An Evening with Hugo Genes, Director of 'Collegetown'
Hugo Genes sits at a long table at Sushi Thai Garden in downtown Saratoga Springs on a rainy Nov. 5 night. Stoic and sturdy with a handsomely-structured face, he greets us warmly as we walk in for the dinner-dialogue, an event sponsored by the MDOCs program and Associate Dean of the Faculty Ron Seyb. Genes’ easy smile and nonchalant demeanor do not betray his weariness from having just arrived in Saratoga by train from Manhattan. After this dinner, Genes will adjourn to Emerson Auditorium, to premiere his latest feature-length independent film, Collegetown.
Skidmore is the twelfth school in which Genes has premiered the film, so, unsurprisingly he’s become well-accustomed to the drill of traveling to colleges across the northeast to talk about this project that he holds dear to his heart. Collegetown, based on Genes’ personal experiences as an undergraduate student at Cornell University, depicts the brutal realities of student life in an Ivy-league setting and the pressures of conforming to a Wall Street life post-graduation.
Genes, who was born in Rio de Janeiro, moved to New York City as a child. He talks candidly with our small group of five at dinner about the process of conceptualizing and creating the film. Since graduating from Cornell in 2010 with a degree in Applied Economics, Genes himself took the Wall Street route and worked briefly in sales and trading and later as an investment banker. He soon left the sector disillusioned, realizing that filmmaking and raising awareness of social issues, specifically through film, was where his real passions lay.
Collegetown, then, is in part Genes’ personal recognition of the ugly head that capitalistic and materialistic processes rear in many college students’ lives. In fact, Genes, who wrote and directed the film, even plays a minor role as a high-strung, party-addicted student. The film is a brutal and unforgiving watch—and one that is well worth it. It combines elements of both narrative and documentary film, dropping the audience from the get-go into the world of the 20-something-year-old Ivy-league student—a world where wild parties are rampant, drugs and alcohol are widespread and where students engage in hedonistic lifestyles to flee the pressures of their daily academic lives. While at times dark and disturbing, the film's message is clear: Genes wants people to wake up and recognize the twisted culture of higher education today and the painful experiences that students are having as a result of this culture.
Shot across a span of four years on Yale, Cornell, Duke and Sarah Lawrence’s campuses, Genes’ work also details the struggle of working on a bare-bones film budget. He acknowledges the kindness and willingness of his friends to continue supporting him and working with him, despite the inevitably low pay. Genes also tells us that perseverance is always an important trait to possess as a filmmaker, especially when the going gets tough and it is difficult to see an end in sight.
Almost as intimate as the dinner-dialogue, the film screening itself drew in a small but committed group of students, among whom were declared Media and Film Studies minors and documentary film enthusiasts. And much like the dinner, after the screening, Genes offered the attendees his two cents worth in filmmaking and the film industry in general. It seems that just like his film, Genes is always willing to offer insight, especially when it comes to the lives of students.
Genes is currently working on churning out new, socially-conscious films while simultaneously promoting Collegetown to students across the country. Collegetown is currently available on Vimeo on demand.