Iñárritu encourages personal creativity in speech at 10th annual Harvard-Westlake Film Festival

In a speech to more than 800 people, including high school filmmakers and students from across the country, Oscar-nominated director Alejandro González Iñárritu stressed that filmmaking should be fun, and not motivated by any outside interests, at the 10th annual Harvard-Westlake Film Festival Friday.

“I think it’s one of the most beautiful jobs that anyone can dream to have,” Iñárritu said. “But it’s a very tough one.”

“It’s very easy to lose [your voice] in other kinds of interests. It can be fame, it can be power, it can be money,” he said. “But I would like to invite you to always think that filmmaking is an incredible opportunity for self-expression in art.”

Iñárritu was scheduled to speak at the festival two years ago, but cancelled at the last moment due to appendicitis. He is one in a long line of prominent keynote speakers, following DreamWorks CEO Stacey Snider, director Kathryn Bigelow and director Guillermo del Toro (Iñárritu’s 2011 replacement).

His speech preceded the screening of 23 student films from 15 schools and programs, including six films made by Harvard-Westlake students, although no preference is given to Harvard-Westlake submissions.

After the judges have selected the films that will be shown at the festival, a panel of industry professionals score the films blindly to determine the winners of the Lizzie Awards, named after festival founder Elizabeth Yale ’04. This year, the award winners were announced at the end of the festival to provide “a sense of anticipation,” Gaulke said, rather than before the festival as in previous years.

“There are always complications of production. Technical problems, your own limitations, all the frustration. But at the end, when you get something like you have here, it’s a really powerful, magical moment,” Iñárritu said.

Iñárritu also spoke about his own career, saying that he never had an “aha” moment when he absolutely knew he wanted to be a filmmaker. He said his life took him on many paths that led him to his final career which can at times be “a humiliating job,” he said.

“No matter what kinds of films you do, it’s always a very hard equation of human relations, money and emotions,” Iñárritu said. “But something I’m noticing is that films are serving purposes that are more industrialized or corporate.”

“Fight not to just be a factory worker who’s coordinating with a corporation and asked to craft things” he said. “But always remember why you made your first film.”

Student directors Natalie Markiles ’13, Patric Verrone ’13 and Rebecca Moretti ’13 worked with Visual Arts Department Head Cheri Gaulke, Performing Arts teacher Ted Walch and photography teacher Kevin O’Malley since the fall to organize this year’s festival.

“At the screening, we have committee members, directors, teachers and teachers from schools other than Harvard-Westlake,” Markiles said.  ”All of the movies get scored and discussed, and then we use those scores to determine what films will make it into the festival. It was interesting because after we watched them we went around the room and got to hear everyone’s opinions on the films. One thing we strive for in our festival is to have films that can be some people’s favorites and other people’s least favorites.”

The festival did not end with the event itself: on Saturday, an invitation-only event called simply “The Day After” provided the student filmmakers and Video Art students the opportunity to engage in a Q&A with Iñárritu on their own films and attend workshops on screenwriting, acting, cinematography and the movie business taught by industry professionals. This year, the workshop teachers include Snider and festival judge, screenwriter and USC professor Janet Batchler [Cory ’13, Sabrina ’15].

“It was created by the festival directors two years ago, based on the kinds of events that other student festivals have hosted and we’ve been building on their ideas ever since,” Verrone said.

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