By Michael Yu, Nov. 2, 2021

The California State University Media Arts Festival returned for its 31st year, where students across all 23 CSU campuses showcased their works of art to peers and industry professionals hoping to win the prestigious CSU Media Arts Festival Award.

With 31 finalists this year, there were a wide variety of stories being told, from personal stories to curated news broadcasts. This year, the festival was a melting pot of innovation. The screening of finalist projects ran from Oct. 22 to Oct. 27, while the awards presentation was held on Oct.29, where Cal State Long Beach was a frontrunner by winning in three of the seven categories.

Students from across the CSU system shared what went into making their entries and what they mean to them.

The winner of the Best of Show and Best Narrative award this year, was the film “The Golden Gate.” The film tells the story of a gay man dealing with abuse while living with a homophobic mother.

The film’s director, Pietro Pinto, shared what winning the award meant to him.

“We’ve been in Boston, all over Europe and the states for this film, so it’s been a very long yet exciting journey,” said Pinto. “To win this award at the CSU Media Arts Festival was very important to me because it’s one of the biggest film competitions in California.”

To enter the festival, participants are required to be current students at a CSU campus. The participant’s films cannot feature any copyrighted content and the participants are able to submit their projects in categories such as animation, documentary/creative nonfiction, narrative and promotional.

Started in 1991, the festival is described as an opportunity to have students present their work for review and to help bridge the gap between being a student and working professionally in the industry.

One of the entries, “Nepantla,” is a screenplay that tells the story of an undocumented single mother living in Los Angeles who discovers her mother is on her deathbed back in Guatemala but is unable to leave.

Writer Stephanie Ledesma shared that “Nepantla” is a personal character piece and a look into the life of a United States immigrant. “For me, it was a very personal experience because I had to recollect memories from my childhood. Being able to depict mixed status families was important to me because I am a part of one,” said Ledesma. “I had to think about how that affected me as a first gen Mexican American who is unable to meet my own family back in Mexico,” she added.

From an emotional story about immigration to a lighthearted promotional video for Adobe After Effects, every student who participated at the festival approached their entry in different and creative ways.

The festival encompasses multiple fields of art such as film, broadcasting, video, screenwriting and new media. The director of the festival, Shannon Pringle, shared what it is like running such a large operation.

“To run the Media Arts Festival is so exciting because I get to meet all these different people from different campuses through their work,” said Pringle. “When we have the festival, either in person or online, just feeling the energy of the students and the faculty is so exhilarating.”

With the Media Arts Festival, students from all over California are able to exhibit their passion for art. The festival is a place for young creatives to hone their skills and be recognized for their hard work.

“I use film as a tool of activism, where I am able to show underrepresented communities on the screen. I aspire to be able to shine a light on stories that aren’t usually told in Hollywood,” said Ledesma.

Through their films and screenplays, students brought very personal topics to the festival and used film as their own tool for activism by creating awareness of unique storylines.

Written and directed by New York University Tisch School for the Arts student Cole Swanson, “Baby” is a story about a single Black father caring for his daughter after his girlfriend mysteriously leaves.

With “Baby,” he wanted to share thematic elements that don’t show up on the big screen often, specifically pertaining to the Black perspective.

“Topics like black fatherhood, black masculinity and being able to get vulnerable with these characters in a very intimate and immersive way are important to show in media,” said Swanson. “As a storyteller, I wanted to dive into this black coming of age story that is raw, unfiltered and also full of heart.”

Cast and crew of “Baby” stand ready to shoot a scene. (Courtesy of Justin Aaron Sirkin)

However, Swanson shared that the process to making the film was not an easy one. Producer of the film and student at Cal State Northridge Justin Aaron Sirkin shared that it was difficult to coordinate with crew members across so many different schools and there was a struggle to find actors during the pandemic.

Nevertheless, the cast and crew were able to push forward and finish the film. Mary Antonovich, a student at Vanguard University and co-producer on the film, shared that everyone was able to come together and work to complete the project.

“Everyone respected the project itself and the story, which motivated everyone to show up and put in the work necessary. Everything eventually fell into place beautifully and I was lucky to work with such an incredible cast and crew,” said Antonovich.

Once the film is complete and entries are submitted, finalists are chosen by a jury of media industry professionals. After a screening of all finalist entries, the winners are chosen by judges and announced at the awards ceremony.

With the festival being an annual event, there will always be a chance for students all across California to showcase their talents.

To learn about the Media Arts Festival and screen this year’s winners, visit the official website.

Featured image courtesy of Justin Aaron Sirkin. 

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