A New Lens: Celebrating GS Alumnae in Film and Television
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting the accomplishments of six amazing GS alumnae in film and television. These writers, directors, and producers are shaking up their industry with new narratives and fresh leadership.
Larysa Kondracki ‘01GS
In 2010, Larysa Kondracki burst onto the film scene with her directorial feature film debut The Whistleblower. Starring Rachel Weisz, The Whistleblower premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and drew international attention for its gritty examination of sex-trafficking in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially given that the film was based on the true story of former United Nations peacekeeper Kathryn Bolkovac.
In the years following the success of The Whistleblower, Larysa has turned to television, writing feature projects for Focus Features, HBO Films, Participant Media, and Showtime Entertainment. She’s also brought her directorial talents to high-profile shows such as The Americans, The Walking Dead, and Legion and served as the showrunner for Amazon’s Picnic at Hanging Rock. Speaking about the process of running Picnic at Hanging Rock in a 2018 interview, Larysa celebrated the innovate-on-the-fly aspect of her craft: “You try it. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You just become unemployable, I guess. So, you try it and have fun.”
Julia Bacha ‘03GS
When Julia Bacha traveled from Brazil to Columbia University at the age of seventeen, filmmaking wasn’t on her mind. However, studying Middle Eastern history at Columbia awakened a passion for the intersection of justice and art in Bacha, a passion she’s been pursuing through documentary filmmaking ever since. Julia’s documentaries have been screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, and the Berlin Film Festival, and she has received a Peabody Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
“Choosing where we place our attention is one of the most political acts one can take. By choosing the way we look at the world, we can change it.”
Alongside her award-winning films, Julia is the Creative Director of Just Vision, an innovative media organization that uses storytelling to document nonviolent resistance to occupation by both Palestinaian and Israeli citizens. Addressing GS graduates as the Class Day Speaker at Class Day 2017, Julia shared “Choosing where we place our attention is one of the most political acts one can take. By choosing the way we look at the world, we can change it.” Through her documentary filmmaking, Julia continues to direct viewers’ attention to some of the most compelling and crucial stories in our global society.
Michelle Rejwan ‘08GS
Reflecting on her GS education, Hollywood Producer Michelle Rejwan shared “I felt so lucky to be exposed to many diverse lives and experiences and it enriched my own.”
These days, Michelle is drawing on the skills she developed at GS and her impressive professional track record as Lucafilm’s Senior Vice President of Live Action Development and Production. So, yes, that does mean she’s one of the driving forces behind Star Wars!
Weronika Jurkiewicz ‘15GS
A graduate of the Dual BA Program between Sciences Po and Columbia University, Polish-born filmmaker Weronika Jurkiewicz recently made waves with her short documentary The Vibrant Village. The film uses a tongue-in cheek approach to chronicle the lives of women working at a sex toy factory in a small Hungarian village. The Vibrant Village was going to be part of a virtual Polish women’s film festival in March 2021 before the Polish government unceremoniously shut down the event, prompting international criticism of this censorship of women creators and films with feminist themes.
“This is where I want to be as an artist. I want to interact with the world outside my window.”
Far from being disheartened by this turn of events, Weronika is moving forward stronger than ever. After all, why would anyone try to censor a film that wasn’t powerful? Weronika is now developing First Date, a film about dealing with romance after surviving sexual harassment and assault. Weronika is also currently co-organizing free film screenings for Ukrainian children and families at refugee centers in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Germany, with more locations to come. “This is where I want to be as an artist,” said Weronika. “I want to interact with the world outside my window.”
Blaine Morris ‘19GS
“I’m interested in finding the gaps and asking the questions that haven’t been asked,” said Blaine Morris, who is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts (USC). “I seek stories with an edge and with heart.”
This approach has taken Blaine, who is of Puerto Rican descent, far in her young career, earning her a prestigious George Lucas Scholarship promoting student diversity. She is also currently working as a director/writer assistant for Academy Award-nominated writer and director Charles Shyer. Next up, Blaine will be completing the thriller Anne, With Love (which she began while isolating in Florida during the pandemic) and fundraising for an upcoming horror film based on the Dominican folk creature “La Ciguapa.”
Hayat Aljowaily ‘20GS
Dual BA alumna Hayat Aljowaily was recently featured in “Up Next: Inside Africa’s Creative Industries,” an event highlighting African creative innovation. At the event, she spoke about her short film Maybe Next Time, which was her graduating thesis project at Columbia: “Everyone who worked on the film (and all the actors) were Columbia students!”
“But what if we start having films start to reflect the diversity of our world? Those are the movies I want to make.”
“I realized that growing up as an Egyptian abroad, I never saw myself represented in the movies I was watching,” Dual BA alumna Hayat shared about what motivated her to become a filmmaker. “When I entered the industry, I realized the same issue existed behind the camera. Whenever I looked around me, I realized I was one of the only women, and usually, the only African woman. But what if we start having films start to reflect the diversity of our world? Those are the movies I want to make.”