Arts Editor Grace Novarr sat down for an interview with Arielle Friedman (GS ’25), who co-directed and starred in the short film Immutable Uncertainties. The film is being featured in the Lower East Side Film Festival on May 7th. Arielle and her co-director Lucy Blumenfield (CC ’23) are also co-founders of Fazed Films, a production company whose recent work includes short films and music videos for Sarah Kinsley and Jackie Marchal. Arielle and Grace discuss the Columbia film community, navigating the film festival circuit, and the ins and outs of starting a production company.
Grace Novarr: Could you introduce yourself and talk about who you are on campus and your film, Immutable Uncertainties?
Arielle Friedman: My name is Arielle Friedman. I am one of the directors of Immutable Uncertainties, which is a short film that I co directed with Lucy Blumenfield. Lucy is a senior at CC—she’s about to graduate in the spring. I am a GS student. And I go part time, so I have a little bit more time before I graduate. I came to GS after dancing professionally as a professional ballerina for six years. And then I decided that I wanted to go to college because I never got my undergrad while I was dancing. So I came to GS at Columbia, have really, really, really loved it. And I actually met Lucy during both of our freshman years at Columbia, on the first day of our Intro to Film and Media Studies class. A mutual friend of ours was like, “look out for my friend!” to both of us. And both of us were like, “We’re never gonna see this person, the school is so big”. And truly the first day of classes I was like “oh!”, and she was like “oh!” And then we became friends and collaborators.
This film came to us because we were in a creative writing class called Structure and Style for the pandemic, and it’s taught by Professor Alan Ziegler. One of the homework assignments in the class was writing either a short play or a short screenplay. And for homework, we had this short play assigned to us, written by an MFA student. And it was basically the story of this film. And I fell in love with it, and I asked our professor to connect me to the writer who was a recently graduated MFA playwright. I got her email—her name is Callan Stout. I, on a whim, sent her an email and was like, “Hi, I love this story. I see it visually, I would love to make it into a short film, if you’re interested in adapting it to a screenplay with Lucy and I.” She was so down. We spent about four months adapting it from play to screenplay. Lucy and I directed it together. We hired our producer, Camila Grimaldi, to be on the team with us. And that’s kind of how the film was born.
Immutable Uncertainties basically follows a young woman at the beginning of a romantic relationship with the IT guy that works at the hospice home that her mother is in—because her mother has dementia. It’s shot in reverse chronological order. So we meet her kind of at the most recent point, and then go backwards to when her and her boyfriend meet, which also coincides with the first time her mom forgot her. So we shot it in reverse chronological order to kind of mimic the deterioration of memory that Alzheimer’s has on the people living with it. It’s a very personal film to me, because my grandma is currently living with Alzheimer’s. And it’s been really hard and sad to watch her go through that and have her forget things that are very important to both of us. I wanted to make it for her, basically, to just tell her I love her.
GN: Thank you so much for sharing all that! I’m really interested in hearing about what it’s like to be a student filmmaker at Columbia, especially at GS where there’s a little more freedom and you can take classes part-time.
AF: Definitely. Especially with this film, Columbia was integral in connecting us with the writer. And the fact that we even found it in a class at school and our professor was so kind and helpful, and he even screened the film for the class like a year later when it was finished and like sent it out to him. He was so sweet and so encouraging. And it was really, really wonderful. I think the film program at Columbia is a lot more theory-based, rather than production-focused. And so we didn’t technically make the film in conjunction with Columbia; it was not a part of any production class, not a part of any film class. We kind of did it on our own, even though Columbia had a very big part to play in it. And so I think, having all that theory background, because of all the classes you have to take for the major really helped with the creative vision of the piece: deciding how we wanted to direct it, deciding how we wanted to shoot it, what we wanted it to look like, how you can tell the story in every frame. And so I think that’s kind of how our education at Columbia has also really gone hand in hand with a lot of the production work we do on our own outside of Columbia.
