Updated: Mar 1, 2021
On average, Sean Kelso sees a new movie every week. One of his most recent favorites was The Art of Self-Defense, a small-release film about toxic masculinity with Jesse Eisenberg. But Kelso’s taste in film isn’t just confined to arthouse dramas. His other favorite? “It may be cliché, but I really liked Avengers: Endgame. It’s a franchise I’ve grown up with at this point,” Kelso said. “It’s incredible to see the overwhelming support for a movie of that scale.”
Kelso doesn’t limit himself to liking just one genre of movies; similarly, his academic and extracurricular passions defy simple categorization. He has both dabbled and excelled in various aspects of art, literature, and science—and found exciting and crucial intersections among disparate fields.
Illustration by Lea Broudo
Kelso is the incoming president of Columbia University Film Productions (CUFP), an umbrella organization for students interested in any and all aspects of this art form. They produce student films, run an annual undergraduate film festival, host speakers from the entertainment industry, and lead trips to screenings and talks around the city. Kelso joined the organization right after he transferred from Saint Louis University in his sophomore year as the webmaster.
At the end of his sophomore year, Kelso launched CUFP’s film criticism website, CUFP entertainment (CUFPe). Kelso remembers being surprised that there wasn’t a publication devoted to student film reviews on campus—and so, using his backgrounds in both writing and computer science, he endeavored to change that. “I met Eric Kohn from IndieWire at a movie premiere and I spoke to him about some things that would be interesting to include,” Kelso said. “I just used that information and created a platform for students to share their thoughts.” A year later, they’re up to around 3000 views per month.
For Kelso, it’s all about cracking open the film world for Columbia students, showing them that there’s more to this industry than meets the eye. That’s what he hopes to keep doing in the coming year: “Expanding CUFP’s horizons.” “It’s about getting more people interested in the subject and not thinking it’s cliché or a closed-off group,” he said.
But Kelso does acknowledge that the film industry can be inaccessible to the public. Still, Kelso has managed to find his way into some major movie premieres and talks during his time at Columbia, finding his way into conversations with actors, directors, and industry professionals like Eric Kohn. How does he do it?
It’s a combination of taking advantage of the opportunities the city has to offer and using those connections to expand your network. “It’s not an immediate process by any means––it’s much more a collective, slow gradual process of meeting people, reaching out to see if they have any other interesting people they can connect me to. It’s all with the goal of showing the people of the film club as much as they can see, showing them what it means to be apart of the entertainment industry at large.”
He doesn’t talk about it much, but Kelso is also an actor, and he cites his time on set as a great source of industry connections. “My background in being a part of movies has helped a lot,” he said. “I’ve been lucky enough to work on shows like The Deuce on HBO, as well as some other projects that I can’t necessarily talk about right now that I’ve played a small part in.”
When he’s not attending a screening, Kelso is majoring in creative writing, concentrating in computer science, and completing all of the pre-med requirements. He even does research at the Columbia Medical Center on cardiac arrest. So he has a lot on his plate.
Kelso talked a little bit about how he sees all of his interests come together through medicine. “We’ve always had to use forms of storytelling with patients, which is sort of how the creative writing concentration naturally came about,” he said. “But more recently, with the dawn of the use of artificial intelligence in the workforce, there have been lots of strides with computation being used in medicine. It’s exciting to be watching the emergence of this field.”
But in spite of all the exciting directions he could take these interests after graduation, Kelso doesn’t want to take his senior year for granted. “It has been a wild ride already, but I want to keep myself grounded in the reality of being a senior, and not get too caught up with what will follow after. I just want to pay attention to what I’ve learned and how I can use it in the future.”