Jacob Gonzales/HIGHLANDER

On Thursday, April 27, UCR students showcased their passion and talents for the art of filmmaking at the latest film festival to hit the campus in recent months, the 2017 MCS Media Festival hosted by the media and cultural studies department located at INTS 1128.

Around the 5 o’clock start time, a bundle of students were gathered in front of the screening room. As guests signed up to enter the event, a bevy of foods ranging from sandwiches and light snacks were served outside to the guests. With a headcount of roughly 20 people, the crowd seemed pretty enthusiastic to have such a small audience, given how much chatter pervaded throughout the room. Nevertheless, the films of the evening began promptly at 5:30 p.m.

The first film of the night, “Starlight” was the most mysterious of them all. Directed by Jacob Gonzales, the film followed a young woman who, as she finds her way home, discovers mysterious tarot cards along the way. Filmed during the night hours in downtown Riverside, what stood out to me were the gorgeous shots of scenery — one in particular depicting our nameless protagonist in front of a dimly lit tunnel — looked like it came straight out of a painting. For being the first film of the night, it provided the most head scratching premise of them all, leaving the ending up to interpretation.

Next up was the most ambitious film of the night, “Tides of War.” As part of a short segment that was filmed from a 60-page script the film’s director, Carlos Viejobueno wrote, the short film follows a U.S. Naval intelligence officer, Rick Southerland, in a 1930s setting as he aides and abides by the law by helping citizens. The short piece was the most appealing and big-budgeted film of the night, with costumes and sets faithfully recreated from the golden period of gangsters and jazz in popular culture.

The festival was also home to two features by Nathan Goodwin — “Sketch” and “Dirty Boy.” I managed to catch “Dirty Boy” at the aforementioned film festival that was held at UCR, but “Sketch” was brand new to me. Admittedly, Goodwin’s second film of the night did suffer from audio issues, which made some of the dialogue difficult to hear. But on the bright side, it featured one of the strongest performances of the night by actor J. J. Robertson who played a homeless man struggling to deal with the loss of his family.

One of the impressionable highlights of the evening was the short, “Award Winning Student Film,” which provided an on-the-nose satirization of the many cliches associated with amateur student films. Clocking in at three minutes and 30 seconds, the audience (particularly one individual sitting in front) was led to absolute tears through its gags of overdramatic acting and use of  generic audio previews.

In what seemed to be more of an interlude, the short one and half minute-long “Staying Power” was dedicated to the idea of hope and was made in memoriam to an individual named Sarah.

Closing off the two-hour event were two documentaries, “Fight for 92” and “When the Streets Read Ep. 1.” The former was a fascinating insight about a specific group of unsung heroes of the U.S. armed forces: Latinos. The latter seemed to be a short film part of a longer project that aims to tell the story of specific individuals that defy the stereotypes set against them. This particular “episode” followed Nick Williams, an African-American comic book artist and animator who lives in the low socioeconomic neighborhood of the Inland Empire, otherwise known as the “Ghettos.”

The end of the event brought with it a brief award ceremony. All films that were entered into the festival were awarded a complimentary Golden Bear for participation. People in attendance that represented their respective films went up to receive the award, and for something called a Golden Bear, the award was shockingly small in size (I’m talking about something the size of your palm).The presenter of the night mentioned that past awards were given out based on categories. But this time surprisingly only one film was awarded a “prestigious” prize. After a suspenseful buildup, the name of the film flashed on the screen, and it was none other than Viejobueno’s film, the espionage thriller “Tides of War.” Amidst the hype of receiving the top honor of the night, Viejobueno opened his envelope in front of the audience and revealed it to be an undisclosed amount of money.

I caught up with Viejobueno, a third-year film production major, after the event was over to ask him about the process of making such a 1930s focused film. He noted that it was a pleasure “seeing the characters come alive on the screen” due to all the effort he had penned in in the original 60-page script in the fall of 2016.

Also in attendance was  Rick Southerland himself, fifth-year digital film and production major Elijah Simmons, the star of Viejobueno’s film. On working with the cast and crew he said that in his time as an actor, he “has never worked with a cast and crew so professional before” and pointed out Viejobueno’s spirited direction as the driving force of the film.