Film screenings and festivals have historically required large gatherings of people in one room, all looking at the same silver screen. But due to social distancing measures taken in response to the coronavirus pandemic, that is not an option anymore. Yet the show went on for the second annual CU Film Showcase, which brought people together from all over the world on April 27 to watch students’ short films on their personal silver screens.
Hosted by University Life on Zoom, the event featured eight short films submitted by students across five of Columbia’s schools.
Around 60 attendees tuned in from all over the world. Columbia students from Serbia, Taiwan, Switzerland, and cities throughout the United States logged onto Zoom to introduce their short films and view their fellow students’ work. Whereas traditional screenings may have been punctuated by rounds of applause, praise and commentary were delegated to the chatbox throughout the event.
The showcase began with “No” by Szu-Wei Chen, SOA ’22, a film based on Chen’s experiences after moving from Taiwan to New York City. Spanning many genres, the showcase included a comedy by Kevin Haefelin, SOA ’22, called “Tight Spot”; a black-and-white film without dialogue called “Is She?” from Andrea Studinger, SOA ’22; and an action film featuring an elderly female protagonist called “Once Upon a Time in Prague 7” from Sean Nelson Taylor, CC ’22.
Documentaries also made an appearance. “A Trip to Pleasure Island, TX” by Priya Amin, SPS ’20, examined her hometown’s changing identity over time through the lens of a road trip with her grandfather. Niharika Shekhawat, GSAPP ’20, Antonio Medina Abell, GSAPP ’20, and Chris Zheng, GSAPP ’20, collaborated on “Sunset Park: Live, Work, Play,” which focused on the stories and cultures woven throughout the Brooklyn neighborhood.
For her short film “Thirsty,” which was featured in the showcase, Payton McCarty-Simas, CC ’21, drew her inspiration from campy and feminine aesthetics, citing Anna Biller’s “The Love Witch” and Karyn Kusama’s “Jennifer’s Body” as influences. “Thirsty” featured an all-female cast and crew, and McCarty-Simas sought to bring LGBTQ representation to the horror genre.
The plot follows a woman who wakes up in her apartment hungover and surrounded by wine bottles. She goes out to get her elusive “fix,” and the film morphs into a gay love story—with a delightfully gory twist ending.
McCarty-Simas’ dedication to representing the LGBTQ community translated off-screen as well as on-screen through her decision to work with an all-queer cast and crew in a conscious effort to cultivate an inclusive and comfortable environment on set.
“I am really interested in horror as a genre for queer expression. The subtext and history of horror as otherness really applies to queer people and has throughout the history of film,” McCarty-Simas said.
“Maybe Next Time,” by Hayat Aljowaily, GS ’20, follows an Argentinean actress’ struggle to obtain a visa in order to attend an awards ceremony in New York. Building on her interest in migration and borders, Aljowaily based the film on a true story: Her friend was supposed to show his film at the Tribeca Film Festival, but after his visa got rejected, he could not attend.
As Aljowaily began to work on the film for her thesis production class, she learned of other people in the film community who had similar stories and decided it was an important story to tell.
“I realized that maybe I should do this idea justice because it was bugging me. It’s a topic that matters, and it’s really relevant to the film community,” Aljowaily said.
Aljowaily, a film student in the dual program with Sciences Po, wants to use the medium of film to combine her interests in social issues and film to accessibly promote social change.
“The best way, in my opinion, to promote change is by reaching people’s emotions, and it’s much easier to do that through a film that is accessible to everyone, not an experimental seven-hour-long documentary,” Aljowaily said. “I see film as an art but also as a medium that has a social and political responsibility.”