College showcased at Midwest Independent Film Festival


Photo Courtesy of Jason Brown

At the Midwest Independent Film Festival on March 3, a Producers Panel spoke about their filmmaking experiences at Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark St.

By Campus Reporter

Dan Rybicky, an associate professor in the Cinema Art + Science Department, was recently recognized at the Midwest Independent Film Festival for “Almost There,” a documentary he co-directed with Emmy-nominated filmmaker Aaron Wickenden.

On the first Tuesday of every month, MIFF showcases a film by a local filmmaker to strengthen the cinematic community, said Mike McNamara, executive director of the festival. The event, co-presented by the Cinema Art + Science Department, began with a pre-show cocktail reception at Landmark Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark St., followed by a Producers Panel and a screening of the documentary.

“I love seeing a packed house full of filmmakers,” McNamara said. “I get a rush, even after 11 years, when I see all of these filmmakers in our community coming together.”   

“Almost There” explores themes of aging and artistic expression and was showcased April 7 at the festival. It follows Peter Anton, an artist with a collection of unseen paintings, drawings and notebooks piled up in his run-down house. The film also gives insight into mental illness, the negative consequences of aging in the U.S. and the redemptive power of art at a late stage in life. 

“Anton’s ability to persevere in at-risk conditions and his ability to find purpose and passion in his art is truly inspiring,” Rybicky said. “He represents the thing I most know now, which is [that] you can live on Pringles and orange soda in a basement that is caving in on you in 40 degrees or below weather [and] no running water.” 

Rybicky and Wickenden met Anton in 2006 at a pierogi festival and were inspired by Anton’s desire to share his story and artwork with the world, Rybicky said. They wrapped up the film in the fall of 2014 and debuted it in New York a month later, making it an eight-year process.  

“What is great is that these two directors bring us so intimately into the life of Peter Anton and [depict] his various struggles as well as his journey to turn his life around,” McNamara said.

The festival hosted a Producers Panel that featured four faculty members from the Cinema Art + Science Department, including Karen Loop, who has nearly 20 years of experience as a Los Angeles-based film producer, Ruth Leitman, who directed and produced six feature documentaries through her company Ruthless Films, Rybicky and the panel’s moderator Bruce Sheridan, chair of the department.

“This will be one of our best film programs of the year, and for it also to have really strong connections to one of our long-time supporters is just a fortunate fit and we are pretty excited about it,” McNamara said.

Eve Studnicka, a sophomore cinema art + science major, attended the premiere and said the documentary was a fascinating project that captures elements of aging and what it means to physically and mentally transform at a later stage in life.

As a filmmaker, Studnicka said she values collaboration, legwork and persistence, and she said she was happy to see Rybicky and Wickenden representing those values. She said these types of festivals offer students an amazing opportunity to showcase their work and put it out into the world beyond simply screening it in a classroom.

“We have this opportunity as students to create amazing work for the entire four years that we are here,” Studnicka said. “It’s very important for [students] and the festivals to make use of that … because there is really amazing work coming out of Columbia’s classrooms.”

The directors encountered a number of challenges while working on the documentary, but they said they really learned what it was like to stick with a subject throughout the course of many years. Rybicky said he not only grew as a filmmaker, but also as a person through the level of collaboration the documentary required. 

“If your passion is to create work or you feel like you have a purpose to do something, I think that can carry you through,” Rybicky said. “I think that is the same for any documentary filmmakers or any artist that has to fight to see their vision put forward and completed.”