Vassar Today

Cannes-Do Filmmaker Takes Top Documentary Prize

By Andrea Durbin

Alex Camilleri ’10 got his first home video camera at age 12, and he’s been making movies ever since. Still Here, his 21-minute profile of Randy Baron, a man with a rare genetic mutation that has enabled him to live with HIV for 30 years, was named best student documentary at the Cannes Film Festival this year.

The piece illustrates the ways in which Baron has given his life new meaning by working to help prevent the spread of the disease that has devastated his life and the lives of his friends.

Camilleri first became aware of this remarkable man in the fall of 2008, when Baron visited campus to speak to a small group of students. “His words rattled me,” says Camilleri. “In my past experiences as a young filmmaker, I had really only felt a drive to tell the stories that were important to me and me alone. After hearing Randy’s story, I felt that other people needed to hear it too.” That was when he started writing the proposal for his senior film project.

Working with classmates Kyle Porter, David Viste, and Amrita Kundu, all ’10, and meeting with longtime Vassar film professor and faculty advisor Ken Robinson about the project twice a week, Camilleri turned his proposal into the film that captured part of Baron’s journey. “We had a lot of fertile ground to make this film,” says Camilleri. “It was something that people hadn’t seen before, and that set us apart.”

“We put in a lot of hours, and there was a lot of frustration,” he recalls. “We really pushed ourselves for this film, we all did. And we never lost sight of what we were doing. We knew we were working on something really big. We knew that this thing was worth it.”

The team came up against several challenges throughout the film’s production. One, in particular, involved the struggle to “unearth the natural story.” 

Camilleri explains: “About halfway through, we realized something important was missing. Beauty comes in unexpected moments in life, and we didn’t have any of those moments. So, we had to retool our whole approach.” That involved spending even more time with Baron, and more importantly, letting the story unfold on its own. 

“We had been too calculating, oddly, too well prepared,” says Camilleri. “Our desire to do justice to Randy’s story by way of thorough research, camera coverage, and editing had closed down promising emotional inlets that could give the film even more impact. After all, you can’t manufacture real emotions. This last bit of photography turned the film around.”

 “Filmmaking is all about imagination,” he concludes. “It’s about the process of discovery and self-discovery. When you make mistakes, and you realize your mistakes, that’s when you really start learning.”

Still Here may be viewed for a limited time at

—Andrea Durbin