SMC's "Solidarity" screened at Cannes Film Festival
As most of France prepared for the European Union elections, others gathered by the glistening shore of the Riviera for the 67th annual Cannes Film Festival.
Cannes is the world's most famous and notable gathering of the cinema world. It was there that classics like "Apocalypse Now" and "E.T." made their thunderous premieres.
This year the festival featured a special addition, the first ever screening of a short film produced by Santa Monica College's Film 33 class and directed by SMC student Dustin Brown.
The short film titled "Solidarity," which tells the story of two immigrants, a Lithuanian butcher (played by former SMC student Mantas Valantiejus) and Mexican sweatshop worker (played by renowned Mexican actress Elpidia Carrillo), surviving in modern, urban Los Angeles, was completed in 2012 as the first film ever filmed by the class.
Led by SMC Professor Salvador Carrasco, the class immerses students in the filmmaking process. The film has been screened at various film festivals such as BAFTA, and has secured a string of awards along the way.
For Cannes, "Solidarity" was invited to participate in the American Pavilion Emerging Filmmaker Showcase. This is a competition at the festival which features only 10 to 15 selected films which are a combination of student films and films from emerging, first time directors. For SMC it is a sign of the international potential of the films being produced by its crop of talented students.
"It was a wonderful experience being able to attend the Cannes Film Festival," said Brown upon returning from Cannes.
Brown described an atmosphere of full regalia at Cannes.
"It is a very beautiful city, very fancy. All the people there dressed their best, not only in the screenings and festival areas but even out on the streets walking around," he said.
The act of watching a film in the country that gave the world Jean Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and the French New Wave was an immersive experience as well.
"One thing I love about the French is how much they love cinema. Being able to attend the premiere of Ken Loach’s film 'Jimmy’s Hall' in a huge auditorium and seeing how the audience reacted was almost like attending a rock concert," Brown said. "After it was over, everyone stood up and clapped in unison with the music."
Cannes is closely followed all over the world by film aficionados in particular because not only are major titles premiered, but it is also a gathering of the industry itself from directors and stars to producers and distributors.
Brown's name was listed as a director along with such titans as David Cronenberg and Ken Loach. This year the red carpet featured the arrival of stars like Nicole Kidman (who starred in the disastrously-received "Grace Of Monaco").
"It’s a market to buy and sell films, to network with companies. It has the pavilions area where many country’s film industries are represented from around the world, and every restaurant, hotel, bar, party, is related to the festival and film industry," Brown said.
Brown emphasized that it could be difficult for aspiring filmmakers to have their work recognized.
"It is also very difficult in terms of how the industry works. A lot of people are there strictly for the market, to buy and sell films, and not to watch films. They are looking for certain types of films and specific genres and there are so many people it can be difficult to get noticed," he said.
The screening itself of "Solidarity" was a moment Brown will not soon forget. It was screened on a pavilion that overlooked the Riviera, followed by a Q&A; session and a reception.
Brown's parents, who were traveling at the time in Barcelona, Spain, also made the trip to attend the screening.
"That was probably my best memory from the trip, to be able to share it with them and the other cast and crew members," Brown said.
Also joining Brown for the trip was Gintare Bandinskaite, the film's production designer and his girlfriend of seven years. Together they were swept into the bustling, break neck-paced atmosphere of Cannes.
"Being able to share that experience together was a beautiful thing. We were so busy at the festival with events, screenings, parties, and meetings; it was hard to see much of the rest of the city. We did get to eat at some great French restaurants though," Brown said.
Brown was able to catch a few screenings by notable directors including "Coming Home" by China's Zhang Yimou, which Brown described as deeply moving, and the premiere of "Jimmy's Hall," the latest from England's Ken Loach.
"I like how all of the films I’ve seen by him feature strong social justice issues," Brown said.
He was also able to attend a special work in progress screening of an upcoming adaptation of the classic book "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran. The event was presented by the film's producer, actress Salma Hayek and in attendance was director Alfonso Cuaron, who recently won the Best Director Oscar for "Gravity."
Now that he's back in the United States, Brown is refocusing on continuing to get "Solidarity" noticed and work on future projects. But reaching the pinnacle of the film festival world is essential for an aspiring auteur.
"You have to make an effort to meet people and promote yourself and your film," Brown said. "It can be difficult and awkward, but it’s really the best way to put yourself out there."