Courtesy of Tony Baltierra
Courtesy of Tony Baltierra

High school — two words strong enough to send a shiver down any spine. The good times and the bad, the friendships and not-so-friendly, the dances, the awkward hairstyles and fashion choices — there’s a certain level of loss and hope captured by those four short years. “Sadie Hawkins,” the latest film by UCR’s theatre department, endeavors to capture those sentiments with a good dose of fun.

In “Sadie Hawkins” we follow Abby, a recently dumped 30-something. She meets Doug, who needs a date to his high school Sadie Hawkins dance, and an unlikely friendship is born. Presented as part of the theatre department’s second annual film festival, “Sadie Hawkins” marks the department’s second production — and another directing credit for acclaimed on-campus Renaissance man, Robin Russin. One of the most notable aspects of this independent project is that it was assisted throughout the process by a devoted team of student volunteers, providing hands-on experience to prospective filmmakers over its two-week shooting period.

“It’s a film that we did within the department,” Russin shared in an interview, “but it’s also a class and it’s meant to be a learning experience, so students who had no prior experience on the set were as welcome as those students who had quite a bit of experience.”

And while the thought of learning on the job might be both terrifying and exciting, third-year theatre major Andrew Banuelos’ experience was worth the 12-hour shooting days. “It’s a good experience because for everyone our age — unless you have the right connections or know the right people — it’s kind of hard to get on set,” he said. “People were willing to help and teach you. I was interested in camera, but I was working in sound, so when I had down time, I would go watch them.” And as for the cast? “It was just a great cast,” Banuelos said. “Once you fall in love with the characters, you fall in love with the movie.”

On-set, an average day for Banuelos involved showing up on set after getting a call time, setting up equipment and then going through each scene in a fast-paced day that could last from 6 p.m. to midnight — or longer. The class Banuelos had to take to get involved in the production, THEA 170: Advanced Dramatic Production, is capped at 30 students. But both the class and production are not solely limited to theatre; media and cultural studies (MCS), our other hub for future filmmakers and critical thinkers, also has a hand in productions on campus, although the divide between the departments has been a point of confusion after both programs began their respective film festivals last year.

But filmmakers can rest easy in knowing that both departments — and both film festivals, for that matter — meet complementary goals. In email correspondence, Production Designer and Production Manager Carmen Gomez said, “The department of media and cultural studies is as it sounds. They study the impact of media on our society. We are a department of production. They study the art and its impact, we create the art. Both departments are beneficial to the overall life and health of our university.”

Add that to the fact that some theatre students seek out MCS classes when they want narrative or critical studies, and some MCS students join production classes in theatre, and there’s one take-away: The MCS and theatre departments meet different goals, but both are headed toward a developing future for filmmaking on campus. The desire to get involved in productions, to learn hands-on experience from professionals — that’s all we can ask for as college students.

To this end, Banuelos hopes to “let students know there are clubs like the Film and Photography Society that are actually making films and putting them into competitions.” And given that students have the resources to make and edit films more cheaply and easily now than ever before — working just from Final Cut Pro on a MacBook a la Louis C.K., for instance — Russin hopes to see the university get behind the independent spirit of its creative thinkers.

“The creative economy is the most important economy in Southern California,” he said. “And so the investment the university makes in students who are going into that — into those fields — is a very wise investment, and we hope that they continue to increase their support for it.”

“Sadie Hawkins” debuts as part of the theatre department’s second annual film festival, screening Jan. 16 – 18 at Arts 113. Tickets are free with a UCR student ID.