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Students collage creative works, career opportunities through UCLA film festival

(Lucy Chang/Daily Bruin)

By Katy Nicholas

June 6, 2024 4:13 p.m.

UCLA’s film festival is framing the narrative for animators and filmmakers alike as they enter their professional careers.

The UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television hosts an annual film festival to celebrate the work of current students throughout the year and highlight influential alumni through three events: the Animation Extravaganza, Screenwriters Showcase and Producers Marketplace. The festival will span from Saturday to Tuesday, and students can receive awards from their peers and faculty. Dylan Martis, a graduate student in fine arts, said he was inspired by the students who host the entire event, from the artwork’s creation to the reception.

“It’s not a UC event. This is a thing for students, by students,” Martis said. “It has nothing to do with the greater UC.”

[Related: Q&A: UCLA Film & Television Archive, Farhang Foundation host Iran film celebration]

The UCLA Animation Workshop celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, Martis said. The students recently resurrected the workshop’s academic journal for animation, he added, and they are using the festival to show how far the industry has come and how much of its history is rooted in UCLA. Martis said he created the opening animated film for this year’s animation night after being an apprentice last year. He said it was a challenge creating the production in just one year. The fast-paced timeline separates this festival from others, as it is more common to showcase films with a high budget and large production team, he added.

The Animation Extravaganza chooses a professional each year to receive the Crystal Anvil Award, said Tiger Bela, the festival’s director. This award is given to someone who advocates for animation and is admired in the animation industry, she said. This year’s honoree is Randy Haycock, who works for Walt Disney Animation Studios. Animation students then compete for six awards, Bela added, including Best Story, Best Animation, Best Art Direction, Most Innovative, Best of Show and the Animation Extravaganza.

For the Producers Marketplace, producers present their pitches and are judged by both the audience and a panel of judges, Bela said. There are two awards available to producers: one of the judges’ choice and one of the audience’s choice, she said.

The festival takes a sizable number of people to put on, and Bela said when she took over the event, she gave all of the creative power to the students. The students write their own scripts for hosting the events, create all of the promotional artwork, and write personalized letters to award recipients, she said. Each event features a professional award recipient, she added, creating a space for students to celebrate their work. Although Martis said both undergraduate and graduate students participate relatively equally in the festival, Bela added that some graduate students in fine art also present their theses during the event.

“The students love it, too, because they get to be incredibly creative,” Bela said. “It’s unbelievable how much they learn, and in the end, they’re like, ‘All that work,’ but then they have that satisfaction of completing it.”

Angie Kubessi, events head for the Screenwriters Showcase, said the students share their scripts with professionals in the industry who read and rank their work, and awards are distributed accordingly. She said the festival is special because it allows students who are about to enter the workforce to get their names out there, as many of the attendees are faculty or professionals with UCLA ties who have successful and influential careers.

Although there has been an after-party for networking in the past, Kubessi said she has worked to create an additional networking event prior to the festival for students to meet and connect with professionals before viewing students’ work. In addition to this, she emphasized her efforts to make the after-party seem approachable to attendees, giving students another chance to network.

“What we want now is for the students to get an opportunity to get representation or their voices out there, to have opportunities to talk about their work – because not all writers get that opportunity,” Kubessi said. “We’re hoping people will get significant connections for the future and their careers.”

Only graduating screenwriting students are able to participate in the film festival, Kubessi said, representing the end of a cycle. She said these students have been writing for two years straight in their graduate program, and this gives them an opportunity to get a foot in the door for job opportunities. Bela said that being part of planning a film festival is an invaluable career experience. Kubessi added she is now more interested in going into event planning, rather than just cinema. Bela said some of her students have gone on to work directly in festival management.

“It’s (the event is) open to creativity. Please be as creative as you want – the sky is the limit,” Bela said. “I’m very much all about the students and all about making it the best event that it could possibly be, that they can be so proud of.”

[Related: TFT hosts 2nd Asian and Pacific Islander Film Night featuring alumni productions]

However, Martis said this festival does not come without challenges. Keeping morale high for participants was the toughest part, he added. Nonetheless, he said the importance of giving art and film a large presence on campus was worth it, and it further improved his ability to organize and work with a team – something innate to working in film.

“It is not easy to make a film today, especially with today’s climate and how devalued art has become,” Martis said. “Supporting artists right now and whatever work they do is important.”

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