At the Movies: Student Becomes Master

The head of Bellevue College’s film department teaches his students how to succeed.

Film director Michael Korolenko is no stranger to acclaim. The Jersey-born, New York–bred moviemaker’s documentary (and Vassar College graduate thesis project) Since ’45 provided perspectives on American history from 1945 to the then-current day, through the eyes of some of the century’s most interesting figures and observers, including Isaac Asimov, Art Buchwald, and the original cast of Saturday Night Live. Since ’45 received a student Oscar in 1978 and opened the door for Korolenko to work extensively in the movie industry for three decades before he settled down to become head of film studies at Bellevue College.

Of Yesterday and Tomorrow, courtesy of Michael Korolenko

Now Korolenko is giving his own students a taste of acclaim, courtesy of his thirty-minute short, Of Yesterday and Tomorrow. The film, made with the help of his students, recently received the Accolade Award of Merit, a prestigious international honor voted on by film professionals in the Los Angeles area. “Films are judged by other filmmakers, cinematographers and so forth,” Korolenko explains in his laconic East Coast drawl. “So it’s really a terrific award to win.” 

Of Yesterday and Tomorrow details the odyssey of Michelle (Amanda Zarr), a young Haight-Ashbury denizen who travels from her time (1967) to the present through a magic mirror. The journey brings her face to face with her grown-up granddaughter (Darla Cardwell) and with the ripple effects of her own actions some forty years prior. “We wanted to make it sort of like a Twilight Zone episode,” Korolenko says. “I was really interested in what someone from 1967 would think if they suddenly found themselves in our time period.” 

The faintly fantastic tinge and historical bent of the film come from Korolenko’s long-standing interest in history and science fiction, which was originally ignited by his older brother.

“I became interested in film when he sat me down in 1964. I was, like, nine years old. He sat me down in front of the TV, and we watched the original 1960 version of The Time Machine. I just thought, here’s a science fiction film with heart that says something about the human condition.”

The director is quick to point out that far more was involved in making the film than inspiration. There was a lot of hard work, much of it on the part of his students. “There were probably fifteen to twenty students working on it, full-time, doing location scouting, everything. You name it, they did it,” he says.  “For some of them it was like being thrown into the deep end of the pool all of a sudden. But they were great.” •