Harbaugh ’06 Headed to Sundance

by Jim Amidon

January 13, 2012

Wabash alumnus Russ Harbaugh’s film, Rolling on the Floor Laughing, has been selected for the Sundance Film Festival. The 2006 Wabash grad’s film is one of 32 American short films selected for Sundance, which runs from January 19-29 in Park City, Utah.

Harbaugh wrote and directed Rolling on the Floor Laughing as his master’s degree thesis project at Columbia University. The Wabash English major and All-American quarterback earned his MFA in directing.

Rolling on the Floor Laughing was first screened publicly at Wabash College in April 2011, just days before it won awards at the Columbia University Film Festival. Watch the trailer here.

The film was accepted in the Shorts Competition and will be screened four times during the festival — January 20, 21, 24, and 26 — and all four screenings are sold out. Rolling on the Floor Laughing will be shown at the Redstone Cinema 8 and Prospector Square Theater in Park City, and the Broadway Centre Cinema 6 in Salt Lake City.

Harbaugh is blogging about his Sundance experience for the Huffington Post. Follow his time at Sundance here.

More than 7,600 short films were submitted to Sundance. Only 18 short feature films from American directors were selected.

As an undergraduate, Harbaugh earned fame as the quarterback of Wabash’s undefeated football team in 2005. The team won the North Coast Conference title and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Playoffs. Harbaugh was honored as the NCAC’s Offensive Player of the Year, received All-America honors, and was a finalist for the Gagliardi Award.

He also made a pair of documentary films while a student at Wabash. The Evansville native turned heads with his videos, Beside Myself (2005) and Thy Loyal Sons (2006), which ignited conversation and debate about the very essence of Wabash — masculinity, identity, and relationships.

The films earned Harbaugh the Phi Beta Kappa Prize in his senior year, and helped him gain acceptance in a master’s degree program in film at Columbia University.

“We shot the film in Indiana, in the home where I grew up, from a script that began merely as a conversation between a loving mother (mine) and her curious, needling son (me),” said Harbaugh. “It’s a project inspired by films with modern, revisionist instincts toward autobiography — films like Maurice Pialat’s We Will Not Grow Old Together — films that wrestle with reality while abiding the structures of fiction.”

Harbaugh gives a brief description of his film: “Rolling on the Floor Laughing is the story of a love-triangle between a middle-aged widow, a new lover in from out of town, and the woman’s grown sons with whom she shares a candid, sometimes unsettling intimacy. The story takes place over the course of a birthday weekend, the night before and the day of a party.”

Harbaugh excelled in his graduate work at Columbia. He earned honors distinction in both screenwriting and directing, and had a celebrated apprenticeship under writer/director Eric Mendelsohn. Harbaugh worked with Mendelsohn on the film 3 Backyards, which won the directing prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010.

“It’s been a startling education, and has shown me the kind of personal and profound art that can be created when a group of interested friends and family and friends of friends and friends of family decide that they want to help,” Harbaugh said.

During his junior year at Wabash, Harbaugh explored Wabash’s history as a college for men and its many coeducation studies in Beside Myself. The 30-minute film also served as a metaphor for Harbaugh, who struggled through a difficult junior football season and was trying to work through his relationship with his twin brother, Barry.

A standing-room-only crowd of over 300 turned out for the film’s screening in Salter Hall.

A year later — and following his record-shattering senior football season — he produced another film, Thy Loyal Sons, which followed three Wabash students in their daily routines at the College. That film examined issues of labels and the compartmentalization of Wabash. Harbaugh told the stories of an African American football player, a fraternity man going through Sphinx Club rush, and an openly gay theater major.


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