Students win at film festivals

Student films exploring the topics of genocide, gun violence and daily life won awards at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth, the Pacifica Screen Film Festival, the Sun Valley Film Festival’s Future Filmmaker Forum and the National Film for Talented Youth film festival.

Three Harvard-Westlake student films were screened at the Pacifica Screen Film Festival Feb. 27 at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica. Pacifica High School and the American Cinematheque hosted the event. “The Rhythm of Healing,” directed by Imani Cook-Gist ’15 and edited by Danielle Stolz ’15, won best documentary at the festival.

Made as part of the Harvard-Westlake Digital Storytelling Adventure trip to Rwanda last year, the film examined how survivors of the Rwandan genocide used music and dance to cope.

“After being in Rwanda for a while and talking with the people, I started to feel a sense of uplifting positivity towards the future,” Cook-Gist said. “So I decided to keep that theme and combine it with activities commonly practiced in Rwanda that I’m also personally attached to — music and dancing.”
Cook-Gist said it “was unreal to watch my movie on the big screen” at the festival.
The festival also screened “Hands,” made by Katie Ehrlich ’14 in a Video Art class. The film “explores how we humans experience the world through our hands,” Ehrlich said.

“I knew this would be my last film of high school, so I decided to create an experimental film, my favorite genre of film to make,” she said.
“It Shouldn’t Be This Easy,” a public service announcement about gun violence, was created and directed by Cameron Stine ’17, Connor Reese ’17, Ned Jacobs and Trey Carlisle, all participants in the joint Righteous Conversations Project and Harvard-Westlake Summer Film program last summer.
“I’m honored that our film has gotten into various film festivals,” Reese said. “It is a really awesome feeling seeing your work played in front of an audience.”
Two films, one by Cole Kawana ’16 and one by Mike Mapes ’16, will be showcased in the Sun Valley Film Festival’s Future Filmmaker Forum. Both were also inspired by the Rwanda trip.

“The cool thing about getting into the Sun Valley Film Festival is that it isn’t just a student film festival — there were a bunch of indie and even several major films being shown there,” Kawana said. “It felt very rewarding, knowing that one of my videos was being screened among a slate of professional films.”
Kawana’s film, “The Kindness of Strangers,” follows his discovery of the severe lack of water Rwandans face every day.
“I went to Rwanda wanting to tell a unique story of growth over the last 20 years, and not the traditional ‘doom and gloom’,” Kawana said. “I thought about professional journalists who travel to faraway countries to record captivating stories. Unfortunately, what I realized is that once they get this story, they leave the place as unchanged and impoverished as they found it. Wanting to change the cycle, I decided to bring a dozen water filters with me — giving me the premise for my film.”

Mapes’s Film, “I am Kizito,” relates the experiences of a survivor of the Rwandan Genocide named Kizito.

Even though Rwanda has been rebuilding since the genocide, survivors like Kizito struggle due to a lack of education and resources.

The films selected for the National Film for Talented Youth film festival in Seattle were “Cut the Tall Trees: The Killing Power of Words” by Noah Bennett ’15 and Max Cho ’15, which was also about the Rwanda trip, as well as “Mask” by Katie Speare ’16.

“‘Tall Trees’ explores the role of propaganda during the Rwandan Genocide and how it turned people towards the violence that they committed,” Cho said.
The film, which is also being shown at the Harvard-Westlake Film Festival, was additionaly shown at the Pan African Film Festival and won a Scholastic Arts and Wriing Silver Key.

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