One is a snapshot of a changing Jordan Downs, the iconic housing project in South Central L.A. that gave birth to notorious Grape Street Crips.
Another, called "The City of Lost Angels," uses clay and paper models to depict a student's transformation into an angel who, literally, finds his heart in Hollywood. Then there's "Cinema Love," a young woman's romantic encounter that takes viewers on a nostalgic journey through L.A.'s historic theaters, including the Pantages and El Capitan.
Those were among the short films recognized over the weekend at the fourth annual "On Location: The Los Angeles Video Project" awards hosted by NewFilmmakers L.A. The nonprofit organization formed in 2007 to highlight the work of emerging and independent filmmakers.
The competition allows contestants, including college students and aspiring filmmakers, to showcase their talent while making short films about some aspect of L.A.
This year drew 19 finalists among more than 90 submissions competing for cash prizes totaling more than $65,000, as well as other perks such as free movie budgeting software and free permits from FilmL.A.
The films were five minutes or less and featured a range of styles and genres, including claymation, documentaries and music videos.
Each touched on some unique aspect of L.A. life., tackling such subjects as horrible traffic, quirky characters on Venice Beach, a day in the life of struggling immigrants, and how the city looks from the point of view of a young actress navigating her new home.
"The selection this year was more diverse than it's ever been," said Larry Laboe, executive director of NewFilmmakers L.A., an offshoot of NewFilmmakers New York, which discovered "The Blair Witch Project," among other movies.
"We thought, what a unique opportunity to challenge filmmakers to think outside the box," Laboe said. "The brand is L.A. They have the freedom to be as creative as they want — the sky is really the limit. The only guideline is to visually and positively highlight L.A."
Laura Monti, a student at Boston University, took up the challenge. She submitted her film, "The City of Lost Angels," after learning about the competition from a school advisor.
Using figures modeled out of clay and backgrounds created out of paper, Monti completed the 3 1/2 minute film in her L.A. apartment in August.
"I wanted to be able to go to L.A. and show I can tell a story," said Monti, a business major who is taking a minor in film. "This is my passion."
Monti received the grand prize, which includes $1,000 in cash and $40,000 worth of equipment rentals from Alternative Rentals.
"I was completely stunned and amazed," said Monti, 21. "I was like, holy crap, now I need to come up with a movie."
Audience award winners were Will Lee, director of "Traffic Is My Jam," about a woman who loves L.A.'s terrible traffic; and Drew Bachrach, director of "Watts Waits," the documentary about Jordan Downs.
The Detroit native shot the film over two days this summer.
"I just wanted to document the buildings, the location and the people just as a time capsule of what it looks like now," he said.