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Ebertfest 2018: Ten Things I Learned from Kogonada About Columbus

Kogonada’s directorial feature debut, “Columbus,” started day three of the 20th annual Roger Ebert Film Festival at the Virginia Theatre. The filmmaker introduced the film on stage just before it began, but kept it short and sweet. In the post-screening Q&A panel hosted by Matt Fagerholm and Nate Kohn, Kogonada and his producers offered detailed answers to every question presented.

The writer/director was as relaxed, calm and thoughtful as the film itself.

A slight nerd: “Because I read about it, and was a slight architecture nerd ... and had passed by Columbus (Indiana) so many times driving on 65 … I was so surprised I had never heard of this city as an architectural site.”

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Location, location, location: “I visited the city and really immediately felt a sort of melancholy promise. It felt like the place itself was a story and I knew this was going to be the place for the story I was working on in my head.”

More than photos: “Often our relationship with architecture is through these really pictorial photographs that turn them into objects. But I knew by the end of shooting the buildings of ‘Columbus’ that we wouldn’t just experience them as photographs.”

One the one hand…: “So much of filmmaking is a choice of what you point at and when you decide something is over, and so often we are trying to remove all those moments that do not feel like drama or something that is exciting to us.”

On the other…: “Our lives, in comparison, are mostly about waiting and trying to find significance in that waiting.”

Amazing: “Because I’m surrounded by my producers and executive producers, I was sitting and watching this again and thought ‘it’s amazing to me that they allow me to spend their money, you know?’”

Choice: “There were so many choices that I made that I wanted to make, and they allowed me to make it — that’s a big deal.”

No Asians: “The longest part was trying to find financing … and then this female producer has the sensitivity to say yes to a project that has a lead as an Asian man. We brought this project to a number of other people, and one of the consistent things we found was no one wants to watch an Asian man as a lead.”

No fireballs: “This is a kind of film where you can’t hide behind a plot or explosions and there are gonna be a lot of moments where it’s just you.”

After the drama: “I do love films that take place narratively in the aftermath of the drama; I was so happy we didn’t make a film about when she was 15 and her mom was having all those difficulties — that wasn’t the subject. It was about a few years after that, and the kind of heartache that never leaves you.”

Tyler Panlilio is a 2017-18 Roger Ebert Fellow at the University of Illinois College of Media.

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