Actually, because of this film, Lucy and I and our producer Camila all formed a film production company together. It’s called Fazed Films. The three of us founded it right after making this film, because we love working together so much. And a lot of our work with Fazed really works in tandem with the film theory education we get at Columbia—to be able to use that theory in a very practical, real sense in our work every day, which is very exciting. And I think for me, being able to go part time is really, really helpful because I get to put a lot of my time and energy and a lot of the things that I learn at school into my work and film. And I’ve found that so enriching and I feel like my education at Columbia has only made me a better artist and made me interrogate and question and think deeply about things in a way that I feel very fortunate for. I think it’s a little more overwhelming to try to do school full time and work also full time on the side. But she’s been doing a great job. And I think graduating in a week is going to alleviate a lot of that stress. And she’s going to be able to put a lot more focus and energy into it, which I know she’s very much looking forward to.
GN: Can you talk a little bit about navigating the film festival process as a student filmmaker?
AF: Film festivals are a whole an art in and of themselves—knowing how to apply and knowing which to apply to and strategy and all that stuff. And we definitely learned that through the guidance of our producer, Camila Grimaldi, and some friends who were very generous with their knowledge and time to help guide us. But basically, I would say, do your research. There’s an amazing website called Filmfreeway, where you have to submit basically to every film festival. Do your research on there; look at what the festivals say in their description. See if your film fits with any of the categories that they have. Similar to when you’re applying to college, make a couple tiers: so like your safeties, your reaches, your guarantee. I would break it down kind of like that and put a bunch in those categories. Applying to festivals is expensive. Unfortunately, I would say if they’re charging above $75, don’t apply. It’s a lot of money for maybe no one to respond. I think if it’s a perfect fit, and you have a connection at the festival, like an individual connection with the program or someone who runs the festival, then absolutely it’s worth it. A cold email always helps in my experience. Be kind, be gracious, advocate for yourself and why the film works. Do your research so that in those emails, you can be like, I saw XY and Z film last year at this festival in this block. And my film is similar because of XY and Z, and therefore it would fit into the kind of programs that you do.
I think once you get to the festivals, which is the most exciting part, I would say just try and have fun. I know they’re a little scary and they can be a little stuffy but I think you should approach it as just a genuine person trying to go and have some fun and watch films and meet people and make new friends. And of course, everyone’s there to network. And networking is very, very important, especially at those festivals. But my approach always is just to try and connect to people on a human level, because then that makes any working relationship that kind of grows from that, that much more successful and exciting. So yeah, that’s my advice.
GN: I’d love to hear a little bit about your artistic interests and the themes that you’d like to explore in your work. And I’m actually very curious to know if your background as a dancer or affects your work?
AF: Oh, yeah, definitely. I think my background as a dancer really has lended to how to block scenes with actors, and especially camera movement and capturing movement through the camera and trying to figure out how to capture emotion in a way that feels really real. And fluid, has been something I think about quite a lot. As for my artistic style and my goals, I think I’m so proud of Fazed Films, the production company we created. We created it to not only support ourselves and each other, the three of us, but also to really invest and uplift the stories of other women and nonbinary people of color—stories that don’t really get to be center stage very often, and especially in the industry. And it’s still such an uphill battle to try and get funding and to be taken seriously as young women in this industry. And so we’ve really put a lot of time and energy into cultivating and supporting other young artists and their voices and their vision. So I think that’s been something recently that has given me so much joy and is a goal that I really, really want to keep pursuing. It’s something that means a lot to me.
I also really love producing. So a goal of mine is to continue to find projects that I can produce that I feel really excited by, that I feel are pushing boundaries of genre and storytelling, and that are telling stories that I haven’t seen before, that need to be seen, that need to be given a space. I’m also an actress, I starred in Immutable Uncertainties. So artistically, and creatively, I want to keep acting and I really want to challenge myself with roles. I think I’ve played a lot of things recently that are a lot more focused in drama. And I kind of want to shift into a little bit of comedy, a little bit of horror maybe even. There’s some really cool horror shorts that Fazed, our company, is producing at the moment—that Camila is going to be directing. It’s really exciting. And we’re doing some music videos, which I always love. I think being able to mix film and music is such a perfect pairing; they intertwine to tell a story and convey emotion in a really special way. And I also write and direct as well. And so, as a writer and a director, I have a bunch of personal stories I really want to tell. I think I want to turn my focus to those. I really want to make, write, and direct something about dance and about ballet and really try and combine my love for the two in a visual medium. So that’s a goal for me in the next year to shoot and direct something in that space. But yeah, I think my main goal at the moment is to really continue to support and cultivate other young voices and filmmakers and stories that relate with me.
