Four alumni recognized at Sundance

By Alexandra Kukulka

Lights, camera, action! Each February, thousands of people rush to Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance, Utah, to experience the film festival of the year. Those who attend discover the newest talent in documentary, dramatic and short films, while sitting in on panel discussions according to the festival website.

This year, four Columbia alumni were recognized at Sundance. Zak Zeman, 2008 film and video graduate, was the first producer in the festival’s history to sell a horror film. Others were Paul Garnes, 1996 film and video graduate, producer of “Middle of Nowhere”; rapper Common, 1996 film and video graduate, who produced and appeared in “LUV”; and D.V. DeVincentis, 1989 film and video graduate, writer and producer of “Lay the Favorite.”

“It was wonderful,” said Eric Winston, vice president of Institutional Advancement. “This was a great year at Sundance for Columbia. It is a first that we have ever had four people with really critical pieces in Sundance, so we are very happy about that.”

Columbia administrators, faculty and alumni were much in evidence at the festival. The school hosted a “meet and greet” reception and a luncheon that included a presentation about the status of the film industry and where it is headed, according to Winston. The event was hosted by film and video chair Bruce Sheridan and Robin Bargar, dean of the School of Media Arts.

Zeman described his film, “V/H/S,” as an anthology of horror shorts created in the point-of-view style of “Paranormal Activity” and “The Devil Inside.”

“[The producers] got six of our favorite [Columbia} directors, and we really wanted to challenge them to use that form of filmmaking to tell a really interesting story and try to use it in a way that we haven’t seen before,” he said.

“V/H/S” looks at how today’s culture revolves around technology and recording ourselves while focusing on the repercussions of using technology in ways people shouldn’t, he added.

During the festival, Zeman was in charge of screening the film and ensuring that the directors were ready to speak. He also worked on marketing the film and finding distributors to screen it in hopes of selling it.

“My story is just one way to do it,” Zeman said. “[Sundance] just shows another example of how you can be working in this industry and accomplishing your goals.”

Not only did Columbia alumni, students and faculty attend Sundance to learn more about the industry, but Sundance committee members came to Columbia events to hear what the college had to say and depict in the world of film, according to Sheridan.

“Sundance is probably the perfect festival in a way because it validates independent filmmaking, but it [also] connects to the main-stream industry,” he said. “Most festivals are kind of one or the other.”

Columbia works hard to help advanced students and alumni make connections at the festival, he added.

Garnes’ film, “Middle of Nowhere,” is about a woman who is separated from her husband after he gets arrested and sent to jail. The story focuses on the wife and how she is trapped in the relationship,

Garnes said.

According to Garnes, the film was hard to produce because it was a low budget film and more cast and crew declined the opportunity to work on the film.

“For it to get into Sundance, I found it very satisfying because it was like the little film that couldn’t get any attention upfront. No one was that interested in doing it because there was really no money to be made in it, but it made such a big splash and did such an effective job of telling the story.”

Garnes said going to Sundance with a film, watching other films and interacting with the audience were his favorite parts of the festival. He recommended it to all Columbia students.

The film and video students are given the Columbia viewpoint of creating films and are empowered to create their projects the way they envision them, Sheridan said.

“[The alumni] all deserved it,” he said. “From our point of view, we look at that and say, ‘Look at that range.’ There are no two things that are the same there.”