Student film "Hurt" screens at SMC along side a preview of UCLA's first feature length film project
On Saturday night, as rowdy crowds of Homecoming dissipated, a large audience gathered at room 165 of the Humanities & Social Sciences building for the screening of SMC Film Department's short film "Hurt," followed by the presentation of a feature-length zombie thriller shot by UCLA film students.
Professor Salvador Carrasco, head of SMC's film production program, introduced "Hurt," the fifth film by SMC's Film 33 class. Shot in 2013, "Hurt" tells the story of a socially isolated, bullied high schooler who begins contemplating a school massacre. Finished only a week before the tragic June 2013 shooting at SMC, the sensitivity of the material inspired the film crew to produce a work that is relevant, intense but tempered.
"'Hurt' is a film we're particularly attached to," said Carrasco. "It affected us all very profoundly. It was a surreal experience, we had been living this fictitious scenario and then it happened in our second home," he added.
Carrasco went on to reveal how, in the aftermath of the shooting, there had been a range of reactions from the filmmakers. Some felt a greater urgency to tell this story, others suggested the film simply be shelved. Eventually, film makers decided it was in their best interest to put the project on hold. "We thought a reasonable mid-point, so to speak, was to wait a bit. That was understandable," he said.
Following Carrasco's introduction, the film was screened and the audience was transported into the world of a dark heart. Written and directed by SMC film student Brandon Chang, "Hurt" follows the daily life of a high schooler named Aaron (played by Matthew Grathwol) who feels trapped in a vortex of rejection and harassment. He looks longingly at the hallway blonde, already dating a jock neanderthal, and is taunted by campus alpha male meatheads. Aaron begins to contemplate ways in which he can vent his rage through the barrel of a gun.
With a style and tone that feels like Gus Van Sant's "Elephant" crossed with Richard Brooks's adaptation of "In Cold Blood," "Hurt" is a baroque parable about today's walking time bombs. Shot with a fluid visual style and scored with an intense, low key electronic soundtrack, the short film offers no easy answers (because there are none), but instead presents a portrait of the kind of disturbed, scarred individuals who snap, and then target their surroundings. It's a meditative film about our Darwinian times.
After the end credits rolled, complete with a dedication to the victims of last year's shooting on campus, Carrasco invited Chang to come up in front of the audience to discuss the film. He was joined by producers Christopher Rojas, RJ Holloway and cast member Forrest Hoffman.
"I was inspired by the events happening all around the world. Every month we seem to hear about a new school shooting. I wanted to learn something about that topic," said Chang when asked by an audience member about the inspiration for the script.
Sterling Shewbert, the principal of the East Los Angeles high school where "Hurt" was shot was also in the audience and stood up to voice appreciation for the project. "The topic is very near and dear to all of us. I was blown away by the welcome the cast and crew gave to our kids [students], they let them hang on their shoulders and see the process. The behaviors you see in the film are out there, but if we as educators and other students don't jump on them immediately and quick they turn into what we see," he said.
The next step will now involve submitting "Hurt" to film festivals, a terrain where SMC's film program has achieved major recognition. Earlier this year the program's first project made it to the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France.
After the Q&A; session was over a special added bonus was provided for the audience. SMC alumni and now UCLA film student Dallas King presented an unfinished cut of "U.Z.L.A.," a feature-length zombie film which serves as his thesis for graduating but is also the UCLA Masters' program first ever, full feature project.
A cross between "Spring Breakers" and "World War Z," King's film is a B-movie romp where dorm sluts spread a herpes-style virus that unleashes a zombie apocalypse in the UCLA campus with only a small band of students left alone to survive.
"Those guys who go to Comic Con, who have no girlfriends, well some of them do, and play videogames without changing their clothes for three days, I'm making this film for them as a genre filmmaker," explained King.
And with that the curtain fell on another evening of film culture at SMC.