GN: Can you talk a little bit about Fazed Films? I’m curious about what it means to start a production company and what the day-to-day of working on that is like. How do you get that off the ground?
AF: Definitely. It’s been a learning curve for us. Neither of the three of us have even done it before, so we’re very much learning as we’re going and I’m very proud of us for all the work we’ve done. It’s officially our second year in business which is very exciting. Just on a technical level, starting a production company, you want to get an LLC, you have to do legal things, you have to get the law involved, taxes… So a bunch of new aspects for me in terms of how to run a business. The three of us have very different interests within a company. So I do mostly development and narrative and doc work. And Camila also does a lot of narrative and development with me. We have three features in development, which is really exciting. And two TV show pilots that are also in development, and then a bunch of short films that are in pre-production. Lucy is really, really interested in music, and she kind of got her start in film by being a music and tour photographer. And so she’s really focused on doing the music videos and doing a lot of branded content and commercials and stuff like that. So we kind of divide and conquer.
Our day-to-day is mostly—we talk every day, all day. We have our little group chat. We have kind of an agenda that we set for the week, each of us on our own individual projects that we’re spearheading, if we ever need any help from the others, we all support each other however we can. We have multiple check-ins a week to just keep up to date on all the tasks we have to do. It kind of varies in intensity if we’re in pre-production or if we’re in post-production, or if we’re in between, if we’re just in development. Last year, we did a video for Sarah Kinsley with another Columbia alum named Lux who directed the video, it’s called “Cypress.” Check it out. It’s really beautiful. It was at a film festival this past weekend called NFFTY. It screened in the musical medleys block, and it opened the show, which is very exciting. Today, we have to make a schedule for shooting, we have a bunch of emails to send out, we have to coordinate car pickups. So very nitty-gritty kind of producing things, logistical things, which kind of ramp up the closer you get to being on set. And yeah, so that’s our day-to-day at the moment. And then if we’re doing more development stuff, we’ll have meetings with the writers or the directors, whoever it is, talk about the stories, give notes, give feedback, work collaboratively with them to help them develop their own project in their voice and how they want to do it.
GN: I love Sarah Kinsley, so that’s super exciting to hear about that connection. I haven’t actually seen the Cypress video though!
AF: Check it out. It’s beautiful. Lux did such a good job directing and it was so fun to produce and Sarah’s just the absolute best.
GN: I love this interconnection of creativity, with everyone supporting each other. I’m always blown away by how much talent there is at this school.
AF: Everyone is so incredibly talented and generous with their time and their knowledge and their creativity and their talents. It’s really wonderful.
GN: I guess on that note, my last question is who have your mentor figures been? What are the most important sources of community for you here? I think we already touched on this a little bit.
AF: I think in terms of Columbia, the whole film department is incredibly close knit. I think my professors have been so helpful and supportive. Professor Rob King, who’s the head of the film department at Columbia, has been just such a guiding force and so kind and supportive and just wonderful in every way. I had a professor from my production class at Columbia, Benjamin C. Leonberg, and he’s been so kind, so supportive, we still stay in touch—we do talk all the time. And anytime I have a new project, he wants to help out, give feedback. And he’s really been so integral to my growth and gaining confidence and believing that we can do what we’re doing.
I think also the students—obviously I met Lucy at Columbia. And I think all of the other filmmakers that I’ve met while being here have been so, so wonderful. This past weekend, I met a student at Barnard named Daisy Friedman, who was also at the film festival. And we didn’t realize that we both went to the same college. And so now we’re friends and we’re going to collaborate and do things together! So things like that, even meeting people outside of Columbia that also go to Columbia is really exciting and special. And in terms of mentors, I think Camila, my producing partner, has really taught me so so so much about what it means to be a producer and how to do it well. One of my dear friends, who is also one of my producing partners, has taught me so much about producing and assistant directing and being on set, and how to run a set kindly and efficiently, and creating an atmosphere on set where everyone feels supported, and no one’s kind of yelling at each other or being mean. I think another friend of mine, Emma, who has been so generous with her time and her knowledge and stuff like that…it’s all been really, really strong, intelligent, powerful women that I feel like I’ve learned so much from and I feel very lucky.
Check out Immutable Uncertainties in the Family Ties Shorts showcase at the Lower East Side Film Festival. The screening will take place at 6 pm at the Village East Cinema.
Images courtesy of Arielle Friedman