Alumni films debut at Sundance Film Festival

By Lauren Tussey

As Columbia’s Television Department and Cinema Art + Science Department continues to gather accolades, it can now add two students’ success at the Sundance Film Festival, an annual film festival hosted in Park City, Utah Jan. 22–Feb. 1.

Lena Waithe, an 2006 Television Department alumna, and Gary Michael Schultz, a 2001 alumnus and former faculty member of the Cinema Art + Science Department, each had films screened at this year’s film festival.

Waithe produced “Dear White People,” a film about being a black face in a white place. Schultz produced “Rudderless,” an American musical drama featuring recording artist Selena Gomez.

As a producer, Schultz said he thinks “Rudderless” was the best film he’s been a part of.

“The head of Sundance actually let us know about five weeks before the official announcement that he loved the film,” Schultz said. “It was one of the most flattering film experiences I’ve ever had.”

Schultz said he got the most out of his time at Columbia during his years teaching in the Cinema Art + Science Department at the college. Schultz said his time as a teacher reiterated the basics of film and helped him hone his craft.

“If you want to be good, you need to have a vision, you need to have passion and you need to know what you’re doing and how to execute it,” Schultz said.

When Waithe got the call about her acceptance into Sundance, she said she felt proud about producing the film before submitting it to the festival.

“Validation was what we got, which is always nice,” Waithe said. “Making a great movie was the goal. Getting into the festival was just icing on the cake.”

Sara Livingston, associate professor in the Television Department, said she remembers Waithe as one of the most interested and excited students in her classroom.

“She had her drafts done before anybody else and she was always on the ball,” Livingston said. “She inspired other students, too. They thought ‘If she’s doing this, then I’ve got to step my game up, too.’”

Now that Waithe’s graduated, Livingston said that Waithe is the department’s success story.

“If I tell other students about her, she talks to them,” Livingston said. “She wants to give back what she’s got.”

Schultz said he is currently casting for the upcoming film he will direct called “Vincent-N-Roxxy,” a drama about two people who fall in love against the backdrop of a violent world. Schultz said he will begin filming this summer.

Waithe said she is working with Queen Latifah’s production company, Flavor Unit Entertainment, on her upcoming half-hour comedy project called “TWENTIES”and has already made a pilot for the show, which is available on YouTube.