For Immediate Release
Contact: Trish Brink
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
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
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