Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Drifting through the UCLAx Film Festival

My home campus, UCLA, has recently made headlines with stories about protest encampments, pitched student-on-student battles, and arrests, all pertaining to the tangled conflicts in the Middle East. But last Saturday I attended an event that was peaceful and even joyous. For almost 30 years I’ve been an instructor through UCLA Extension, which welcomes students from all over the world who are keen to improve their skills in a variety of disciplines. Last week Extension hosted UCLAx Film Festival 2024, a gathering of up-and-coming filmmakers who’ve taken pertinent courses in its entertainment studies division or the writers’ program in which I teach. I consider this festival a well-kept secret that should be better known. I attended this year, for the very first time, because one of my screenwriting students alerted me that his short film would be among those featured.

 The festival, I’ve discovered, is eight years old. Naturally, during the pandemic, it was online only. And this year’s event was postponed from fall 2023 to spring 2024 because of the long-lasting Writers Guild strike. Still, the event I just attended was a total wow! Introductory days of festivities and panels were followed by the main event, held this year in Downtown L.A.’s fabulous Los Angeles Theatre, a French baroque-style movie palace where in 1931 Charlie Chaplin once premiered City Lights. The Downtown location, which was mercifully far from the campus disturbances of the past week, served to highlight UCLA Extension’s commitment to offering educational opportunities in L.A.’s business hub. And the swanky afterparty (free to all attendees) was a delight.

 So how were the films? These professional-quality gems, all 15 minutes or under, represented a wide variety of styles, themes, and even nationalities. (There were subtitled films shot in Spanish, French, Turkish, and Farsi)  Among the 19 entries were piquant studies of lost souls; a documentary saluting a  ninety-year-old woman who takes a very personal approach to feeding the hungry, a musical tale of a bear invading an L.A. neighborhood, and a love story involving a malfunctioning android. The five prizes awarded at the end of the day showcased the range and quality of the work on display. The audience prize went to The Dot, a whimsical story of a lonely man in an art gallery. Another honoree was Elevate, about a taut late-night encounter between a security guard and a tenant in the high-rise where she works. Andean Condor, gorgeously shot in South America, was a prize-winner too, as was the uproariously goofy The 1971 Kitchen Grand Brie, which used computer-aided animation to  bring us the world’s tastiest road race, in which racing star Armando Fettuccini finally gets his just desserts.

 I’ve saved the best for last. My former student, Christopher Hills Eaton, was the writer/director/producer of an animated film that condenses the story of a full life into 9 ½ poignant minutes. I had absolutely nothing to do with Driftwood, but I have read  enough of Chris’s past work (and learned enough about his family story) to know him as a man of sensitivity and deep emotions. Driftwood begins with a young sailor knocked into the sea in the chaos surrounding Pear Harbor. His salvation comes as he clings to a large chunk of driftwood, and the eccentrically-shaped log follows him through the rest of his life. When the lights came up, my husband asked me if I had a Kleenex I could spare. This was my first discovery that I wasn’t the only one watching the end of the film through tears.  Bravo, Chris!  

For more information about the festival and this year’s films, see https://www.uclaextension.edu/uclaxfilmfest 


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