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Stellar Year for UCLA at Sundance


By Teri Bond

Published Feb 10, 2010 7:39 AM

The Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah is considered by many to be the top fest in the U.S. and it is an extreme honor when your film is selected from the thousands who submit each year. The event attracts a who's who of entertainment industry insiders and media types anxious to discover the next cinema success story. Alumni and faculty of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television screened seven films with four in competition for awards at the 2010 festival Jan. 21-31.


Dean Teri Schwartz hosted the annual reception celebrating filmmakers at Café Terigo on Main Street, the party central nucleus of the festival. Among faculty, staff and alumni in attendance were guests representing some of the most successful companies in Hollywood today.

Participant Media's Jeff Skoll and Jim Berk attended the party as well as "Little Miss Sunshine" producers Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa. Skoll, eBay's founding president, is executive producer of UCLA alumnus Alex Gibney's "Casino Jack" documentary as well as the popular "Waiting for Superman," about the crisis of public education in the United States.

The much talked about "Casino Jack," by Oscar-winner Gibney ("Taxi to the Dark Side"), is a powerful probing investigation into the lies, greed and corruption surrounding D.C. super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his cronies. The film is set to hit theaters in LA, NY and of course Washington, D.C. this May.

"Sometimes real life is so much more bizarre and outrageous than any fiction you could probably make up. Who knew that Washington's most powerful lobbyist lived his life as if a character in the movies and the pulp thrillers that obsessed him?" says Gibney in an interview posted on Participant Media's website.

Jennifer Arnold: A Passionate Portrayal of Education in Kenyan Villages

Participant's film "Waiting for Superman," directed by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) and winner of the festival's Audience Award for Documentary, was a popular topic of passionate conversation among audiences who also saw "A Small Act" by UCLA alumna Jennifer Arnold, MFA '99.

Arnold's film is the heart wrenching true story about a young Kenyan's life that is changed dramatically when his education is sponsored by a Swedish stranger.

Highly respected film critic Roger Ebert draws a parallel between Arnold's film and Guggenheim's doc in his online journal for The Chicago Sun Times since both focus on access to education. In the piece, published Jan. 24, Ebert says "Both films are powerful. Seen together, they are devastating. They both end in the same way, with a competition among young students to allow them to continue their education."

Working with Arnold were co-editor Carl Pfirman MFA 2000, cinematographer Patti Lee MFA '88 and associate producer Neil H. Weiss MFA 2000. The doc will be aired on HBO this summer.

In a TFT video interview, Lee and Arnold talk about their many festival highlights including a visit with Bill Gates and audience members writing checks of $5,000 to help the foundation.

"Casino Jack" and Arnold's "A Small Act," both world premieres, were both selected for competition from 3,724 feature-length film submissions. Making those critical decisions is a group of Sundance Institute programmers including two Bruin film lovers. Caroline Libresco MFA '01 and John Nein MFA '07, senior programmer, log two months straight of 12 to 16-hour days in the fall to set the slate of films headed to the festival.

Paul de Lumen: Bolivian Feature Wins Big

The "Greatest Challenge of his Career"

Learn more about award-winning cinematographer Paul de Lumen with these two clips:

Part 1

Part 2

At the festival awards ceremony, "Southern District" (Zona Sur) featuring extraordinary cinematography by alumnus Paul de Lumen MFA '08, won both the World Cinema Directing Award: Dramatic and the World Cinema Screenwriting Award. Making its North American Premiere at the festival, the film, directed and written by Juan Carlos Valdivia, is about a bourgeois family in La Paz, Bolivia experiencing their final halcyon days of luxury as social change penetrates their bubble.

In a video produced by TFT, de Lumen MFA '08 describes the job of shooting "Southern District" as the greatest challenge of his career. Each scene of the movie was a 360-degree pan shot which required the creative team to avoid lights, the camera's reflection or that of a member of the technical crew.

At the 35th Huelva Latin-American Film Festival in Spain, de Lumen was awarded the Colon de Plata for Best Cinematography. The film also screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival and is bound for Berlin this month.



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