, Faculty, Producer
John Wakayama Carey ’14, Director of Photography
Michael Toscano ’12, Assistant Director
Sarah Seulki Oh, Faculty, Production Manager
Joshua Ryan Troxler ’18, Production Coordinator
Mahak Jiwani ’18, Production Coordinator

Kristy Richman ’19, Production Coordinator/Extras Casting
Markus Kirschner ’09, Production

Federica Gianni ’17, Media Manager
Ewing Luo ’18, Production

Frank Liu ’19, Production Assistant

Alex Yarber, Current Student, Production Assistant
Jaclyn Noel ’19, Production Assistant
Christina Wood ’19, Production Assistant 


Still from Dick Johnson is Dead, image courtesy of Sundance Film Festival


What if you could make your loved ones live forever? Dick Johnson Is Dead is Kirsten Johnson’s delirious and desperate attempt to keep her aging father alive. In this effort she turns to the magic of cinema to kill him, resurrect him, and celebrate his last years on earth.



Lauren Domino, former CUFF director, Producer


Still from Time, image courtesy of Sundance Film Festival


Fox Rich, indomitable matriarch and modern-day abolitionist, strives to keep her family together while fighting for the release of her incarcerated husband. An intimate, epic, and unconventional love story, filmed over two decades.


Category: World Cinema Documentary Competition


The Truffle Hunters

Gregory Kershaw '11, Co-Director and Producer


Still from The Truffle Hunters, image courtesy of Sundance Film Festival


In the secret forests of Northern Italy, a dwindling group of joyful old men and their faithful dogs search for the world’s most expensive ingredient, the white Alba truffle. Their stories form a real-life fairy tale that celebrates human passion in a fragile land that seems forgotten in time. 


Additionally, alumna Xixi Wang '18 was chosen to participate in the Sundance Institute's Screenwriters Lab Fellowship.


Slamdance Festival: 


Close Quarters

Andres Clariond ’10, Director and Writer


Still from Close Quarters, image courtesy of Slamdance


In a time in which it is essential to question gender roles, this film explores, confronts and breaks apart man’s darkest insecurities and vices. 


The Penny Black

William “Joe” Saunders '10, Director, Cinematographer and Co-Editor

Alex Greer CC ’08, Producer and Co-Editor

Maureen A. Ryan, Faculty,  Executive Producer


Still from The Penny Black, image courtesy of Professor Maureen Ryan


The estranged son of a con man fights temptation, paranoia, and his own nefarious legacy as he searches for the rightful owner of a mysterious, million-dollar stamp collection.


Cameron Bruce Nelson, Current Student, Director and Writer


Still from Pillars, image courtesy of Slamdance


A Mennonite woman reverts to a secret language when her best friend begins the rites of marriage.


The Sundance Film Festival becomes the ultimate gathering of original storytellers and audiences seeking new voices and fresh perspectives. The annual program includes dramatic and documentary features and short films; series and episodic content; and New Frontier, showcasing emerging media in the form of multimedia installations, performances, and films. The festival also hosts daily filmmaker conversations, panel discussions, and live music events. Since 1985, hundreds of films that have launched at the Festival have gained critical recognition and acclaim, reaching new audiences worldwide. 


Slamdance is “a community, a year-round experience, and a statement. The first Slamdance Film Festival was held in 1995 by a wild bunch of filmmakers who were tired of relying on a large, oblique system to showcase their work. Since then, Slamdance has proven year after year that independent grassroots communities take risks on bold talent and launch careers that change the industry. Our artist-led community continues to discover and nurture fellow creators through various programs throughout the year, focusing on new writers, digital and interactive art, grants and mentorship, DIY film education, film screenings and of course, the Slamdance Film Festival.”