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Press Release



released: January 08, 2003


For Immediate Release
Contact: Trish Brink (860) 439-2508

NEW LONDON, Conn. - From his cell phone aboard Amtrak's Acela Express Number 2154 headed to New York City from Washington, D.C., Connecticut College 2002 graduate Christof Putzel was relaying his last-minute jitters. He was about to be interviewed for the Sundance Channel - following world-renowned documentary filmmaker Ken Burns - about Putzel's own documentary, "Left Behind."

This typically adventurous, take-charge-kinda-guy who had traveled to the depths of the poorest areas of sub-Saharan Africa, facing death threats and towns where he felt he had "reached the heart of darkness; it was hell on earth," was suddenly a bit jarred by all the recognition he was getting. Putzel was accustomed to being on the other side of the camera, not in a cushy seat, behind bright lights in the plush mid-town Manhattan television studio.

But that day he was being interviewed by Sundance about his 34-minute documentary that exposes the devastating impact of the AIDS virus through the eyes and voices of Kenya's children, as well as prostitutes, gang leaders, slum dwellers and those infected with HIV. Since producing the film as part of a college project, Putzel has been reeling in award after award, including most recently the Silver Chris Plaque for the Best Student Film at the prestigious Columbus International Film and Video Festival, the oldest festival of its type in the country.

This month, "Left Behind" was selected by Eastman Kodak to be part of the Kodak Student Showcase at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival. Also, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will air "Left Behind" for national broadcast on its show "Foreign Assignment" in January.

Putzel debuted excerpts of "Left Behind" in April 2002 at a hearing of the United States House Committee on International Relations on "AIDS Orphans and Vulnerable Children in Africa." Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., praised the film, calling it "outstanding," and he commended Putzel for "working tirelessly bringing attention to family and children's issues on AIDS." "It was an incredible feeling that my film might actually make a difference to the way political leaders in America may view AIDS."

From there, Putzel's list of awards has grown exponentially. In 2002 alone, he has won the Most Outstanding Documentary award at the 2002 Angelus Awards ceremony, the HBO/Best Student Film award at the Savannah Film Festival, 1st Place for a Student Documentary at the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival, the David L. Wolpher award for Best Student Documentary at the International Documentary Association, among many others. The Angelus awards are for student films "of uncommon artistic caliber that explore the complexity of the human condition with creativity, compassion, and respect." Putzel was selected from a record 423 entries this year. In all of the competitions, Putzel was up against graduate students from the nation's top film schools.

Putzel produced the film as an independent study project in the college's film studies program and as part of an internship sponsored by the college's Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy. "When I got to college I surrounded myself with the liberal arts thing, taking tons of classes. I had no clue what I wanted to do." After completing a film about the college's host city of New London, his adviser and then-director of the Holleran Center, Professor Jefferson Singer, encouraged Putzel to pursue film. He created an independent study project for his paid internship with the Holleran Center and spent three months of the summer of 2000 working at the Nyumbani Children's Home, an AIDS orphanage outside Nairobi, Kenya. During that time, the psychology-based human relations major and film studies minor also filmed 47 hours of shocking conversations and scenes with street children, parents, prostitutes, gang members and other community members.

At the orphanage where he lived, "I got to know the children, prepared their meals, taught classes and played with them. I also spent every other day working with street children and homeless orphans in the nearby slaughterhouse village of Dagoretti," where, he said, "there wasn't anyone over 35 (years old) and the main business was for making coffins." He spent an additional three weeks in Kiberia, "the biggest slum in sub-Saharan Africa. It was like hell on earth, but a different kind of hell -it was like a war zone that smelled of death. But I grew more than I could ever imagine during that summer.

"With the help of several Kiberian gang members who befriended me, I spent many days and nights talking with those who lived there, trying to understand why AIDS is such a taboo subject and why no one comes forward to stop its spread."

Putzel returned on his own the following winter for more filming and interviewing in Kenya, where his life was threatened, he witnessed a killing, and he faced near arrest by authorities who disapproved of his filming there. But determined "to encourage others to get involved" in the fight against AIDS, he continued on. With the help of Film Studies Assistant Professor David Tetzlaff, "who put his heart and soul into it," he completed the documentary that he hopes will make a difference worldwide.

His advice to other fledgling documentarians? "Go for it. Just go out there and shoot. And when I say that I mean I didn't know what I was doing when I went off to Kenya. I just kind of jumped head first and made a lot of mistakes - and I learned from them," he said. "You can study the art of film, but the most valuable experience I had was the liberal arts education and taking such a variety of classes - it was important to have different perspectives - from knowing more about adolescent development to deal with different situations in the orphanage, to the ethnography of sub-Saharan Africa, to human trauma and coping."

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