CSU student filmmakers win awards at Annual Media Arts Festival

By Greg Karp, Nov. 7, 2023

California State University Media Arts received more than 200 film submissions from CSU film and animation students this year, in time for the Media Arts Festival Oct. 26.  

The festival’s panel of faculty and industry leaders selected and announced four finalists to receive certificates, trophies and cash prizes of $500, according to Shannon Pringle, the assistant director of production for the Media Arts Festival.  

Pringle said CSU faculty and staff review incoming projects and forward their top picks to industry personnel for review. 

Through close examination of 206 entries, Media Arts Festival judges awarded the four films “Found You,” “SHRED,” “Kites” and “Blin.”

“Blin ‘Circus’” by Lada Egorova movie poster.

“Found You,” directed by San Jose State animation and illustration student Marijane Vargas is a stylized animation film reminiscent of character and set designs from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Coraline.”  

“Found You” by Marijane Vargas movie poster.

The animated short centers around two children playing a game of hide-and-seek during the midnight hours in a forest. The camera pans along miniature trees and log cabins, illuminated by flickering lanterns.

Vargas establishes protagonist Lucy and her fear of being caught by the secondary protagonist, Margot, by transforming the girl into a wolf. Lucy believes she is alone in her sudden transformation into the animal, showing signs of panic and disbelief as she grows ears, a snout and a tail. 

“I think a theme that we were looking at was finding a community that you’re a part of,” Vargas said. “When you do feel isolated or a bit of an outcast, you never know when there’s another person out there, just like you.” 

Vargas explained the film’s hybrid dynamic styles of 3D animation and practical, miniature sets to mimic stop-motion techniques.  

“We had to come up with an actual scale for our 3D models on the computer, and we did research on lighting and compositing to match up the look and feel of our 3D to the look and feel of our props and sets,” Vargas said.

Awarded for Best Documentary/Creative Nonfiction film, “SHRED” is centered around three roller skating friends, directed by California State Univeristy Northridge Alumna Giovanna Trujillo. 

“Shred” by Giovanna Trujillo movie poster.

“When I’m skating, nothing else matters,” says Daze Flores in the beginning of the film, as a shot of the camera slowly zooms in on a spinning wheel of a roller skate. Daze, along with her friends Hazel Romero and Kaitlin Espinoza, leave skateboarders and spectators stunned at skateparks as they perform wild tricks on their “quads.” 

Split up into three separate interview segments of the skaters, “SHRED” is not a film about people who skate but rather an introspective look into the lives of skaters.  

Trujillo took on “SHRED” after writing a script treatment in 2020, after one of her professors asked her what she finds interesting and told her to include a lesser-known subject that other people should know about.

Vargas then shot and edited a film about roller skating with funding from a production grant by a STARZ’s #TakeTheLead partnership.

“As a roller skater that’s progressed mentally and emotionally, through having a cathartic outlet in skating and being around other Latinx and queer Latinx roller skaters, I just thought that this is a world so dear to me and that others don’t know about,” said Trujillo. 

Winning Best Narrative film at the CSU Media Arts Festival, “Kites,” is written and directed by the late Leizl Bitas.  

“Kites” is centered around two prison inmates on opposite sides of the world who communicate with each other through written letters in the form of paper kites.

“Kites” by Liezl Bitas movie poster.

The two protagonists Isabel and Alonzo, played by Alyssa Bermido and Ahmael Balraj respectively, form a relationship as pen pals after Alonzo sends Isabel a kite. 

Director Leizl Bitas drew much of the film’s inspiration from places where isolation is most prominent while portraying the real-life injustices of internationally incarcerated peoples. 

Locked in an American cell, Alonzo is depicted as living in a much cleaner and better-funded prison than Isabel’s Philippine prison cell with dirt-stained floors and a broken window. 

Living conditions for Isabel grow worse as she receives a metallic bucket to urinate in and is physically assaulted by the prison guards regularly. 

“These two prisons across the world have two very different types of conditions happening, simultaneously,” said Cal State Northridge alumnus and “Kites” co-editor Nicholas Dobry. “To see the contrast between what an American prison is like, compared to a Filipino prison is almost surreal.”

The 33rd annual CSU Media Arts Festival concludes with four award-winning productions of different scale, themes and human voices. 

Student filmmakers like Vargas, Trujillo and Dobry represent thousands of other student-artists across the CSU system with their award-winning films, “Found You,” “SHRED” and “Kites.” 

CSU Media Arts will continue to support student filmmakers in 2024 with the 34th Annual Media Arts Festival. 

Feature images courtesy of Shannon Pringle

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