Practicum films make waves during festival season impacted by pandemic

By Lauren Leazenby, News Editor

Jennifer Chavez

The coronavirus has forced film festivals to move online or be pushed back to 2021, but several films made by Columbia students in practicum courses in the past few years are still getting recognition.

Despite the circumstances, here are some practicum films that have hit the festival circuit or are otherwise receiving praise—nationally and internationally.

“Where the Heck is Ricky Saunders?”

The short film follows a group of middle schoolers in their quest to find out why their friend did not show up to their usual meeting spot after school. The kids dream up a host of elaborate scenarios that might explain where their friend has gone: Abducted by aliens? Had a run-in with the mob? Diagnosed with a mysterious illness?

The film’s director, cinema art and science alum Brendon Perdikis said these outlandish scenes are played out in clichéd, hyper-stylized vignettes of different film genres—horror, sci-fi and gangster flicks.

“It was this really silly kind of background, but there’s really serious cinematography,” Perdikis said. “We really tried to make everything be the realization of the tropes.”

Perdikis worked on the film during the fall semester of his senior year in 2017. He said the practicum program gave him a sense of what working on a studio production would be like.

But the program is not only about the learning experience. “Where the Heck is Ricky Saunders?” was accepted into the Universal Kids Film Festival. The festival is postponed until 2021 due to the pandemic, but Perdikis said he is excited to be included.

“Most of the time, festivals are the goal,” he said. “The goal is to get your film out there for people to see.”

“Oasis”

A sheltered young girl grows up in what looks like a typical, Spanish revival-style home, but is actually, as she discovers, an underground bunker separating her and her family from the apocalypse outside.

“It’s a solemn mood piece about coming into one’s own, reaching a point of maturity where you’re able to see the world for what it is,” said the film’s director and cinema art and science alum Christopher Rohrbeck. “It’s about someone who has been isolated in this world that’s sort of seen as a fantasy.”

Regarding the film’s subject matter and current events, Rohrbeck said now is an oddly appropriate time for “Oasis” to be making the festival rounds. It has gotten attention from festivals worldwide, including the 2020 ME Film Festival in Milledgeville, Georgia, the 2019 Capital City Film Festival in Lansing, Michigan, and the 2019 Dirigo International Student Film Festival in the U.K.

Rohrbeck said he is happy the film has been successful, but the success is no surprise because making a good film was expected of him when he was in the practicum program in 2018.

“[Columbia] wants to produce something that is good and represents the school well,” Rohrbeck said. “So, you have an expectation to uphold as an artist going into this.”

“Inconvenience”

Director Maxwell Stark said he has always loved crime thrillers, and “Inconvenience” was a chance to pay homage to some of his favorite filmmakers.

The short film features a young couple with a mysterious duffle bag full of cash who stumble into a rural gas station. Four characters’ paths cross, Stark said, causing them to intersect moral boundaries, “and things don’t go well from there.”

“Inconvenience” will be screened at the 2020 Shortcut 100 Film Festival on Oct. 9 in Chicago.

“I’m really proud of it,” Stark said. “It’s exciting to hear that it’s being shown.”

Stark did not graduate from Columbia, but said this film was a culmination of what he learned in his time at the college.

“I worked on a couple of the films at Columbia after that, but [“Inconvenience”] really, for me, was the epitome of why I was there,” he said.

“71 Seconds”

Inspired by and created as a tribute to Trayvon Martin, “71 Seconds” details a day in the life of a Black teenage boy—more specifically, his last day.

Director, producer and cinema art and science alum Jazmin Bryant said the film, created in a practicum course in Fall 2019, is not simply a retelling of Martin’s story.

“We still are using the project to pay homage to Trayvon and uplift his family and his life, which was taken obviously too quick,” she said.

Bryant said “71 Seconds” eschews the negative media portrayal of young Black men and instead humanizes the main character.

“We just take the audience into his world,” she said. “We show him as a young, innocent teenager—and he was never portrayed as that.”

Bryant said they are holding off on submitting to film festivals until after the pandemic has been tamed, but she hopes renewed light on the Black Lives Matter movement will draw attention to the film.

“We definitely want to do a big festival run with this piece,” she said. “We’re really hoping with this piece that we can show audiences that we’re more alike than we are different.”

Bryant said although the pandemic has affected this year’s festival season, she is optimistic for what the future holds for her and other filmmakers.

“With everything going on, it just makes sense [to postpone],” she said. “I think it’ll do well, but I think we’ll need to wait about a year until we can get things going next fall.”