Columbia Night spotlights succesful grads

By Drew Hunt

In an event showcasing the finest in global cinema, the Chicago International Film Festival proved to have a vested interest in local filmmaking by hosting Columbia Night, a special program featuring two Columbia alumni’s work.

Naveen Chathappuram and Michael David Lynch produced their respective films—the feature-length “Ca$h” and the short film “Swerve”—and each were in attendance at a private reception that was held before their films were screened.

As a presenting partner of the film festival, Columbia held a special event at Lucky Strike Lanes, 322 E. Illinois St., to showcase work of graduates who are making inroads into the film industry.

“It’s an opportunity for Columbia to highlight some of the great work that’s being done by our alumni,” said Josh Culley-Foster, national director of Alumni Relations for Columbia. “Both Naveen and Michael,

as producers, have really had a great opportunity with these films to show what kind of films [Columbia is] affiliated with.”

Columbia President Warrick L. Carter attended the reception and gave a brief speech before students, faculty, staff and administration and various festivalgoers. In his speech, Carter said Columbia takes great pride in its alumni.

“The most important thing about an institution is the success of its alums,” Carter said. “The industries we prepare our students for are challenging industries. It’s not the easiest thing to do, so when we

have some success among our alums within those industries, we want to celebrate it.”

“Ca$h” and “Swerve” were initially the winners of the Alumni film contest, which was organized by Alumni Services to find the best films to premiere at Columbia Night. Before their films were screened at the festival, Lynch and Chathappuram were given commemorative plaques on behalf of Columbia to congratulate

their accomplishments.

Chathappuram, whose film is currently available on DVD and stars Sean Bean and Chris Hemsworth, said he has had a fruitful, if challenging, career since graduating from Columbia in 2000.

“Schooling gives you all the rudiments and all the discipline you need to survive in the mainstream,” Chathappuram said. “But it’s also trial by fire. When you jump into a business like this, it’s not a cut-out path. You have to figure it out.”

It took four years, from pre-production to release, for Chathapuram’s film to come to fruition. He said he believes “Ca$h” will be the film that will launch him and his production company in Hollywood.

Meanwhile, Lynch, who has been living in Los Angeles since his graduation in 2005, said he was happy to be back in Chicago and reinforce his roots with Columbia.

“It feels great to come back and share the love with alumni and … Columbia students,” Lynch said. “Because I came up through those halls. I had the same tools [they] had.”

Lynch has held numerous jobs because he relocated to Hollywood, something he said has strengthened his reputation and work ethic. He said by being effective in networking, he has been able to make a living working within the industry—a tool he said he considers vital for anyone who hopes to do the same.

“Everyone gets different jobs at different times. Because of the people I’ve met and worked with, I have hopped in and out of every [job] in LA,” Lynch said. “Except I haven’t done any porn.”

After Columbia Night, Lynch and Chathappuram will continue to network with other industry insiders to have their films more widely distributed. Lynch and his collaborators have already secured contracts with European television to have “Swerve” shown in countries like Italy and France, while Chathappuram is in the process of securing international distribution for his film.

Meanwhile, Carter said he will continue to take pride in Columbia alumni who have success in their chosen field.

“It’s like having a business,” Carter said. “You’re only as good as your product. So we’re only as good as what our alums do after they leave us. It’s important to support alums as they’re doing various kinds of things.”