Columbia’s School of the Arts was a winner at this year’s Academy Awards when alumna Kathryn Bigelow (SoA’81) and adjunct professor Geoffrey Fletcher received Oscars for director and adapted screenplay.
Bigelow became the first woman to receive a best director Oscar, for her film The Hurt Locker. She won a second when the movie, which she also produced, won best picture. In all, the film won six awards.
|Director Kathryn Bigelow on the set of The Hurt Locker
Image credit: Kathryn Bigelow and 42West
Fletcher, an adjunct professor in the undergraduate film program, received the best adapted screenplay Oscar for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. Fletcher is the first African American to win a screenplay award.
“The School of the Arts is honored to have two members of our community make history at the Oscars,” said Carol Becker, dean of the school. “Kathryn Bigelow and Geoffrey Fletcher’s accomplishments epitomize the brave filmmaking and artistic independence encouraged by our film program, and we are proud to be connected to two such courageous and talented artists.”
Bigelow was considered a favorite to win the director award and had picked up nearly every film honor possible through the awards season. She swept the British Academy of Film and Television Awards with best picture and best director wins, and won the Darryl F. Zanuck award for best feature from the Producer’s Guild of America as well as the Director’s Guild of America award for “Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film.”
Similarly, Fletcher’s work on Precious won extensive recognition in recent awards and major film festivals. He won the 2010 Independent Spirit Award for best first screenplay and the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. It also received top honors at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival.
Fletcher, who has taught at Columbia since 2006, has been involved with film since the age of 14. Magic Markers, a short film he wrote, directed, shot, and edited in 1996 while a graduate student at New York University, earned accolades from numerous organizations including the Director’s Guild and Sundance Film Festival.
Bigelow’s milestone selection as the first woman to win best director is a personal accomplishment, but also places her among a group of the school’s alumnae making great strides in the historically male-dominated ranks of film directors.
“The mission of Columbia’s Film Program has always been to nurture the original voice of the writer and director,” said Annette Insdorf, director of Undergraduate Film Studies and former chair of the School of the Arts Film Program. “We choose women—and men—whose unique voice comes through.”
Alumna of the school have received many awards this year. Cherien Dabis (SoA‘04) wrote and directed the critically-acclaimed 2009 film Amreeka, which she started in a Columbia screenwriting class. It was a selection for the dramatic competition at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and it had its international debut at the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival last year.
Several films by Columbia alumna made a splash at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Director Lisa Cholodenko’s (SoA‘97) The Kids are All Right prompted a bidding war between studios vying for its distribution rights, ultimately won by Focus Features. The movie stars Julianne Moore and Annette Benning as a lesbian couple whose children decide to seek out their birth father.
During the festival Nicole Holofcener’s (SoA’88) Please Give, starring Catherine Keener, Amanda Peet and Rebecca Hall, caught the eye of Sony Classic Pictures, which will distribute the film. And J. J. Adler (SoA’09) won three awards for her feature New Media from Women in Film, a nonprofit organization that supports the efforts of women filmmakers.
Last year, at the 2009 Oscars, Courtney Hunt’s (SoA’94) film Frozen River was nominated for two Oscars, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay. It also won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.
Why is SoA successful at nurturing such talent? Katherine Dieckmann
, an assistant professor in the film program, said, “I think the most important aspect is that everyone on the faculty supports women, or put it another way, approaches female filmmakers as automatically equal to their male counterparts and focuses on helping them develop an individual voice.”
—by Nick Obourn