Student film festival offers creativity, snacks

Nothing complements a night of cinematic originality quite like free popcorn.  While the refreshments were satisfying, the real treat at the third annual SSU-TV Film Fest was the chance to watch the finished products of the award-winning directors. 

Three student-produced films were selected as finalists and shown on the big screen Tuesday evening. SSU-TV General Manager Conor McElhaney hosted the viewing event together with senior Molly Rosenberg in a not-so-full Cooperage.

Many Communication and Media Studies majors, who either starred in the films or were friends with the producers, came to watch alongside other student film fanatics.

Bonus student film projects from previous years were also played that night, and while it was apparent the videos weren’t contenders for any awards, they still proved to be entertaining. One film, for example, parodied many blockbuster hits, including: “The Hangover,” “The Great Gatsby,” “Mean Girls” and “Lord of the Rings.”

The project, aptly titled “The Great Hangover to Rule the Mean Girls,” amused the crowd in numerous scenes, including one featuring a scrubby Gandalf impersonator who yelled “You will get ass” before handing a bottle of vodka to a teenage Frodo.

Although they could be funny, there was an obvious gap in the level of professionalism between the older films and the contest finalists.

The first award-winning film played was third place finalist Cesar Cruz’s “The Rollin’ Brothers.” A wide shot of the beautiful countryside divided by a highway where a Hispanic teenager in a black leather jacket was driving an Oldsmobile-style car was the opening scene.

The main character, Ricky, met his friends down by a local high school, and it was immediately apparent they were all a part of a gang. The Rollin’ Brothers were all adorned in 50s outfits similar to “Grease,” with leather jackets and cuffed plain white T-shirts.  

Members of the rival gang, the Dukes, are soon introduced, and included in the group is a pretty girl who Ricky is apparently smitten with. The rest of the film portrays the feud between the two gangs, and the death of Ricky during a street fight with the Dukes marks the end of the story.

Cruz’s project was reminiscent of S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders” in that it told the story of a group of boys who just wanted to be respected, but only knew how to obtain that respect through violence. The acting in the film was excellent, and while the audio in some of the clips could be improved upon, the story was edited together very well.

The second place winner was David Tedla’s documentary: “The Zulla Haile Story.” Tedla’s piece took the viewer on a journey through the life of a now accomplished Christian man who was once on a path of self-destruction.

In the very beginning of the film, Haile said in an interview with Tedla, “Unless you learn to discipline yourself in certain ways, you’re always going to be empty.”

Tedla did an excellent job in editing together the inspirational story of a man who once sold drugs for a living that now manages a sober living home. Coherent narration was paired well with commentary from both friends of Zulla, as well as Zulla himself. Tedla said he was tentative in submitting his documentary to the film fest.

“I did have hesitation submitting it because I felt like people may be turned off by the mention of God, Jesus and a preacher,” said Tedla, “but I thought about it and said, ‘Why should I care about what other people think?’ So I submitted it on the last day and I got second place. Not bad.”

First place was awarded to Evan Croker for his impressive production of two separate music videos. The first video, by rap group NA$A, was titled “Undermine.” The hip-hop duo was filmed by Croker at numerous locations, from forested areas to rooftops.

One aspect of Croker’s cinematography the judges liked in particular was his excellent use of shot composition. Quick cuts and cool effects were added to complete a stylish video.

The second music video, titled “Love and Hate,” was performed by artists Jonasy and Mike Stad. A softer song with a rhythm and blues hook played as a soundtrack to scenes of the two rappers performing their song in front of a lake and in a backyard. Cuts to the artists’ silhouettes while rapping added to the aesthetic.

While the SSU-TV Film Fest produced some quality video projects, the organization of the event could be improved on. With a little more exposure, maybe next year a larger crowd will be eager to gather and enjoy these original student films.

Disclaimer: Evan Croker is a photographer for the Sonoma State STAR.