Best Flicks at Westflix

Westflix organizers and filmmakers discuss the film festival and the role that high schoolers play in cinema.


Georgia Goldberg, Assistant A&E Editor

The lights of the TCL Chinese Theatre shine upon actor and filmmaker Jordan Peele as he announces the 11 student films about to be showcased at Westflix. Westflix is a student-organized film festival that features films from high schoolers all around California. Westflix Co-Leader Oliver Wyman ’22 glows with excitement as the black screen fades into the first film.

“God, I love Westflix,” Wyman said. “I’m so excited for people to come see these films [and] for people to come and enjoy the night. I’m really excited for the filmmakers because seeing their films on the big screen is going to inspire them for years to come.”

Wyman said he felt grateful the festival was held in-person after being held on virtual platforms for two consecutive years. He said he was particularly excited that Westflix was held at the TCL Chinese Theatre.

“It’s one of the most special theaters in California,” Wyman said. “I worked at the Chinese Theatre a few summers ago. I interned for the man who runs it, Matt Barrett. He gave us this festival because it wouldn’t have happened [otherwise]. Because of [COVID-19], the theater where [the festival] always is was closed. Now, we have a real, tangible place for filmmakers to show their product.”

Wyman said it was gratifying to watch the festival finally come together after months of hard work. 

“The members of the club all participate together to make the event really special by taking photographs, by interviewing and by doing all the things that are required to make the festival special,” Wyman said.

Westflix Co-Leader Shanti Hinkin ’22 said her favorite part of Westflix is seeing the dedication and passion of each leader and member.

“Our faculty leaders are so incredibly dedicated to helping us execute every idea we had for this festival, and they have worked so hard to make it a truly special event,” Hinkin said. “My fellow student leaders are so fun to work with, and I really feel like the four of us have a really cool, artistic vision that has been so fun to create with.”

Hinkin said in addition to working alongside her peers and advisors, she enjoyed the process of planning the festival. She said organizing the festival required hard work, both logistically and creatively, but was ultimately a rewarding experience.

“Every little thing, from designing logos to booking venues, requires some level of attention from us, and it has been so fun navigating those tasks with the other student and faculty directors,” Hinkin said. “It’s obviously difficult creating something so aesthetically driven because all of us have really strong visions, so figuring out how to communicate and incorporate all of our ideas was sometimes a challenge.”

Hinkin said the primary responsibility of Westflix club members is to judge the submitted films. She said the student judges rank every film they watch on a scale from one to 10 in different categories such as cinematography, writing and acting. The top 20 ranked films become semi-finalists, and club leaders choose which films will be showcased in the festival from the semi-finalist pool. This year, there were over 100 films submitted, with 11 chosen as finalists to be screened at the film festival. 

Prior to the festival, Hinkin said she was excited for a large audience to watch and appreciate the original films showcased.

“I am most excited to see and hear everyone’s reactions to the films,” Hinkin said. “They’re all truly amazing, and I think people are going to be really blown away by the quality and variety, not to mention how stunning they will look on the massive screen.”

Wyman said he is disappointed that there have not been more student film festivals, and hopes these types of events will be held more often in the future. 

“It is so important to showcase young filmmakers because we are the coming generation of filmmakers,” Wyman said. “We should be branding student films as a more widespread thing [because] we have so many different methods and mediums to see films nowadays.”

Wyman said the perspective of high school students in filmmaking is becoming increasingly important. 

“We’ve all experienced so much trauma through [COVID-19], whether that be isolation or just detachment from friends,” Wyman said. “We’ve grown so invested in our shows, our entertainment, our television and in our escape. The perspective of high school students to film, cinema and entertainment overall is astronomically increasing because we’re so determined to entertain ourselves. It really comes to a point where we’re just trying to improve upon a craft that we all know and enjoy.”

Filmmaker and Westflix winner of the Founder’s Award and Audience Choice Award for the film he co-created, “Survival Style,” Will Chandrasekhar ’23 said high school students continue to have a monumental impact on modern cinema.

“Old enough to grasp mature concepts and address serious issues but young enough to possess a fresh and innovative outlook on life, high school students can be consequential in creating narratives that touch on new ideas or concepts,” Chandrasekhar said. “The perspective of high school students is necessary in the film industry to bring in new, creative ideas and help to contribute to the global understanding of human emotions and the intricacies of the teenage brain.”

Chandrasekhar said his film centers around the intersection of African-American art and activism in South Central Los Angeles. He said the film crew for “Survival Style,” was able to approach the film in a way that allowed for the story to shape itself. 

“Although our goal was to have the movie form itself as we went, before we began shooting, our group brainstormed potential set locations, interview questions, narrative choices, music and more,” Chandrasekhar said. “My favorite part of the process was traveling around South Central Los Angeles with the crew because it gave me an opportunity to experience and learn about the history and culture of the area.”

Animator, filmmaker and Westflix winner of the Humanitarian Award for the film she co-created, “A Prayer for My Mother: The Eva Brettler Story,” Eve Levy ’22 said films can adeptly convey important messages, stories and histories through many different mediums, such. She said her film, centering on the adolescent life of Holocaust survivor Eva Brettler, tells her story through animation. 

“I worked with several other animators and directors to create this film in only two weeks,” Levy said. “We talked with [Brettler] to find the events that were most impactful for her in the moment and long term. For the remainder of our two-week intensive, we created multimedia [and] analog animations, both individually and collaboratively. Using paint, paper, sand, charcoal and more, we strived to imitate Eva’s emotional experiences through color, texture and motion.”

Levy said her film is important because she is part of the last generation that will be able to speak face-to-face with living Holocaust survivors. She said the crew and herself had an important perspective on Brettler’s story as high school students because Brettler was an adolescent when she endured the horrors of the Holocaust.

“We understand that she was in a formative and confusing stage of her life,” Levy said. “This intergenerational connection is important for the ability of each filmmaker to represent [Brettler’s] experiences through animation and therefore, to communicate the tragedy of the Holocaust, as well as the inspiring perseverance of [Brettler] and other child survivors.”

Levy said she was appreciative of her time spent talking to Brettler one-on-one because it helped her realize the importance of creating connections in filmmaking and storytelling.

“My conversations with [Brettler] illuminated the importance of storytelling as a form of communication, whether a story is told through film, writing, painting or between two individuals,” Levy said. “We discovered a meaningful connection between our families. During the Iranian Revolution of [1979], [Brettler] worked with my grandfather to get tens of thousands young Jewish children out of Iran. Both having experienced violent displacement due to our religion, we found this reach across the diaspora inspiring, confident that, regardless of the adversity we face, human connection is persistent.”

Fellow animator, filmmaker and Westflix winner for “A Prayer for My Mother: The Eva Brettler Story,” Raisa Effress ’23 said seeing her film on the big screen was her favorite part of the night.

“I got to look around and see people’s reactions and see their faces at certain parts that I knew were important to me,” Effress said. “I could see that [the film] had the intended effect on them and it was important to them. Looking around and seeing how everyone was so touched by [the film] really touched me.”

Effress said it is important to host student film festivals like Westflix because support from fellow young filmmakers promotes creativity and engagement.

“Everyone was so incredibly supportive of each other’s films, and it just created an environment that really inspired everybody to keep creating,” Effress said. “Our speaker, Jordan Peele, inspired everybody to create as well. Things like this that encourage young artists to create are possibly the most important things in order to keep us all grounded in something good.”