Cinema students to compete at college film festival

Make a five-minute film in less than a week? Not a problem for SF State cinema students whose movies will compete against other top college productions at what is billed as the world's largest student film festival.

A screen shot from the short film

SF State students Nathan Brown (from left), Noah Orozco and Ian Hopps in "The Tenderplex."

Several SF State students' films will be screened at Campus MovieFest, which will take place June 21 to 23 in Hollywood. The event showcases productions from students across North America and the U.K. that compete in several categories for cash prizes and exposure. SF State received more nominations than any other participating university, and one film from SF State students is the most nominated at the event.

Campus MovieFest spends a week at participating colleges and universities, providing equipment if needed, while students produce their films. Three movies from each campus are chosen to compete in the Hollywood festival in the best picture, best comedy and best drama categories. A nationwide online contest is held to determine a "wild card" film to also compete for best picture. In addition, the festival awards "Golden Tripods" in additional categories, with five nominees selected from all participating films in each category.

Four films from SF State are competing at this year's event. "Ninjas Need Not Apply," directed by Mark Jaramilla, is nominated for best picture and "The Tenderplex," directed by Christopher Allen, for best comedy. "East Bay Dillinger," directed by Anne Rottke, is one of four finalists for the wild card entry and was also nominated for best soundtrack. "In the Forest of the Darkness," directed by Jason Zavaleta, is the most nominated film at the festival, with nods for best picture and Golden Tripods for best actor (student Brennan Cook) and best actress (student Alix Cuadra). It is also one of ten finalists in a special social justice category that recognizes films about difficult issues and people making a positive impact in their community.

A screen shot from the short film

SF State students Alix Cuadra (left) and Brennan Cook are being recognized as two of the top performers in a worldwide student film festival.

Participating in the festival for the second year, senior Jason Zavaleta set out to make a film to compete for the social justice award, and chose to shine a light on the ongoing issue of human sex trafficking. "In the Forest of the Darkness" is based on the true story of a San Francisco woman who sheltered girls in her church to protect them from becoming sex slaves.

"It's inspiring that a film festival is promoting and recognizing a film that has such an important meaning," Zavaleta said. "It makes me hopeful that people will start to talk about this problem, especially in San Francisco."

Both of the film's actors are also participating in Campus MovieFest for the second time. Cook won the Golden Tripod for best actor last year in Zavaleta's entry; Cuadra was nominated for best actress. Making a film about such an important topic in less than a week helps an actor perfect their craft, said Cuadra, who plays the girlfriend of a sex trafficker in the film. She graduated in May and plans to move to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.

"Campus MovieFest teaches you how to deal with stress and how to deal with different sorts of people in a short amount of time, and it hones your creativity," she said.

SF State cinema faculty are very supportive of student projects, said senior Anna Rottke, who as an example cited a professor who helped her obtain insurance for a filming location for her Campus MovieFest entry, "East Bay Dillinger." The film is a satirical music video loosely based on the story of bank robber John Dillinger. "The faculty care so much and they do everything to prepare you for a career in the best way possible," she said.

Filming in just seven days is chaotic, said recent graduate Christopher Allen, who produced and directed "The Tenderplex," a quirky comedy about guys who attempt to convert their friend's apartment in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood into a movie theater to impress his date. This is his second year in the festival but the first time he will travel to Hollywood to see his film screened, and he says the hard work is worth it.

"It's going to be cool to be able to watch my film in front of a wide audience," he said.

To watch the films, click on the following links:

--Jonathan Morales