By Alice Phillips
Approximately 800 people attended the Film Festival last Friday at the Arclight Cinerama Dome to hear Academy Award winner Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) speak with Academy Award nominee Jason Reitman â95 (“Up in the Air”) and to watch 17 student films ranging from animated films to narratives to music videos to documentaries.
“Calamus,” a nuanced retelling of first love by filmmaker Jonathan Jayasinghe of Cleveland High School won the Lizzie Award for Best Overall film (named for festival founder Liz Yale â04).
Festival Directors Romina DâAlessandro â10 and Jake Gutman â10 gave the Festival Directorsâ Choice award to “Two Weeks” by Brian Tran of University High School.
The New York Film Academy gave a $1,500 scholarship to Jayasinghe and $500 scholarships to all of the filmmakers.
For the first time, the festival partnered with Kid Flicks, a charity run by Lexi Barta â03, Romi Barta â06, Marni Barta â09 and Berni Barta â10, to collect movies to be donated to childrenâs hospitals.
The final 17 films were selected from over 150 entries in a two-tiered voting process by festival directors Romina DâAlessandro â10 and Jake Gutman â10, several Video Art and Cinema Studies students, Upper School Dean Tamar Adegbile, Upper School Visual Arts Department Head Cheri Gaulke, and performing arts teacher Ted Walch.
A panel of film industry judges, including Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (“Little Miss Sunshine”), James Eckhouse, Randy Newman Pâ89 Pâ96 Pâ10 Pâ11, Laurie MacDonald (Graham â10), and Walker Parkes (Graham â10), voted on the Lizzie Awards.
After the screening, DâAlessandro and Gutman asked each filmmaker a question about their filmmaking process and why they were drawn to the subject matter of their films.
“It was great to see everyone so supportive and so many filmmakers who were so passionate and so willing to speak about their films and to show their amazing pieces of work,” Gutman said.
Gutman said that the panelistsâ varied tastes in films, from guerilla and indie style films to crafted narratives with beautifully constructed cinematography, helped ensure that the 17 selected films would be a diverse group on screen.
“We look for a good story, which is one of the more challenging things for the filmmakers. We look for technical excellence, but not at the expense of story,” Gaulke said.
“The Beast” by Mario Adriano, Eric Becarra, Denny Dimalanta, and Michael Greenwood of Providence High School received the Lizzie Award for Directing, “Break Away” by Franchesco Ramos of Cleveland High School received the Story/Writing award, “The Compact” by Grace Samson of Providence High School received the Acting award, “Good Neighbor” by Cesar Cervantes of Bell High School received the Humanitarian award, “Love Vigilantes” by Libby Blood of El Dorado High School received the Cinematography award, “Ninja Claus” by Arnold Aldridge of Homestead High School received the Special Effects award, “Sleepyhead” by Patrick Corell and Matt Mendoza of Chaminade College Preparatory High School received the Editing award, and “The Stand” by Olivia Chuba â10 received the Founderâs award.
Also screened were “Back on the Bike” by Garret Gioia of Orange County High School for the Arts, “Cupidity” by Phoebe Singer â09,”The Eraser” by Joe Caedo and Conor Gould of Providence High School, “In the Beginning” by Ethan Corn of Santa Monica High School, Daniel Lachman of Las Lomas High School, Eddie Mele of the Gould Academy, Sebastian Savino of Carmel High School, and Michael Stone of Brentwood School, “Still Life” by Lee Feldman of the Harvard-Westlake Summer Film Camp, “Stop and Smell the Roses” by Harrison Litvack of Crossroads School, and “Stop. Think. Rewindl.” by Mattan Cohen of Northwood High School.
Â When DâAllessandro and Gutman began searching for a guest speaker, they tried to fulfill two goals: drawing people to the festival and representing women in film.
Â “Last year we were horrified to realize that there was only one female director out of the 13 films were selected for the festival,” Gutman said.
Â Reitman interviewed Bigelow on stage before the screening. In the past, Reitman hosted the series “Speaking of Movies” in Ahmanson Lecture Hall in which he interviewed film professionals including screenwriter Diablo Cody and producers Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Faris.
Â In her conversation with Reitman, Bigelow said that the ability to inspire other filmmakers or to embolden them is a positive byproduct of her recent award wins for directing “The Hurt Locker.”
Â “I thought Kathryn was incredibly articulate and interesting and Jason delightful and charming as he always is,” Walch said, “but itâs finally about the kids. As long as they continue to push themselves and make really interesting films then weâre in good shape.”
The festival started in 2004 in Rugby Auditorium from Yaleâs vision, and seven years later has expanded to accepting submissions from across California.
Â “Each year we say it canât get better, and I thought it got better in a lot of ways this year, especially in the overall quality of the films. I thought it was very impressive, especially the work from some schools that donât have that many opportunities and just make it happen,” Walch said.
Â “Most high school film festivals are in their school auditorium, and we started out that way,” Gaulke said. “To be at the Arclight Cinerama Dome, I mean when are you, as a teenager, going to see your film on that gigantic screen and when are you going to have a multiple Academy Award-nominee and a multiple Academy Award-winner in the audience watching your film?”
Â The festival is a platform for young filmmakers to display their work and get a leg in the door in terms of a career in the film industry, especially because the students have the opportunity to show these films to Hollywood producers who would otherwise never see high school films, Gaulke said.
Â Summit Entertainment and executive Rob Friedman (Taylor â03, Lane â07), the distributor of Bigelowâs Academy Award winning film “The Hurt Locker,” and Deluxe Digital underwrote the DVDs of the 17 screened films that all attendees received. This festival marks the first time the festival directors have asked companies for sponsorship.
The Advancement Office endows the film festival, aided by the sponsorship of several Harvard-Westlake families. Director of Annual Giving Alan Ball said that events like the film festival are good opportunities for Harvard-Westlake to become an asset and a resource to the community.
“I wrote on [CEO of Arclight Cinemas Christopher] Formanâs â79 thank you card: âThank you for making 900 people smile tonightâ and I think Harvard-Westlake did just that,” Ball said.