After nearly sweeping the competition last year, Long Beach State’s film and electronic arts department took up numerous spots on the finalist list for the 2019 California State University Media Arts Festival.
In 2018, the university won six of the eight “Best Of” awards presented. Since 2016, the department has taken home a total of 78 awards.
“[Film] a very impactful discipline,” said Anne Justine D’Zmura, department chair of film and electronic arts. “Our students’ stories are important to tell.”
Since 1991, the Media Arts Festival has provided CSU students studying film, broadcasting, video, screenwriting and new media the chance to have their talents critiqued. CSULB students have proven to be serious contenders each year, having had more success in the competition than any other CSU school.
CSULB students received a number of awards this year, including first places for documentary and narrative (Janine Anne Uyanga and Michael Hans Banares’ “Justice Delayed”). Students from the College of the Arts were recognized for their animation work, and Trilina Mai, Max Phan and Khanh Bui took home an Audience Choice Award for “Push.”
“It is an incredibly diverse department,” said assistant professor Adam Moore. “We encourage stories to be written from the experiences that the students have lived through.”
The head of the FEA screenwriting track, Moore encourages his students to relay their most personal stories through their work, an approach that he believes makes CSULB film students stand out.
“The DNA of every script written in the department is thematic character-driven storytelling,” he said. “That’s at the core of every story we write…I think that’s why you see our students, from a story standpoint, really succeed.”
Sarrah Wolfe, a recent FEA graduate, followed the same method when she directed “I Don’t Love You Any Less,” a documentary in which she confronts issues within her family surrounding her mother’s death from breast cancer. Just after filming, she stepped away from the finishing processes for the documentary when the reminiscing brought up sensitive matters.
Wolfe eventually involved herself again to narrate the feature. When her film was selected as a finalist, she was thrilled.
“It’s actually pretty exciting seeing that I was a finalist,” Wolfe said. “I wanted to open the door for other people with similar experiences to talk about their own experiences and not feel so alone.”
“I Don’t Love You Any Less” ended up taking first place for the documentary track at the festival that took place Nov. 13.
“I wanted it to be a competitive film,” Wolfe said. “It’s my story and I wanted to make the most out of it that I could.”
Though she sees the creative nonfiction track as a tough field, Wolfe credits Helen Hood Scheer’s dedication in the classroom to much of the students’ successes.
“Our students have interesting and important stories to tell, and they tell them well,” Scheer, an FEA faculty member, said. “My classes are rigorous, and also fun. I treat my students like competent filmmakers, capable of making excellent work. I have high standards for them.”
The professor teaches all aspects of creative nonfiction production, building her students up through three production courses: intro, intermediate and advanced.
“Students learn to wear every hat: directing, producing, cinematography, sound recording, editing, giving strong critiques,” Scheer said. “I think it’s great for students to get experience in multiple story and craft areas, because that’s often what’s required in the professional documentary world to foster intimacy and due to smaller budgets.”
D’Zmura also mentioned Hood Scheer’s success in contributing to her students’ academic well-being.
“Scheer is continually finding and facilitating very successful internships for students that often end up becoming permanent jobs,” D’Zmura said.
According to D’Zmura, students’ journeys to the CSU Media Festival begin through a panel of faculty and professionals who then determine which student-proposed projects get funded. Students that are chosen end up creating collaborative teams and determine a budget.
The department is now in its 15th year of receiving funds from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which provides a grand total of $60,000 to students for their film projects. All of the films chosen for the festival that were directly from the FEA department were HFPA funded films.
To D’Zmura, CSULB being located near Hollywood could be one reason why the school’s film department is able to consistently thrive.
“Our proximity to LA and surrounding areas is essential,” she said. “We are able to bring all sorts of top guest artists who come and give lectures, demonstrations and provide screenings of award-winning work.”
Aside from the curriculum, film clubs on campus also give students room to expand their creativity. The FEA department’s Women in Film and ASI’s 22 West Media are among several provided. The latter took home one award at this year’s competition.
“I feel like our film department is very close in many ways, and there’s a lot of people willing to work on not just their own stories but other people’s too,” said recent film graduate Aspen Ramsdell.
Ramsdell’s film, “Mood,” won 4th place in narrative in this year’s festival. The plotline to her project, which she wrote and directed, focuses on a group of teenagers seeking the truth behind a new device that is able to detect their actual feelings. The film’s message: social media’s detrimental effects on human interaction.
“It’s a truth in all of us,” Ramsdell said. “I think it’s really important to not be affected by thinking everyone is perfect and instead [of] loving people even for their mistakes and flaws.”
Like Wolfe, Ramsdell has never submitted any work to the festival in previous years. She was surprised when she learned that “Mood” was recognized.
“It’s exciting to know that someone was inspired by your work,” she said. “I do those things because it makes me feel good knowing that.”