Two Alumni Films Premiere at Slamdance 2021
BY Cody Beltis , January 11, 2021
Two films written and directed by alumni will have their premiere at Slamdance this February. Comforter, written and directed by Cameron Bruce Nelson '20 and produced by Katya Skakun '20 will premiere in the Narrative Shorts Program, and Me To Play, a documentary feature produced and directed by Jim Bernfield '01, and shot by Saro Varjabedian '13 will premiere in the Documentary Features section.
With the theme “Greenlight Yourself,” the indie-driven festival will also launch a new program titled Unstoppable, a showcase for creators with disabilities.
“The shared journey ahead for Slamdance’s filmmakers, alumni community and organization is to ‘Greenlight Yourself’ and triple down on not only who we are, but how we can continue expanding the many ways we support the filmmakers who are the future of independent filmmaking,” said Slamdance president and co-founder Peter Baxter.
The festival will run February 12-25, 2021 with all films, Q&As and panels available virtually via Slamdance.com, AppleTV, Roku, Firestick, and YouTube. In addition, there will be a two-night drive-in presentation in Joshua Tree, CA open to the public on February 13-14 as well as the closing-night screening at a Los Angeles drive-in on February 25.
Comforter, by Nelson, was shot as an exercise for Associate Professor Ramin Bahrani’s Directing class. It was inspired by the cloak of invisibility in a Harry Potter film. Of the film, Nelson said, “I love taking elements from big-budget films and reimagining them for smaller stories and budgets to use for short film ideas that cannot be shot anywhere on any camera. Comforter came out of one of those thought experiments.”
“I shot most of my exercises at Columbia with Katya who is an incredible filmmaker in her own right and a wonderful collaborator, always interested in pushing the boundaries of storytelling,” he said. “We were all really into this idea and the experimental quality of it as well as the physicality of the performance and the simplicity of the arc. Slamdance was really kind to invite us and we are thrilled to be returning with another film in their program.”
Nelson is a writer and director living in New York City. He is a graduate of Black Factory Cinema's workshop with Abbas Kiarostami and is currently pursuing an MFA in Screenwriting/Directing at Columbia University's School of the Arts, where he was awarded a Janowsky Screenwriting Fellowship. Pillars, another film written and directed by Nelson, screened at the American Film Festival in Poland last month.
Skakun is a filmmaker and actor, who holds degrees from The Lee Strasberg Film and Theatre Institute, Lomonosov Moscow State University, and Columbia University School of the Arts. She has worked on such films as Douggy (2016), Parallel Lines Meet at Infinity (2015), and Hands (2020).
Me to Play is a documentary feature about actors with Parkinson’s disease who put up Samuel Beckett’s Endgame. The film observes Dan and Chris not only in their work, but also as husbands, fathers, partners and friends. The film documents situations as they transpire and engages Dan, Chris, their families, friends, doctors and caregivers in multiple interviews through the course of the play’s production.
Bernfield oversees Human Rights First’s marketing and communications efforts. His work has always focused on using data to craft emotional narratives that brand organizations, elect leaders, and change policy. He holds a MFA in Film from Columbia as well as a BA in History from Columbia College at Columbia University. He wrote It’s Best Not to Know, a TV miniseries based on two sisters’ experience in the Holocaust.
Varjabedian is a recent Film MFA graduate from Columbia University and of Armenian descent is an international Director and Cinematographer. Saro began his career in film working as a Freelance Cinematographer in New York. As a Cinematographer, Saro has photographed seven feature films, countless shorts, industrials, and music videos. He is most known for his work on the feature film “Elliot Loves” which has aired on HBO Comedy, HBO Latino, HBO Zone, HBO GO, Cinemax, and Hulu. His work on “Jesus Loves Yusef,” which was filmed in Lebanon, won Saro the Best Student Cinematography Award from the 2012 Palm Springs International Film Festival.
In other related news, Hierophany, written, directed & produced by Kevin Contento '18, is now available to view on the Slamdance Film Festival website. Hierophany is about a Florida boy living on the margins of American society, who comes in contact with the sacred.
Contento is a Colombian-American filmmaker who grew up in South Florida. His thesis film, Hierophany world premiered at the 2018 LA film festival, in 2019 it played at over a dozen festivals including Slamdance in Park City, Utah, and a sold-out screening at the prestigious BAM Rose Cinema as part of the Caribbean Film Series.