Columbia alum wins Chicago film festival

By Rachel Patel, Staff Reporter

Vicki Lei

One of the six Columbia filmmakers in this year’s CineYouth festival, 2020 interdisciplinary documentary alum Anna Lee Ackermann won the Chicago Award for 2021.

CineYouth is an annual Chicago film festival celebrating the creativity of young filmmakers by screening their work and offering workshops, discussions and panels.

Ackermann said her film “As We Are Planted” sheds light on the issues that neighborhoods without adequate access to healthy and sustainable food options face in order to destigmatize society’s view of food pantries.

“Some of the main food sources might be a corner store like a 7-Eleven, and those often have unhealthy food options … and the nearest grocery store isn’t very close,” Ackermann said. “When it comes to feeding mouths, what’s cheapest and easiest is processed foods, and that affects health outcomes down the line.”

Ackermann said hearing her film announced as the winner was a surreal feeling, and she was grateful to have had the experience.

“It felt like everything that I was doing for this film made sense and that I made this film for a purpose,” Ackermann said.

Ryan Saunders, festival director of CineYouth at the Chicago International Film Festival, said this year’s lineup included films from 2020 since last year’s festival was postponed due to the pandemic. He said this year’s festival was one of the largest yet with more than 100 films submitted.

Other Columbia students and alumni were also proud to be part of the film festival.

Jazmin Bryant, a 2020 cinema and television arts alum, directed her film “71 Seconds” to honor Trayvon Martin, his family and others who have lost their lives to police brutality, systemic racism and classism, she said.

“We really used this film to not only pay homage, but really shed light on his innocence and youthfulness that was taken away from him the night he was murdered by George Zimmerman,” Bryant said.

Nikki Houston, a 2019 cinema art and science alum, filmed “Fear Frenzy,” a satirical take on a ’70s game show inspired by different television shows, for her “Directing Practicum” class.

Houston said she finished her film during the Spring 2019 semester. She initially wanted to shoot “Fear Frenzy” on celluloid film but ended up having to do it digitally because Columbia was beginning the process of phasing it out. 

The film tells the story of a couple who have been longtime contestants on a game show until the wife realizes the show is trying to use her husband for reviews and ratings.

Nathan Marquez, a 2018 cinema art and television alum, said he made “The Wolf Comes at Night” during the Spring 2018 semester and chose it for his “Directing for Advanced Practicum” class.

The family featured in the film faces tensions throughout, but in the end they come together when trying to make ends meet. Marquez said he and his team were drawn to the dynamics of a dysfunctional family because he does not think any family is “perfect” but still wants to emphasize its importance.

Luana Borges, a 2020 directing alum, said the inspiration behind her film “Dois Estágios” began with a trip back to her home in São Paulo, Brazil.

Wanting to capture the nostalgia she felt when visiting, Borges said she recorded clips that showed her grandparents’ farm and the area she had grown up in from her mind’s reflection.

Andres Aurelio, a junior documentary and cinematography major, said his film “RAICES” began with his nature documentary class.

Aurelio said he was inspired to combine both his passion for his family’s background and nature’s effect on people, while expanding on his father’s passion for gardening.

“It was kind of like a love letter to my father about his hobby, but through that, I also learned about our history, about what made him love gardening and what aspect of his hobby formed his personality,” Aurelio said.

He said that getting into CineYouth was a validating experience for him as a filmmaker.

“It’s very cool to be a part of this growing culture in Chicago, or even from all around the world [and be able to] compare and contrast what you offer as an artist and what they offer,” Aurelio said. “It’s very inspiring.”

The awards were announced virtually May 9. Ackermann said she accepted the award virtually over Zoom at her friend’s house.

“It was wonderful to be surrounded by people who love me, and it was just one of those really good days where the sun was shining bright and there was a nice breeze going — it was just really good,” Ackermann said.

Updates on more showings of “As We Are Planted” can be found on the film’s Facebook page.