Every June, the Palm Springs International Shortfest brings large amounts of talent together in one place to celebrate the work of up-and-coming filmmakers. It is differentiated from other festivals in that it showcases only short films, a rare quality in the realm of film festivals in which feature films are often a main focus.
UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television was recently well-represented at the Palm Springs International Shortfest. The event has been deemed North America’s largest festival for short films with 324 total this year, including live- action, animated and documentary. Mark Columbus, Jules Nurrish and Julio Ramos, all from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television, won awards for their films, “The Battle of the Jazz Guitarist,” “Kiss Me” and “Behind the Mirrors (Detras del espejo),” respectively.
Columbus’ “The Battle of the Jazz Guitarist” won the Best Student Documentary Short award. The film started as a green screen project without a large crew or many actors, so he decided to use personal material and tell the story of his father, a jazz guitarist originally from the Fiji Islands. Although Columbus first intended to capture his father’s legacy as an immigrant, the documentary turned out to incorporate other elements and focus in on their father-son relationship.
“It developed to tell about immigration, and a lot more deep-seeded issues arose through the creation of the project that I had never anticipated,” Columbus said.
According to Columbus, he initially gravitated toward studying history as an undergraduate student because of his love for stories. But when he found himself writing scripts and forming movie ideas rather than completing homework assignments, he realized storytelling was most important to him and began to pursue an education in film.
“Now that I’m doing film, I tend to incorporate a lot of history elements into my writing. Everything that didn’t have to do with film in the past necessarily has come together in a way to make filmmaking more multidimensional,” Columbus said.
Also from the UCLA community and now officially qualified to compete at the Oscars through his award at the Palm Springs International Shortfest, recent graduate Ramos received Best of Festival and Best Student Live Action (15 minutes or under) for his movie “Behind the Mirrors (Detras del espejo).” Shot in Lima, Peru, the film features a story line inspired by Ramos’ roots. Ramos was raised in Peru and moved to the United States in his twenties to pursue an education in film.
“I am most proud of the fact that I was able to go back home to make this film. For me, that’s huge because it allows me to tell the stories that have to do with the place that I come from,” Ramos said. “I’m somehow able to connect with audiences with these little Peruvian stories, and for me that is very gratifying.”
“Behind the Mirrors” tells the story of Ernesto, a motel worker who generates extra earnings by secretly videotaping motel guests’ intimate moments. Ramos said one of his visits to Peru inspired the story.
“I was stuck in traffic in Peru, and one of the street vendors offered to sell me DVDs, but I wasn’t interested. From under his jacket he showed me motel porn, and that blew my mind,” Ramos said. “I thought, “˜Anybody could be in those videos.’”
Nurrish, also a recent graduate of the School of Theater, Film and Television, said the same love for storytelling spurred her filmmaking journey. Her recent short film, “Kiss Me,” was praised at the Shortfest and earned her the Alexis Award for Best Emerging Student Filmmaker.
Based on the life of an American boxer in the ’60s, “Kiss Me” tells the story of a closeted Latino boxer who kills another fighter in the ring. As a result, family relationships are strained and the boxer comes to understand the magnitude of events as he continues boxing. The film begins and ends with a fight in the ring.
“I’m interested in boxing as a sport; my dad used to be a boxer and I’ve always wanted to make a boxing film,” Nurrish said. “I didn’t want to take a straightforward approach though, and when I found out this story about a middle-weight boxing champion in the ’60s, I thought it would be a great premise for a film.”
Shortfest has opened doors for all three filmmakers and both Ramos and Nurrish said they hope to develop their shorts into feature films in the future.
“To go out and make a film, and get other people to become invested in an idea is just an amazing thing to do,” Nurrish said. “I enjoy the whole process of it: writing, collaborating with clever people and working with actors. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in terms of work.”