What are the criteria for an outstanding short film? Or, more precisely, what are the criteria for an outstanding student-produced short film? The specificity makes a huge difference, actually. That’s exactly what the Columbia University Film Festival seeks to answer with screenings, voting and discussions. The festival is the result of Columbia University’s MFA students’ years of study in the prestigious school’s film program. As one would expect, being part of the Columbia University system gives the students access to massive film archives, unparalleled research collections and mentorship from industry leaders. Alumni have gone on to produce box office hits (Frozen) and Netflix favorites (Making a Murderer), and are regular film award nominees and winners.
In the broader sense, entertainment or enlightenment or both (granted, these aren’t mutually exclusive concepts, but pulling off both is a rare trick indeed!) are the laudable goals of every respectable filmmaker — student and master alike — but a bit deeper dive is called for in the case of the final projects screened during the festival. One might argue that films showcasing specific talent — such as the exquisite cinematography of DOP, Matías Illanis, found in a viewing of And the Whole Sky Fit in the Dead Cow’s Eye or the clever dialogue of Willy Berliner and fantastic acting of Dave Hanson and Jim Santangeli (doppelganger of some deranged Kevin Smith that he is) in I’m in Here — are more than adequate. These films suggest that one needn’t demonstrate a fully-realized idea, but simply a fairly coherent narrative, particularly given the time restriction of 15 minutes. On the other hand, a film like Head Above Water completely obliterates that concept — brilliantly crafting a film in which the sum is greater than its parts, though in truth, the parts are pretty damned good, too — and proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that restrictions are simply the catalyst for true ingenuity.
Often, short films can be a rather mixed bag — one moment brilliance, the next utter folly — but nearly all films screened in our group were of a higher caliber than recent feature length films we’ve seen in theaters. Keep an eye out for the festival schedule when it runs next year, and while you wait, check out all of the fascinating programming offered on a regular basis by the festival’s host, Film Society at Lincoln Center, here.
Pair it with:
Treats from Levain Bakery
We’ve made no secret of our love for chocolate chip cookies. And those offered at the Upper West Side neighborhood institution, Levain Bakery, have been on our radar for quite some time, but we’ve somehow managed to keep bumping it off the list. Maybe it was the storied queues stretching around the block or the fact that this style of cookie — a six-ounce behemoth that is crisp on the outside and softly semi-undercooked at its very deep center — is generally not to our taste. Or maybe it’s our undying loyalty to the Jacques Torres chocolate chip cookie (we waxed poetic about it in our food pairing here), which, when devoured warm on a cold, winter day, is the definition of perfection. And yet, truth be told, after taste-testing the double chocolate chip and the oatmeal raisin cookies, Levain did indeed win us over. We will be back, waiting patiently in line like all the other fans, sometime soon.
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