SMC professor and films win awards at Santa Monica Film Festival

On Saturday night, the screening room of the Aero Theatre on Montana Boulevard was aglow with some of the best work by Santa Monica College's film program. Three selections from the growing program were screened. Two of the films, "Bird" and "Solidarity," picked up two major awards for Best Script and Best Short Film. The highlight of the evening came when professor Salvador Carrasco, who heads the film program, was given a special award in recognition for his work.

For SMC the event was a rare chance to have student work screened in the same venue which annually hosts revivals of classics such as "Lawrence Of Arabia" and "Citizen Kane." While the Aero lineup usually includes the names of masters like Luis Bunuel and Stanley Kubrick, on Saturday audience members were treated to the first glimmers of emerging talent.

The three films screened were an assortment of the kind of diverse, edgy work SMC film students have been conjuring since the program's initiation in 2012. The films are produced and shot as part of the Film 33 production class taught by Carrasco.

"Bird," written and directed by Brittany Rae Barber, was a baroque story about a boy growing up amid drugs with a trafficking father in the depths of Los Angeles. It was an elegant, poetic take on the material, a cross between "Los Olvidados" by Bunuel and Kieslowski's "Bleu."

"Bird" was followed by "Hurt," a work by Brandon Chang which deals with school shootings and which made its debut at SMC in November and "Solidarity," the award-winning short about a pair of Mexican and Lithuanian immigrants in L.A. by former SMC film student Dustin Brown. The film has even screened at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival in France.

After the films screened consecutively, the filmmakers were invited on stage to discuss their work and answer questions from the audience. The only director missing was Barber, who is currently studying film at the Prague Film School in the Czech Republic. In her place was the producer of "Bird," Christopher Rojas.

"It became a juxtaposition of two different worlds, two different cultures," said Brown when describing how he conjured the idea for "Solidarity."

"Brittany wants everyone to know she's very proud about having her work screened here, she's very excited," said Rojas when commenting on Barber's absence. "She wanted to tell a coming of age story and explore a father and son relationship. We flew in the lead actor from Mexico," he went on to explain.

"I wanted to tell a story that's important. We see this kind of thing way too often. There are too many school shootings. So I wanted to tell this story from a different angle and make it somewhat relatable," commented Chang on "Hurt." He described how the tragic June 2013 shooting at SMC occurred two days after the project finished shooting.

After the Q&A David Katz, the festival's founder, stepped in front of the audience to hand out the festival's awards. The SMC films received two awards. Barber was awarded the Best Script award for "Bird," and the award for Best Short was handed to "Solidarity." "One thing that stood out at this festival was quality," commented Katz.

Katz then proceeded to introduce the "Impact Award" which is given to individuals of particular accomplishment and impact in the local film world. This year the award was given to Carrasco for the work accomplished in SMC's film program. Previous winners of the award include James Cameron and Pierce Brosnan.

"The SMC Film Program is in its infancy," said Katz. "It doesn't matter where you're from, how much money you make, where you were two days ago, as long as you have the heart, the soul and drive and ability to apply," he said when describing the SMC film program's unique characteristics.

Carrasco took the stage and thanked the festival for the award. He also thanked SMC for its support and SMC President Chui L. Tsang who was in the audience. "One's vision would remain insubstantial, were it not for the integrity, hard work, dedication and unconditional loyalty of extraordinary individuals," said Carrasco when acknowledging all the names of those who work closely to make the film program a reality.

After the ceremony ended, SMC President Tsang commented on the evening and emphasized that many students cannot afford film school due to the high costs, but at SMC that is not the case. "We're incredibly proud of what our film program is accomplishing and what Salvador Carrasco has been able to do," he said, adding "These are incredible students. I loved all the films. They were very powerful and wonderful."