Harvard Filmmakers Honored at Sundance

Sundance Film Festival recognized the artistic achievements of several Harvard filmmakers at this year’s festival. The group of filmmakers spans several generations of involvement with Harvard’s Visual and Environmental Studies Department, and many say their VES experience contributed to their success.

Michael Almereyda—a director who previously served as a visiting VES lecturer—won The Short Film Jury Award in non-fiction for “Skinningrove,” his profile of photographer and Harvard VES professor Chris Killip.

Roberto “Pacho” F. Velez ’02-03, one of two VES teaching assistants who helped with the film’s production, said the opportunities given to fledgling filmmakers at VES, and Harvard more broadly, help to shape world-class talent.

"Harvard has the best everything—the best biologists, the best philosophers,” said Velez. "They also have some of the best filmmakers and film teachers.”In Almereyda’s film, Killip discusses his photos chronicling the lives of people who live in a remote English fishing village.

“I’ve never known what to do with [the photographs],” said Killip, who added that few of the photos had been published prior to the film. “Now, they’ve ended up with a different life as a film.”

The documentary “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer,” directed by Mike Lerner and GSAS graduate and research fellow Maxim Pozdorovkin, also won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Punk Spirit at Sundance. The film chronicles the legal trial of the punk band Pussy Riot, whose members were arrested last year after storming a Russian cathedral and performing their religious protest song “A Punk Prayer.”

According to Pozdorovkin, the movie deals with the unique “feminist revolution” encouraged by Pussy Riot through a melding of political activism and contemporary music.

In the short film genre, VES graduate Damien S. Chazelle ’07 won The Short Film Jury Award in U.S. fiction for “Whiplash,” which tells the story of a drummer who aspires to rise through the ranks at a top conservatory’s jazz orchestra.

The film’s production brought together several generations of VES affiliates. Chazelle credits his experiences at VES with preparing him for an artistic career.

“I had a fantastic experience with VES,” said Chazelle, who plans to turn the short into a feature-length film in the future. “It defined who I am as a filmmaker now.”

VES alumnus Andrew J. Bujalski ’98 won this year’s Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film prize for “Computer Chess,” a black-and-white comedy about the relationships formed among the competitors at a 1980s computer chess tournament.

—Staff writer Brianna D. MacGregor can be reached at