Students Light Up the Laemmle

The Laemmle Theater on Second Street, known for endorsing independent or less-commercialized films than the three neighboring theaters on the Promenade, hosted the Santa Monica College Film Association and three other community colleges for their second Inter-Collegiate Film Festival last Wednesday.

The SMC students had previously held a screening of all of their short films at the Art Complex on campus, but this festival was a rare opportunity to compete with those from nearby schools. And as the students mingled in the lobby, waiting for their collective 30 short films to premiere on the large screen in the theater's "Monica Fourplex," they represented what one student called "a diverse collection of up-and-coming filmmakers." Once the audience members had settled in their cushioned seats within the rows, the wall-lights dimmed and the screen lit up to reveal a classic sight: a particularly hairy caveman with a club in one gritty hand. "The Caveman Chronicles" was a satirical, student short film, lasting around five minutes, which opened up the three-hour evening and pulled many laughs from its onlookers.

"It's a totally different experience to watch [one's own] movie on the big screen with an audience," said SMC Film Club member David Niggemann, creator of a trailer-style film called "The Chronicles of Nerdia," "because you're not just watching for yourself, you're paying attention to the reactions of the audience...It's great to share your voice with such a huge number of people."

Several short films following the initial comedy skit displayed a wide range in technical experience as well as the witty and dramatic creations of students from Los Angeles Valley College, Los Angeles City College, Pasadena City College and SMC.

Steve Flood, a SMC film production professor, described the varying skills of the students with whom he works: "We try to teach students how to acquire an image...Some students come into class with some basic knowledge, some with none at all," he said, "it's a learning curve for all of us."

And as the evening went on, three film-industry professionals judged the candidates: Barry Green, an Emmy-Award-winning producer, Marlene Von Arx, a film journalist and voting member of the "Golden Globes," and Todd Phelps, editor of the "Nightly News," all collaborated on the top three winners, while the audience also voted on its personal favorite.

Pasadena City College won the "Audience Award," and L.A. Valley College took home third place, but SMC won both second and first place awards for excellence. "Train of Thought" by Simon Lebsekal won the former, and "Gaffey on Bikes," a professional-appearing documentary about a westside biker by Jay Goldwasser, won the latter.

But the awards weren't the only reason to visit the Inter-Collegiate Film Festival. "I came to support my fellow SMC students and enjoy some short films," said Raphael Sisa, Associated Students' direct of activities, after munching on some buttery theater-popcorn. "[A.S.] partially funded their festival, and I must say they put it to good use," he said. "I hope future A.S. boards will help expand the festival, and help publicize the event. I hope more SMC students check it out."

And SMC students should not only "check out" the festivals and screenings of the SMC Film Club, but also the club itself. Niggemann expressed clearly that "it was pretty much the first thing I asked for when I came to SMC: 'do they have a film club, and where is it?'" According to this student filmmaker, the film club not only provides quality equipment to assist the participating students in their movie endeavors, but also provides workshops and frequent in-depth discussions of films. "We're asking for active participation, which includes movie-making itself," said Niggemann.

And of course, the film club would lack impressive exhibitions, such as those viewed at the festival, without the support of its members and two supervisors, Professor Josh Kanin and Professor Flood. "They are always help and guide us," Niggemann said. And as Professor Kanin stood on stage at the close of the festival, he commended the club for its efforts this semester to "put on this event," pointing out that this festival was unique in that it included only community college filmmaking.

"We witnessed here an amazing eclecticism of genres and styles," he said. And this year's Inter-Collegiate Film Festival certainly presented promise of this same shining versatility from SMC's film department for the semesters to come.