20 Years of Westflix


Printed with Permission of Ian Kim

Student filmmaker and presenter at Westflix Ian Kim’s film “My Sisters in the Stars: The Star of Lee Yong-Soo” received the Audience Choice Award for his film.

Kriste An, Assistant A&E Editor

Edie Cohen ’24 said she felt her heart flutter as she sat in the Million Dollar Theater, awaiting the screening of the 16 student films about to be showcased at Westflix. Cohen stared at the screen, enthralled, as it faded into blackness, signaling the start of the first film.

Cohen said having participated in the production of the festival, she was excited to see how audience members would react to the films included in the competition.

“I [could] not wait to see the audience’s reactions to the films,” Cohen said. “Having waited so long for the festival, I am so glad to have had a close connection to all the work that happened behind the scenes. I [was] anxious but also excited.”

Westflix is an annual student-run film festival that showcases films from high school students throughout California. Students in the Westflix Club are responsible for selecting films and organizing the festival at a local theater. This year’s festival, the club’s 20th iteration, featured a speech from actress and comedian Mindy Kaling, a filmmakers’ workshop with comedian, film director, screenwriter and actor Jay Chandrasekhar and producer Kate Angelo and performances from the Jazz Explorers.

Cohen said her role as a judge has amplified her connection to the festival.

“Having judged all of the films that have been submitted, I feel a close connection to the festival,” Cohen said. “Judging films and being involved in the selection process has allowed me to become familiar with the pieces submitted and to understand the vision of the filmmakers. Being part of the decision-making process has given me a sense of ownership and pride in the final outcome of the festival, making me feel more connected to it.”

Cohen said club members are in charge of judging the films and selecting those to be showcased at the festival. She said sheis also responsible for advertising the event.

“The main responsibilities of the members in the club are viewing, judging and discussing the films that have been submitted,” Cohen said. “The more films watched and judged, the easier the process is. Being honest about our opinions of the films is also important. Though the leaders of the festival have a more integral role in preparing for the technical aspects of the event, I focus more on spreading the word and getting people excited about the festival.”

Cohen said the films are judged based on a number of factors that relate to the film’s artistic qualities.

“The judges review the films submitted and use specific criteria to evaluate the pieces’ artistic qualities, direction, writing, acting, design, editing, sound and music,” Cohen said. “The selection is rigorous, but it is crucial to ensure that the final selection reflects the festival’s values and mission.”

Nick Guagliano ’23 said preparing for the festival is an extensive but rewarding process.

“Preparing for Westflix is a process that dates back to fourth quarter of the last school year,” Guagliano said. “Since the leaders were selected, plans have been passed forward with the intention of making this the best Westflix ever. The leaders did an incredible job of finding a venue that is appropriate for such an amazing occasion and promoting it so audience members will be excited. The whole process of putting the festival together has been fulfilling, and being able to work with people to create something that I feel passionate about is how I wanted to spend this time as a senior.”

Upper School Visual Arts teacher Reb Limerick said the team implemented a number of changes to make the festival as accommodating and welcoming as possible.

“We put a lot of emphasis on this being the 20th festival,” Limerick said. “We reached out to schools that have never been represented and tried to get a more diverse assortment of films. We have also expanded our leadership team in adding a board, 14 seniors that are passionate about video and film, in addition to our four festival directions. One of the board members, Nick Guagliano, created an interview series where he contacted people from the past festivals to interview them. He has been putting this on YouTube as well as on our Instagram.”

Limerick said the festival wanted to honor films that are student-made in addition to those that are showcased technical skills.

“It is great to see a gorgeous film from a school that has a lot of filmmaking resources and has an incredible message,” Limerick said. “But also, we want to honor films that are a little more DIY [do-it-yourself] and that the students had a lot of fun making. This festival, we wanted to ensure that all of the films were student-made.”

Limerick said the festival helps propel students into the professional world of film in allowing them to learn from experts and collaborate with other student filmmakers.

