UCI DigiFilm Students Shine at Newport Beach Film Festival

The 18th Annual Newport Beach Film Festival took place from April 20 to April 27, bringing tens of thousands of people together to appreciate film from a diverse set of perspectives and genres. According to the organization, a record number of submissions from over 58 countries were showcased. Among the many films featured, UCI’s Digital Filmmaking program had the chance to showcase student work on April 24.

UCI’s DigiFilm program within the Claire Trevor School of Arts is considered a “creative hub” for both graduate and undergraduate students alike in media production. The Digital Film minor first commenced in 2015 and one of its goals was to empower students to create digital film and utilize novel platforms to broadcast their works

As a whole, the UCI showcase was enjoyable and presented an array of styles ranging from mini-documentary to artistic explorations — all under 20 minutes. The content itself varied widely, among them: a washed-up actor working at an insurance company, a lover’s half-hearted attempt to convince her other that he’s not dead, a documentary on an unusual roadside attraction, a group of film students’ unconventional idea to break into the film industry, and much more.

One such film, “Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch — a Colorful Oasis,” was a documentary looking at Elmer Long’s arrangement of bottle trees in Oro Grande, California.  Director Brandon Yavas’ interest in film was sparked when he was introduced to YouTube. He wanted to make his own content and did so by making toy reviews and Lego tutorial videos. In high school, Yavas was inspired to continue making movies by his film production teacher. From then, he started shooting whatever made him happy.

“Skateboarding, biking, slip ‘n’ slides. I shot it all,” Yavas said. However, while most of his videos are personalized to his experiences, when he took the documentary class in the Digifilm minor, he changed his focus.

“I realized that in my videos, I was documenting all of my stories and experiences,” Yavas said. “To challenge myself, I started shooting documentaries to show someone else’s experiences!”

Yavas began to look outward and thus found Elmer and his Bottle Tree Ranch in Oro Grande, California. The unique attraction of bottles arranged so methodically like trees with many other trinkets struck his interest. The bottles and memorabilia are reminders of another time and the film frames them as  nostalgic.

Yavas wants to become a cinematographer, but for now he plans to continue to upload content to Youtube, he says,“because that’s where I got my start and I always get a rush of excitement when my video finally uploads.”

Whereas Yavas’s fascination with film began with producing YouTube videos as a teen, Philip Long’s journey began with videos he made with his sister as a child. When he was seven or eight his parents bought him a new video camera. He initially made videos with his sister and although she eventually stopped, he continued to film.

“I soon realized that while playing pretend was weird and uncool, sticking a camera in front of us suddenly made it creative and fun. So I became a filmmaker.”

Long claims that his influences are from “all over the place,” but he knows one thing for sure: he owes much to his Uncle Dennis who first trusted him with a camera and inspired his love of film. Long also admires the Star Wars franchise and George Lucas’s vision.

For “Casting Call,” Long saw it as “more of an exercise in creating within boundaries rather than an inspired work.” His film was about Carson, a washed-up actor who’s given a chance to get back into the business. However, his “role” is the same as his real job — an insurance agent.

Although Long admits it would be fun to work in narrative film making, he would like to make science documentaries. Growing up, he watched NOVA and Nature channels and is now a Physics major and hopes his films can inspire others.

“If I could make a science program that a kid somewhere sees, and it’s what inspires him to pursue physics or chemistry or any other science, then my work would matter,” Long said.

With a much different approach, Senior Film and Media Studies major, Rob Alpine made a short visual inspired by video art from the 60’s and 70’s. “Blu” depicts Alpine standing in the frame as he steadily applies globs of paint over himself, essentially making him look like the blue wall in the background. The work was partly inspired by Peter Campus’s “Three Transitions” and Olivier de Sagazan’s “Transfiguration,” according to Alpine. Both works involve the use of the body as a canvas.

The weirdness of some of the works Alpine watched fueled his interest. Those filmmakers were shooting with limited time and “nothing more than a camera, monitor, and subject.”

“The basic idea is, using the camera monitor as a mirror, I paint myself into the empty space of the background,” said Alpine. “I wanted to create something that wasn’t necessarily about what I could add to the frame, but what I could take away.”

Among Alpine’s influences are photographers, such as Pera Collins, Nguan, and Ward Roberts. “[They bring] this soft aesthetic to their work that I find soothing,” said Alpine. Alpine has been working towards becoming a camera assistant, and eventually cinematographer.

The assortment of films presented at the showcase provided a glimpse of the potential UCI’s DigiFilm program. By providing an opportunity for those in the program to explore different modes of film, DigiFilm cultivates ideas and talent for the silver screen and the Newport Beach Film Festival gave them a venue to show their work to an appreciative audience.