Don’t Knock the Golden Doorknob Awards

By Marisa Thomas ’22, October 24, 2019
Ithaca College’s horror-steeped film competition celebrates 50-year anniversary.

At the 2019 Golden Doorknob Awards on October 11 — marking 50 years since the inception of IC’s quirky short film festival — the winners included a short animated film where rocker Jim Morrison suffered a medication-related mishap and a live-action film where cellphones drive people mad.

A record-breaking 25 films were entered in the contest, which tasks students with making a five-minute film where something is “killed” by a doorknob. “Severance” by Jackson Bernhard ’22, Jordan Brown ’22 and Killian Gomeau ’22 took home first prize. “Jim Morrison’s Lament” by Casper Molina ’20 won for best animated film.

“As first time competitors, we didn’t fully understand what we were getting ourselves into, but we just put our best effort into it and tried to have a blast and we’re super excited with how the festival turned out,” Gomeau said.

Associate professor of media arts, sciences and studies Steve Gordon produced the awards show. He commented on the Golden Doorknob’s enduring legacy at IC before screening past winning entries.

“This experience was shared by so many of our former students, from Robert Iger to Associate Dean Rob Gearhart,” Gordon said. “There are literally hundreds of these quirky films in collections throughout the U.S.”

Three young women posing with awards

(From left to right) Umu Sesay ’23, Robert Spencer ’23 and Massaran Cisse ’23 won second place overall and best first-year film for their movie, “On the Other Side.” (Photo by Marisa Thomas ’22/Ithaca College)

The judges included many past participants and winners, such as “Saw” executive producer Dan Heffner ’78, television sales executive David Speigelman ’80, writer and producer Liz Tigelaar ’98, director Josh Rimmey ’12, and director and producer Sam Patton ’12. Assistant professors Mitch McCabe and Jack Bryant also served as judges.

For the first time in Golden Doorknob history, a film made by first-year students placed among the overall winners. “On the Other Side” by Massaran Cisse ’23, Umu Sesay ’23 and Robert Spencer ’23, placed second and won the award for best first-year film. Third place went to “Time Traveling Doorknob” by Ariana Barreca ’21 and Joshua Bisso ’20.” Three films received honorable mentions: “Tears of a Clown” by Kyle Friedman ’23; “The Prize” by Sam Carter ’22 and Bryan Hultgren ’19; and “Agent Doorknob” by Alex Hunziker ’23 and Peter Manjgaladrze ’23.

A total of $5,000 was awarded to the winners. The first place animated and live-action films each received $1,000, second place received $750, third place received $500. The best first-year film also received $500, while the three honorable mentions each received $50. The prize money was donated by alumni, most of whom had participated in the Golden Doorknobs while at IC.

Ithaca College professor emeritus of cinema and photography Gustav “Skip” Landen started the Golden Doorknob competition in 1969 and continued it until his retirement in 1991. It was revived in 2009 at the request of alumni.

“Since the inception of the this odd little film exercise by professor Skip Landen in 1969, the Golden Doorknobs have created an enduring bond between decades of film and television majors in the Park School,” Gordon said.

The competition’s theme has evolved since the original exercise. Whereas films back then had to involve someone being literally killed by a doorknob, they can now be about anything that comes to an end. The first and second place winners took advantage of that more open interpretation of the theme.

“It’s interesting because I thought what the judges wanted was to see someone bang their head on a doorknob and extremely gruesome films,” Spencer said. “I think it opened up a lot of creativity for everybody and it was pretty cool.”