52 Films: Making Art Post-College and Mid-Pandemic
A collective of filmmakers comes together to make one film every week for a year.
By Natalie Duerr
Spring 2020 brought much of the world to an abrupt halt. Life paused and priorities shifted as the pandemic began its reign. For young filmmakers Allamaprabhu Pattanashetty, Robert Gordon, and Adrian Mikulak, COVID-19 started a filmmaking dry spell.
Allamaprabhu and Robert were seniors at New York University when the pandemic began. They were forced to scrap the thesis films they had spent the beginning of the school year planning as the university told students to pack up and move out. Allamaprabhu used the money he raised for his film to survive. “I raised a bunch of money […] and then didn’t end up spending it and I just lived off of that for part of COVID. It was a humbling experience,” he said.
Robert was just a few days out from shooting when COVID shut everything down. But instead of feeling anger or disappointment, he felt relief. “The evil thing about it, when it was, ‘You don’t have to [finish],’ I felt relieved, I felt very relieved,“ Robert commented.
All three met as students at NYU, where they felt enormous pressure to make flawless senior thesis films that would put their names on the map. Adrian, who graduated in 2019 and completed his thesis film, noted that his senior year was one of the worst years of his life.
As college (and deadlines) ended without any pomp and circumstance, they were caught in the limbo of wanting to create but not having the resources or motivation to do so. Together, Robert, Allamaprabhu, and Adrian committed to making a bunch of projects—one a week for a year, to be exact. After proposing the concept to fellow filmmakers and putting together a Google Sheet, the three had scheduled themselves and 13 other filmmakers to create 52 films, dropping every Saturday for a whole year.
The 52films project is the antithesis to the way filmmaking classes are often taught. Instead of hyper-focusing on one concept or creating something that fits a professor’s criteria, these 16 filmmakers can make whatever they want, however they want. The only requirement is that they finish. Adrian noted, “I think you learn something about yourself with none of these strict structures. [You learn] what you like to do.”
In addition, while there is no stipulation on how much the filmmakers can spend, they all seem to be spending as little as possible. They see this as an opportunity to focus on filmmaking instead of figuring out how to feed your cast and crew.
Inspired by filmmakers like Raúl Ruiz and Steven Soderbergh, who seemingly make films without worrying if they’re any good (of course, they are still good), 52films is committed to quantity and spur-of-the-moment decisions. Instead of agonizing over every detail, the filmmakers can get into the habit of creating. Robert notes, “The worry is the thing [we] need to defeat.” So each week for the rest of the year, these filmmakers will have the freedom to make whatever they please.
Adrian, Allamaprabhu, and Robert hope that audiences realize that the 52films process is repeatable. They highlighted that they don’t have distributors or even a network, just a commitment to deadlines. Whether it be 52 poems or 52 sculptures, or even 12 paintings for those with less time on their hands, anyone could start this process to create a body of work.
In the end, each filmmaker is guaranteed a considerable portfolio, something they might not have gotten in college. And whether that leads to getting job opportunities, honing a new technique, or finding a new collaborator, everyone knows that they will leave this experiment better than when they started.
It’s hard to say what viewers can expect to see next on 52films.org. While some filmmakers already have plans for their films, others are still brainstorming. “They might plan to do something but by the day before, they might think, ‘I don’t like it,’ and just film their arm and upload that,” Allamaprabhu joked.
On top of that, the collective’s styles purposefully clash in the hopes that any viewer will find at least one film they like. There’s been a narrative nonfiction film about quitting smoking, a stop-motion film depicting a garden, and a comedic film on eating in the first three releases. So while they can’t make any promises content-wise, 52films will undoubtedly deliver a collage that reflects these young filmmakers’ talent, imagination, and commitment to creation.
New films drop Saturday at 52films.org.