NU alum’s documentary included on BAFTA shortlist for student films


Source: Sebastián Pinzón Silva

Alum Sebastián Pinzón Silva (left) and Timothy Fryett pose at the Locarno International Film Festival last year. Earlier this month, their documentary “Palenque” was selected for the 2018 British Academy of Film and Television Awards student film shortlist.

Ahlaam Delange, Reporter

Even when Sebastián Pinzón Silva (Communication ’17) traveled thousands of miles from his native Colombia to study at Northwestern, he didn’t forget his roots.

After moving to Chicago in 2011, Silva started his MFA degree in documentary media. His film “Palenque,” which centers on the Colombian town of San Basilio de Palenque, offered him a way to reconnect with Colombian music and tradition.

Earlier this month, the documentary was selected for the 2018 British Academy of Film and Television Awards student film shortlist. It is one of 60 films chosen from more than 460 submissions across 35 countries, according to BAFTA’s website. The finalists for the awards will be announced in upcoming weeks.

Silva described “Palenque” as a “musical portrait” of the town, which was the first in the Americas to break free from colonial rule. The film draws inspiration from the everyday singing that characterizes the Palenque way of life, he said.

Silva remembers his grandfather playing Colombian music, which cemented for him the cultural significance music plays in the country’s culture. These memories, he said, inspired many of his creative decisions in making the musical documentary.

“We wanted to capture musically the day-to-day life of (Palenque’s people),” Silva said. “We swayed away from it being a traditional documentary and dedicated it to the town.”

Communication Prof. J.P. Sniadecki, who taught Silva in the master’s program, said he noticed Silva’s fascination with anthropology and international filmmaking. When Silva came to him with his idea for the documentary, Sniadecki encouraged him to follow through on his vision.

Silva and a small production crew started their monthlong shoot in Palenque in the summer of 2016. Silva said the crew purposely arrived without a shot list, wanting to be guided by the organic interactions between people in the town.

“It was essential for this film for us to spend time there, be a part of the time dynamics,” Silva said. “(That’s) how we come up with how we would incorporate people in the production.”

Crafting bonds with the townspeople was integral for the film, Silva said. Although he had no ties to the village before filming the documentary, he has since returned to the town to stay connected to its people.

Sophie Gordon (Communication ’17), a friend and colleague of Silva’s, said she watched the film through several edits.

Gordon said one “wonderful thing” about the film is that it provides a musical experience. Although she has seen the film many times, she said she is still impacted by its story.

“When I watch it now, as well as when I watched it the first time, I am struck by how experiential it is,” she said. “I wasn’t trying to understand the narrative; I experience it.”

While Silva is excited by the attention the film is receiving, he said he wasn’t motivated by rewards or fame when he set out to make the documentary.

“I created it to create it,” Silva said. “I did not see it as some project that I wanted to do well, I just wanted to make the film.”

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