“The experience of seeing the film on a huge screen and having people of all ages view like at a huge theater professionalizes the films,” Limerick said. “The panel of professional judges [allows] students to get feedback from other students as well as [from] people in the professional world. Through the workshop, students can also meet other filmmakers, talk about their films and connect, network and collaborate. The festival can be a point of connection for future collaboration.”

Guagliano said Westflix is an excellent platform for students to showcase their work and receive feedback.

“There is so much incredible talent among filmmakers in California that Westflix does a great job of capturing,” Guagliano said. “I am so impressed with the content and films that are shared at each festival. One other important part of the festival is the exposure that filmmakers have in their art being viewed, appreciated and critiqued. The speaker is a big draw, but I view the judges as a more important aspect as it allows the filmmakers to garner great advice and contact information as the students continue to pursue their passion in film.”

Student filmmaker and recipient of the Audience Choice Award Ian Kim ’24 was selected to showcase his film “My Sisters in the Stars: The Star of Lee Yong-Soo” at the festival. Kim said he feels honored to have been chosen to present his film at the festival given that Westflix has served as a constant source of inspiration for him.

“Getting into Westflix was super exciting as I had wanted to introduce the film [to] the school,” Kim said. “Westflix has been a consistent source of inspiration for me throughout the times that I have attended. Even though the selection pool is smaller than most other student festivals, the curation of the films [is] top-notch. Moreover, I have seen how much work the leaders and mentors have put into the festival, and I could not wait to see the final product.”

Kim said his film is an homage to the comfort women that were forced into being sex slaves for Japanese soldiers before and during the Second World War.

“In 2021, there was a paper from a professor at Harvard that denied the ruthlessness that the comfort women experienced and sparked huge backlash among Asian Americans,” Kim said. “It was one of the few times that discussion about the comfort women gained attention in the United States, and I started attending online discussions to learn more. It was there that I saw Lee Yong-Soo, one of the last remaining comfort women, talk about her experience during the war and her activism, and I felt I could use filmmaking and animation to present the issue to a larger audience.”

Kim said he hopes his film motivates audience members to take a deeper dive into the topic.

“I hope audience members go on to learn more about the issue and even get involved themselves,” Kim said. “Over the course of the production, the number of remaining known survivors in Korea fell from 14 to 11, and there is this sense of urgency that the past will be covered up for good. I hope that the film will serve as both an educational tool and a record for the future when this last generation of Comfort Women survivors is gone.”

Student filmmaker Jaiden Mathews ’25 was also selected to showcase his film “My New Neighbor” at the festival.

He said his film is about a man that navigates his new neighborhood.

“The film is about a man moving into a new house that soon learns that the neighborhood he has moved into is not what it seems,” Mathews said. “I did not have much of a motivation in creating the piece other than wanting to create a film, but I wanted to make something with an interesting plot that audiences appreciated watching.”

Mathews said he had mixed reactions to being selected for Westflix because of his limited experience in filmmaking.

“I was excited but also a little nervous because I am so new to filmmaking,” Mathews said. “To think that the film was being presented to such a large audience was nerve-racking.”

Mathews said it is more important that there are more festivals that highlight student voices so as to showcase their talents.

“I think we should have more festivals showcasing the work of high school students because we create such amazing things,” Mathews said. “Despite this, there are not a lot of opportunities to have these productions showcased. Having these kinds of festivals is a great means for students to have their voices heard and their work showcased to people from both in and out of the school.”

Rohan Mehta ’23 said it is important that student filmmakers get a chance to showcase their productions to the public.

“I think all events that highlight student artists is important,” Mehta said. “People find a lot of pride and happiness in sharing their work just as an athlete is proud of their games.”

Limerick said the festival allows students to practice their filmmaking skills without experiencing the pressure that is put on professional filmmakers.

“I teach high school for a reason, and [that is] because I love this age group,” Limerick said. “I love the freedom of expression and how students can be personal with their films at this age and still have a lot of fun. There is no need for them to be bogged down and be pressured to meet experts’ expectations of perfection and think about what is going to sell and what is going to be entertaining. It is more about making something that speaks to them and that, in turn, ends up speaking to the audience.”