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The summer box office season is typically filled with milestones of the blockbuster variety but this July, Columbia University’s film program is toasting one of its own. Four international female filmmakers (and MFA grads) have their first features hitting theaters this month.
The roster includes Nathalie Alvarez Mesen’s Clara Sola, Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic’s Murina, Mounia Akl’s Costa Brava, Lebanon, and Anna Gutto’s Paradise Highway. The latter film, about a truck driver who reluctantly agrees to smuggle illicit cargo (a little girl), is the most star-studded, with Juliette Binoche, Morgan Freeman, Cameron Monaghan and Frank Grillo. Also of note: Columbia grad Ellie Foumbi’s debut feature Our Father, the Devil, picked up an audience award last month during the Tribeca Festival in New York.
Jack Lechner, chair of film at Columbia University School of the Arts, says that every film that gets made and distributed “is like a beacon for all the others,” and these four have accomplished something that will be “shining a light for those to come.” Lechner adds: “We’re just so proud. It’s a moment that reminds you that this process actually works and we’re sending filmmakers out in the world in a way so they can be competitive and fulfill their artistic ambitions.”
Columbia University film professor Annette Insdorf is equally stoked for the alumnae. “It was gratifying to teach Nathalie Alvarez Mesen, Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović, Mounia Akl and Anna Gutto in my Analysis of Film Language course. They came to CU’s School of the Arts from different countries,” she adds, “and each found her own voice and went on to create a personal as well as resonant story.”
Murina, which picked up a Camera D’or during the Cannes Film Festival for best first film, centers on the tensions between a teenager and her oppressive father when an old family friend arrives at their Croatian island home. It screened at Laemmle Theatres in L.A. and the Metrograph in New York. Clara Sola, which played New York’s IFC Center and L.A.’s Landmark Westwood, focuses on a remote village in Costa Rica where Clara takes off on a journey to break free of societal and religious conventions to become the master of her sexuality and newfound powers.
Costa Brava, Lebanon tells the tale of a free-spirited family that escapes the toxic pollution and social unrest of Beirut by seeking refuge in a utopic mountain home. It hit the screen at Quad Cinema in New York and opens July 22 at Laemmle Monica in Santa Monica.
Lionsgate releases Paradise Highway on July 29 in select theaters and on demand.
A version of this story first appeared in the July 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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