They’ve probably been seen around campus—toting heavy bags of equipment, slipping away for weekend-long shoots, stumbling bleary-eyed out of Dodge Hall instead of Butler. They are the few, the proud, the members of Columbia University Film Production, the primary filmmaking organization on campus. This past Saturday, April 23, marked the club’s annual Spring Festival, a showcase featuring five films chartered by CUFP in its year-long production season. A dozen other shorts, made by film and econ majors alike, for classes or for fun, were also shown.
Indeed, one of the most noteworthy things about these films was their diversity, both of subject matter and of style. A majority touched on some issue of undergraduate life—an understandable focus, given the common age and occupation of their creators. However, the films still managed to cover a substantial range of topics, from a young couple’s troubled marriage to a couple of friends’ trouble with hypnosis, from the ethics of doing a love interest’s homework to the ethics of kidnapping her and harvesting a vital organ.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about these films, though, is that they were even made at all.
Filmmaking is an especially time-consuming, even grueling enterprise, particularly when taken on in addition to a liberal arts education. Even Avi Edelman, CC ’11, a film major who made his entry, “Forced Move,” for a production class, found himself juggling the impossible time constraints of classes, extracurricular commitments, and an internship, let alone his own production schedule. “I was working 20 hour days twice a week, then pulling all-nighters before and after,” Edelman said. “It was definitely difficult.”
Still, CUFP is willing, if not eager, to cater to students. “The way CUFP has distinguished itself from other film groups is that our main goal is to give people who want to make movies the opportunity to make them, or to learn how to make them,” said Blair McClendon, CC ’13, this year’s Festival Director and a contributing filmmaker.
For example, the CUFP website hosts a “Production Resources” tab, which McClendon used for his own film, “Bathing Woman.” He tried to wrangle professional actors willing to work under the constraints of a meager student budget “for free, and maybe some food”—an offer that managed to garner hundreds of responses through the site. CUFP will even rent equipment for free, provided that one has worked with their crew at least once, “so you’ll be familiar with the equipment, but also so we can get people working together,” McClendon said.
“The film industry can be very competitive and stressful,” Edelman said, “but with this festival, it seemed like the goal was really to showcase student work, not to put things in competition with one another. The atmosphere was really enjoyable—people seemed genuinely excited to see what each other had done.”
This fostering of camaraderie may be CUFP’s greatest accomplishment yet—one highlighted by their invitation to members of Authorized Dealer Films to speak at the end of this year’s festival. The representatives discussed their upcoming project, the Alphabet City Dolly Film Festival, which will help to put local independent films in Alphabet City venues this August. “They’re also doing something that I think a lot of people think is kind of impossible,” McClendon said. “They’re not connected to a studio—they’re just making movies—and they realized that the best way to do this is if they join together, which is the same message CUFP is sending out: If you go to Columbia, and you’re doing something in film, we want to help you. And, more importantly, there are other people here who want to work with you.”
Ultimately, this is the exciting and even inspiring impact of the Spring Festival in celebrating this tight-knit community, reinvigorating it, and encouraging new members to come into the fold. “As much as it is for these people who have made a film and finally have a place to show it, it’s also for those people in the audience who have been thinking about making a movie, to see that it is possible,” McClendon said. “It’s hard work, but it’s possible.”