Tim Baca/Highlander
Tim Baca/Highlander

Last Thursday, May 14 and Friday, May 15, UCR’s very own department of theatre, film and digital production held its third annual film festival where UCR students, professors and alumni all showcased their films on the silver screen at the Studio Theatre at the Arts Building. The films accompanied the grand debut of the department’s own short film, “Control Your State,” The night was filled with awe and laughter as UCR filmmakers stepped into the spotlight.

As the lights dimmed, the festival immediately captured the audience’s attention with the most visually interesting films of the bunch. Films such as “Azalea and the Mountain Dweller” by Gabriel Garcia Jr., “Anamnesis” by Carlos Viejobueno and “Average Day” by Sonia Andriamiarisoa had the pleasure of opening the festival. “Azalea and the Mountain Dweller” hooked the audience with an epic score and striking character visuals, bringing fairy tale characters to life, while “Anamnesis” told the story of a young man reminiscing over his loved one from the afterlife through contrasting color and a classical soundscape. Following the trend of visual appeal, “Average Day” played with time lapses and motion by syncing its visuals with poetry and music.

But the festival wasn’t just about visuals.

Films like Branden Griffith’s “Can You be My Lookout,” David Moriya’s “A Piece of Cake” and Oscar Ho’s “The Proposal” broke through the seriousness of the festival and lightened up the mood. Griffith’s raunchy comedy told the story of a young wannabe thug who gets caught in the middle of his friend’s sexual exploits. Moriya’s film exhibited the foolery that transpires over a piece of cake after a night of heavy partying, while Ho’s impressive one-take comedy showed the struggles of a character’s attempt to create the perfect wedding proposal. Sequences like having an order for 300 balloons mistaken as an order of one balloon for the movie “300” in Ho’s film showcased the comedic side of UCR’s student filmmakers.

The festival also included documentaries from student filmmakers. Jake Rich’s “Tune In, Turn On, Find Your Passion: College Radio in 2015” took the audience behind the scenes at UCR’s very own radio station, KUCR, and local station KSPC. The documentary explored the world of student DJs and their impact on the student community. Sterling Hampton’s “Throw-Away Child” told the story of four of his childhood friends and explored different struggles faced in broken homes.

In terms of sheer production value, the festival didn’t disappoint either. Alex Gardel’s “The Who, What, and Why We Won’t Work” and Dallas Harden’s “Illumination” were two films that stood out. Gardel’s short comedy took us from restaurants to the inside of a movie theater, while Harden’s sci-fi film gave us beautiful visuals of the Santa Monica pier. Professor Charles Evered’s short film, “Out,” was a breath of fresh air, telling the tale of a man who must come to terms with his sexuality and losing his home.

My personal favorite of the festival had to be Adam Wagner’s “Citizen Insane.” With quirky comedy and dark humor, Wagner tells the story of a character who wants to be different and finds solace in serial killing. He brings to life story elements like a character talking to his journal, sequences seeing missing dog posters that read “Help us find our dog,” and “No, find our dog instead” and the main character refusing to clean up his victim’s bodies. Unfortunately, Wagner’s film, which made so many people laugh, was sadly unable to be applauded, as an awkward transition between films didn’t allow audience members time to praise the film before moving on to the next.

As much as the festival was a showcase of talent behind the camera, the festival displayed talent in front of the camera as well. First-year student Sam Li and alumnus Christopher Park were men of many faces, as they appeared in most of the films collectively. Li played the role of a bully, a heartbroken lover, a wannabe thug and a cake-obsessed partygoer. On the other hand, Park had the chance to play a narcissistic pretty boy, a quirky bachelor and a loner who goes through an intense scientific experiment. Both actors stole the show, bringing student visions to life.

The big finale was the department film, “Control Your State,” written by MFA student Lisa Umhoefer and directed by Nate Hochstettler an MFA student as well. It told the tale of Isabella (Olya Masek), a vampire, who wants to find her soulmate, but mistakes Karl (Sam Li), a pseudo-intellectual, as her means to escape her loneliness. The film showcased the hard work of students and department professors alike as the film was a harsh four days of shooting. But even with those difficulties, Chrystal Kim still showed the joy of filmmaking in her behind the scenes documentary that accompanied the film. “Even though you’re here until 12 a.m., it’s ok because you’re with friends,” said third-year student Olya Masek in the film. The department film was guided by the hands of cinematographer Dean Cundey, who shot classics like “Jurassic Park,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “The Thing.” Cundey not only shot the film but taught courses showing students the process of working on the set.

Whether you were a student, professor, alumnus or professional, the department Film Festival showcased the love for filmmaking at UCR. The festival was not just a festival, but a celebration of the work it takes to put one’s vision on the screen.

Disclosure: Jake Rich works at the Highlander as managing editor. Oscar Ho works at the Highlander as distribution manager. Stasean Washington worked on the film “Control Your State” as a grip.