A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

Students showcase cinematic excellence at 16th Annual Sonoma County Student Film Festival

Max Millan
SRJC film studies instructor Mike Traina (far-left) responds to questions alongside 20 creators of the short films showcased at the 16th Annual Sonoma County Student Film Festival on April 5 in the Carole L. Ellis auditorium at SRJC Petaluma.

The 16th Annual Sonoma County Student Film Festival took center stage April 5 in the Carole L. Ellis auditorium at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Petaluma campus, and showcased short films under 15 minutes in length and across a spectrum of different genres. Sonoma County students, from junior high school students to college students, created the films exhibited at the festival, where film studies instructor Mike Traina served as host.

Short films that exemplified the diverse cinematic artistry displayed by students included, but were not limited to, “Cannon Fodder,” an animated epic chronicling mankind’s resistance against dystopian abominations; “Danny,” a heartfelt drama highlighting the challenges a little person faces when seeking romance; and “Weather,” an indie music video immersed in laid-back dreamy visuals.

More than just a chance to watch student creative projects unfold on the big screen, the event included a reception an hour before the screenings which allowed student filmmakers to connect with the public and fellow filmmakers.

“Film is a team sport, and there are so many collaborators that work on these projects. It’s nice to come together and honor all the labor and artistic effort that students have put into it,” Traina said. “It gives them the experience of seeing an audience react to the movies that is different from a film production class.”

Equally pleased with the festival’s format, Candy Owens, student engagement coordinator for the Petaluma campus, also viewed the festival as successful in providing students with a taste of professional experience. “I think it’s a really cool opportunity to have students involved in setting up and running this whole festival, the selection and screening process,” Owens said. “From that aspect, I think it’s a really good opportunity you don’t necessarily get from other jobs.” Owens added that the festival had been in preparation for five months.

Free for all, apart from a suggested $5 donation, the festival was the collaborative product of SRJC Student Life and the communication studies department. A selection committee composed of volunteers chose the 20 short films selected this year, which included documentaries, music videos, comedies and dramas. At the end of the screening, the 20 filmmakers joined Traina onstage in a forum to answer audience questions about their careers and films.

Jordan Beasely, an SRJC student filmmaker who managed the festival’s auditorium admission, expressed delight at seeing the audience and his peers celebrate the work of fellow student filmmakers. “I want people to see the community aspect of this,” he said. “I want them to know how open it is, and hopefully inspire a couple other students.”

SRJC student filmmaker Jordan Beasley (center) operates the 16th Annual Sonoma County Student Film Festival’s entrance April 5 at Carole L. Ellis auditorium at SRJC Petaluma. Beasley considers the 2023 animated film “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” to be his favorite at the moment. (Max Millan)

Beasley — who considers Wes Anderson one of his favorite filmmakers for his usage of color theory, live-action and stop-motion — spoke on the impact of cinema as an artistic outlet. “I think personally, [being a filmmaker] is about using your creativity to tell a story so people can interpret a message,” he said. “[Cinema] is just as much an artistic expression as all other media.”

Traina also hosts the Petaluma Cinema Series, a film program open to the public in the same auditorium Wednesdays nights, starting at 6:30 or 7 p.m. It is connected with Media 10, a film appreciation course Traina teaches which focuses on movies and film techniques. The series also occasionally hosts SRJC faculty, cinema experts and the creators of the films shown as special guest stars. This semester’s lineup features Academy Award winners like “Poor Things,” “The Zone of Interest” and “WALL-E.”

“The college has one of the best film departments in the Bay Area. We have excellent faculty, I think we’re well-funded in terms of technical gear and film equipment, and we have great facilities,” Traina said. “I’m not only happy to work here, but I think in many ways we have better instruction [and] better facilities than even a lot of the four-year school options that are around the SRJC.”

SRJC sophomore Ryan Mander, who directed “Introspectinol” and received boisterous laughter and applause from the audience, hoped the festival helped the audience understand that film is not characterized by a single genre. “[There are] several different forms and genres, many of which were on display during the event,” he said. “As for my film, it doesn’t necessarily have a core message, but if I were to give it one, it would be to not take the easy way out.

“To me, being a filmmaker means taking an idea of yours that previously didn’t exist and bringing it into reality,” Mander added. “The magic of film is that anything you can think of can be a film as long as the story works and you can actually make it.”

SRJC student filmmaker Ryan Mander (center) responds to audience questions about his film “Introspectinol” during the 16th Annual Sonoma County Student Film Festival April 5 at Carole L. Ellis auditorium at SRJC Petaluma. Mander, like Beasley, also considers Wes Anderson to be one of his favorite filmmakers, singling out Anderson’s 2023 film “Asteroid City” as his favorite from the director. (Max Millan)

SRJC student Alice Place, director of the short film “Visions of Her Heart,” echoed Mander’s message on the limitless creativity film wields as an artform. “No matter your experience or gear, anyone can create something meaningful. This reminder is especially valuable in today’s media where it may seem daunting to create art,” she said. “Cinema thrives in its ambiguity, offering endless interpretations and no singular answer.”

Four of the films showcased, two narrative features and two documentary features, won the festival’s top prizes: the prestigious Best of Fest awards. They included “Guiding Light,” a documentary directed by Kenilworth Junior High School student India Anne Mitchel that takes a look at the legacy of Polly Klaas; “Danny,” a film directed by former SRJC student Colin Miller that explores a little person’s pursuit of love following a train station encounter; “Craig’s List,” a film directed by SRJC student Logan Mathew Witthaus that explores the dangers of a college student purchasing cheap textbooks from suspicious online vendors; and “Forget Me Not Farms,” a documentary directed by SRJC students Juliya Lubin and Pamela Kennemore about Sonoma County’s namesake nonprofit sanctuary for victimized children.

All featured filmmakers won passes to attend Film Fest Petaluma, Sonoma County’s showcase of international short films, where festival winners from Berlin, Sundance, London and Seattle will join the four selected winners. This year’s Film Fest Petaluma will premiere in showings from noon, 3, 7 and 10 p.m. April 27 at Petaluma’s Mystic Theater.

Although Place — who considers Christopher Nolan’s 2014 film “Interstellar” to have ignited her love of cinema — did not take the festival’s top prize this time around, she nevertheless remains inspired and had advice for artists like herself. “For anyone doing something creative, dare yourself to go the distance and never hit pause. Continuously chip away at your project because it’ll never reach its full potential unless you persist,” she said. “Don’t stop until you’ve uncovered that elusive gem.”

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About the Contributor
Max Millan
Max Millan, Editor
Max Millan is in his second semester at the Oak Leaf. He will transfer to SSU in the Fall of 2024 and major in Biology. He has two cats.

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