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UCLA student creates films to share personal, relatable experiences

Created through Ghetto Film School is Emelin Vivar’s film “Beholder.” As she captures personal experiences within her work, “Beholder” is an homage to her home of South Central Los Angeles. (Courtesy of Emelin Vivar)

By Talia Sajor

Oct. 9, 2022 8:07 p.m.

Emelin Vivar is framing personal anecdotes through a filmmaker’s lens.

After initially picking up her camera to conduct miscellaneous school projects, the second-year pre-political science student said she began experimenting with filmmaking through UCLA’s GreenShorts program. Vivar said the program taught her the fundamentals of creating movies through shorts regarding environmental issues, which then inspired her to apply to Ghetto Film School. The nonprofit organization dedicated to enriching the next generation of filmmakers allowed her to begin creating her own original work, she said.

“A lot of times, (I’m) just thinking, ‘How can I make something so minuscule, so small, that’s so relatable? And in everyday life, something that’s grander, and something that’s bigger and able to transcend into movie spaces,'” Vivar said.

[Related: UCLA Latinx Film and Theatre Association builds student creativity in safe space]

Through GFS, Vivar said she was able to create three original short films thus far: “SOMNUM,” “Permiso” and “Beholder.” She said her films are centered on her own personal experiences, with “SOMNUM” about her night of sleep paralysis and “Beholder” as a love letter to her hometown of South Central Los Angeles.

When creating “Permiso” – which translates to “Permission” in English – Vivar drew inspiration from her childhood growing up in an immigrant household, she said. The short, Vivar said, is a dialogue-driven piece spoken entirely in Spanish about a young girl asking her mother’s permission to go on a class trip to Iceland. She added that the film highlights a relatable occurrence for other first-generation students living with stricter parents instead of the typical portrayal of lenient parents seen in popular media.

For lead actress Tatiana Juarez, “Permiso,” comprised of an all-Latino crew, allowed her to further connect to her roots. Juarez said to help transcend into the character of a young Latina student, she practiced her native language and shared relatable experiences with other Latino creatives that were on set, including Vivar.

Having presented Vivar with the resources needed to realize her ideas on the screen, GFS program coordinator Gloria Álvarez said Vivar came into GFS with a natural aptitude for storytelling. Through the program, Vivar was able to expand her scope as a filmmaker by learning the technical aspects of the art form, such as cinematography, editing and creating an effective shooting schedule, Álvarez said.

“From the very beginning, … we (the school) saw just how passionate she is about telling stories that come from her own community. And that’s giving a voice to people that maybe have not been photographed in this way or are not photographed often,” Álvarez said.

Although her films stem from introspective thoughts, Vivar said she finds filmmaking to be a cooperative way to grow closer to others. With her firsthand personal experiences captured within her work, she said audiences are able to connect to the emotional and relatable moments in their own lives. The act of constructing a film creates a space for other artists to learn from each other and confirm the importance of sharing their stories, she added.

“It can be a little bit lonely to write scripts by myself in my room or listening to music,” Vivar said. “Working with so many people and being able to be creative myself freely and express myself no matter what and people be actually interested in what I have to say is my favorite part about filmmaking.”

[Related: Ethan Nahlinder explores visual effects, youth culture through filmmaking]

While Vivar said she is studying political science in hopes of attending law school, she plans on upkeeping her creative fluidity as a filmmaker. The entertainment industry can be difficult to navigate, and she hopes that after pursuing a law degree, she will have the means to invest in her own movies to continue telling underrepresented stories.

“I feel like I’d really like to do … something that … allows me to still be creative because I don’t want to lose that side of myself,” Vivar said. “Film is always going to be an important part of who I am, so I feel like I have to include it in whatever it is that I end up doing in the future.”

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Talia Sajor | Arts editor
Sajor is the 2023-2024 Arts editor. She previously served as the 2022-2023 Theater | film | television editor and a Photo, Opinion and PRIME contributor. She is also a third-year communication student from Oxnard, California.
Sajor is the 2023-2024 Arts editor. She previously served as the 2022-2023 Theater | film | television editor and a Photo, Opinion and PRIME contributor. She is also a third-year communication student from Oxnard, California.
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