The next generation of film makers and cinema artists certainly make the future seem bright, especially the nine finalists I encountered at the NBCUniversal Short Film Festival.
The films I saw were brilliant, each a story and piece of art as unique as the teams that made them. From a coming-of-age tale about a young lesbian Iranian-American to the painfully accurate fable of a group of minorities struggling to know what to do when a white woman ends up unconscious, the festival provided film after film of exciting and exhilarating stories told from new perspectives. But, while I thoroughly enjoyed watching the films, my favorite part of the night was talking to the brilliant minds behind them. When I arrived at the red carpet for the exceptional festival, I was expecting the filmmakers to be young and green and, while they were young, what I got instead were conversations with a fresh crop of new professionals whose ideas were easily both innovative and current, ready to add their voices to a mix that greatly needs them.
When I spoke with writer/director/producer Cynthia Kao about her film Groundhog Day for a Black man, a simultaneously hilarious and poignant tongue-in-cheek look at police brutality, she spoke about the issues that stem from creating art about the experience of other people. “On the writing side, definitely one of the challenges [of my film] was, you know, this is obviously a black experience and so I was like ‘do I have the right to tell this story, is this gonna ring true’, I consulted with black friends, black writers, brown artists and everyone [gave the] green light.” Something she very much advises those who have a desire to tell a story outside of their own experience to do. “Get with someone who lives that experience and consult with them or [co-create] it with them. Pass it by other people in that community and see if it rings true. Dialogue with the community that you’re trying to [write about].”
Kao wasn’t the only bright and fresh creative I got to speak with that night. Sai Selvarajan, the brain behind the film Audible Static, a story about a teenager with a speech impediment, had a lot to say about his own speech impediment and not letting anything hold you back from your dreams. “Don’t let it define you, cause that’s what I did as a kid. I let [my] stutter define me. But then, as I grew up, I realized there were other things, like film, that could define me. So don’t let [those things] define you. It’s just a small part of you who are. If you want to be an athlete, if you want to be a scientist, that can define you.”
I also got the privilege to speak with writer/director Mayumi Yoshida about her film Akashi, the story of a young Japanese woman who is forced to reexamine her life after her grandmother passes away. “[The film is] based on a true story between me and my grandmother. She changed my way of viewing life and love through her relationship with my grandpa, so it’s the story about that.” She also spoke about, in the midst of the Hollywood sexual harassment scandals, the importance of having marginalized communities, especially women, in positions of power behind the camera. “I think, not just women, but anyone who knows what oppression feels like, that could be a person of color, that could be [someone who is LGBTQ+], if you know what it feels like to be limited than as a boss or someone who’s [in charge] of people they’ll understand how hard it is for the people who are working underneath. A lot of time that compassion is what lacks.”
After witnessing their work (do yourself a favor and go watch the 9 finalists films) and speaking with this new crop of filmmakers, it’s very plain that these artisans are open and hungry, siphoning in the world around them into fresh, new works that the world direly needs. The future of Hollywood is bright indeed.
For more information on the NBCUniversal Shorts Fest and the finalists and films, you can log on to http://www.nbcushortsfest.com