Columbia Cinema: New Short Films from Columbia University School of the Arts

Columbia University’s Graduate Film Program is among the world’s foremost training facilities in the art of narrative filmmaking. The achievements of its esteemed alumni include top prizes at Sundance, Cannes, Venice, Berlin and the Academy Awards! July 20th marked the premiere of Columbia Cinema, a new television series featuring a variety of critically acclaimed shorts from the School of the Arts.

Columbia Cinema is produced by M.F.A. Film students Brooke Sebold and Mayuran Tiruchelvam. It will be broadcast Wednesdays at 10pm through September 7th on NYC Life, the flagship channel of the NYC Media Network. Each episode showcases two short films by current film students and alumni, and includes brief filmmaker interviews. The premiere featured Scott Burkhardt’s ’08SOA dark comedy The Assasstant and Without Glasses by current student Konstantinos Antonopoulos.

Greg Keller in "The Assastant"

The Assasstant received several awards at the 2008 Columbia University Film Festival including the New Line Cinema Development Award, the 20th Century Fox/Farrelly Brothers Outstanding Achievement in Comedy Award and the Student Choice Award for Best Writing. It was also an East Regional Finalist for the Student Academy Awards. This endless list of accolades raised my expectations tenfold and sure enough, I was not disappointed.  Burkhardt spins the hilarious tale of Staniel (Greg Keller), a moral but overeager assassin’s assistant who defies orders in the absence of his master (the aged Red Cobra) to take on a solo mission. He comes to the aid of a battered housewife and attempts to take out her  abusive husband with disastrous consequences. Not only is Staniel a poor shot, but his target turns out to be a murderous lunatic. Luckily, Red Cobra (Guy Boyd) returns just in time to save Staniel from a horrific death, which in turn brings him to a greater understanding of their relationship.

Sounds epic, but don’t be fooled. The Assastant is no action thriller. Instead of daring gun flights and flashy martial arts, the audience is treated to the duller (and ultimately funnier) side of mercenary life. When we first meet Staniel, he and Red Cobra are in the middle of pitching their services with a scrap book of old newspaper clippings. We watch them change a flat tire, pack for Red Cobra’s trip and even clean his weapons. Under normal circumstances these mundane activities would prove unbearable, but Staniel and Red Cobra are such unique and entertaining characters that I hardly noticed. Burkhardt also provides a steady stream of awkward yet witty dialogue to keep viewers snickering from start to finish.  “Working for bag guys pays the bills, but killing ’em feeds your soul!”

Julio Neira in "Without Glasses"

The Assastant is a carefully crafted piece of cinema – well directed and wonderfully acted. Though it touches on issues of morality, it is not particularly cerebral or emotional.  Contrastingly, Without Glasses is a dark and intensely atmospheric drama. Antonopoulos tells the story of Roberto (Julio Neira), a Colombian immigrant who loses his glasses and is forced to navigate his new world (New York City) with impaired vision. Rendered incompetent by his handicap, he eventually falls into a deep state of depression and soon blurry sight begins to distort his reality. As the audience is transported into a subjective and surreal dream-space, they begin to identify with his feelings of isolation and come to understand his longing for home.

Without Glasses paints a somber portrait of immigrant life in the big city. Its subtext is implicit in each perfectly framed shot as the action unfolds in seemingly disjointed scenes. Though somewhat obtuse, it is no less enjoyable than The Assastant. In fact, the vast differences between them is proof of the artistic diversity that exists within the film program that produced industry heavyweights like Kathryn Bigelow, Greg Mottola, Simon Kinberg, James Mangold and recent Oscar nominee Lisa Cholodenko.  As an aspiring writer-director and current student in the program, it is truly an honor to be part of this legacy!

Don’t miss future episodes of Columbia Cinema, Wednesdays 10pm on NYC Life!

Aisha Porter-Christie
SOA (Film) ’14
Arts Initiative Student Associate

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