SMC students showcase their own short films

In front of a full house of more than 200 people on Thursday, Film 33, a short film directing course at Santa Monica College, presented four short films and one trailer, each directed and produced by SMC students. The event was hosted by Salvador Carrasco, who teaches the film course, which gives students the opportunity to experience every aspect of creating and developing a film project.

Guests included SMC media professor Frank Dawson, Superintendent and President Chui L. Tsang, the directors and producers of each film, and several actors involved with the films.

Perhaps the most notable film shown, and the only one to have already premiered, was the award-winning short film "Solidarity."

The film, directed by former SMC student Dustin Brown, won the award for best dramatic short at the San Diego Film Festival, and placed as a finalist for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts student film award among six finalists, including the American Film Institute, University of Southern California, University of California, Los Angeles, Chapman University, and California Institute of the Arts.

The film follows a Hispanic woman and a Lithuanian man, each struggling to deal with loss and turbulence in their lives.

"I think the important thing is that these undocumented people that live here and work here and have their families here, and everything is here, but they're treated like not a full human being," Brown said. "Some of them work in almost slave labor conditions, and they're looked down upon, and they have every disadvantage you can think of because they happen to be from another country. I think it's an injustice."

Brown said his intention was not for the film to preach the cause, but to provide awareness of the mistreatment that follows immigrants.

The majority of the film is spoken in the characters' native languages, which Brown felt brought realism to the film.

"Nothing rings a film false in the sense of if it's in another country or somewhere, but they're speaking English," he said.

With the film's language, Brown was not only "trying to be true to life," but the foreign speech also helps understand part of each character's culture.

"Solidarity" was the first film of SMC's film production program to be screened outside the college.

"I'm very proud," Brown said. "It was kind of just a happy accident, and the success that it's gotten is great. Everybody involved is happy about it, and I'm thankful to Santa Monica College and the film program."

Brown even spoke about evolving "Solidarity" into a full-length film.

"I'm writing a full-length script right now, so that is the next thing on the horizon," he said.

In addition to "Solidarity," three other students' short films were showcased.

The first to make its debut was Ronja Jansz' "Annabel Lee," a film about a man named Mario and his much scrutinized attempt to cope with the death of his wife, Annabel.

Next up was "Rachel 9000," a science-fiction allegory directed by Angelo Chavez. The film revolved around a female robot named Rachel, originally made to serve and please her maker, who rebels in an attempt to find her own humanity.

The last student project screened was Morgan Peterson's "I'll Take Care of You," a film about a law student who is raped and finds herself face to face with her attacker after he is accused to have targeted other victims.

Added as a surprise for the audience was "Remnants," a short film produced by two current SMC students, Christopher Rojas, the director, and RJ Holloway, as well as former SMC student Jennifer Miguel, who were all selected by Sony Pictures to create this short for one of their film training programs.

During the screening, the audience was given a sneak peak of the film production program's current big project "Hurt," an emotionally charged film that revolves around a school shooting. Coincidentally, the crew finished filming only a week before the SMC shooting in June.

"It was very confusing for all of us," Carrasco said. "We had been living that scenario, imagining, trying to understand things, and then it happens here at our second home. It was quite an experience."

"Hurt" is currently in post-production, but the trailer alone has already left an impact on those who were in attendance.

"I can already see this is going to be a really powerful film because of the tragic incidents that happened here," Dawson said. "It’s really going to resonate, and I think it’s going to be a truly important film."

The film course has only produced five films thus far, but has already been recognized for its work and potential, Carrasco said.

"Since I started at SMC, we've had students transfer to USC, NYU and UCLA, which are considered the top film schools in the country, and we also have students who are already making a living as filmmakers," he said. "That is precisely the philosophy behind it — to give our students the option to transfer to the best film schools in the country and to prepare them for the job market."

Although Carrasco leads the charge, he attributed the success of the film production program to his students.

"In my hiring interview, I was asked to think outside the box, and this is the result," Carrasco said. "But I'm not doing the thinking. It's my students."


Nathan Berookhim contributed to this report.