Filmmaking teens take top honors at festival

A silent film set to the music of composer of George Gershwin that details a teenager's attempts to win the heart of his dream girl and another film that follows an introverted teenager as he recounts his life to the toy robot he's repairing recently won honors at a local film festival.

The films, one titled "Gershwin" and the other "Brock," earned top spots in the student filmmaking contest at the Montrose Film Festival last weekend. Casey Shatraw and Frederick Balian, both 18, co-directed both films. The win earned them a $300 scholarship award.

The filmmakers-turned-friends graduated from St. Francis High School in La Cañada Flintridge this past May. The films earned accolades at St. Francis' student film festival, but this recognition meant more because it was outside of their alma mater's hallways.

"We're both incredibly honored," Shatraw said. "For the first time, our work is being recognized outside of school."

The pair pitted their films against 10 other entries. A four-member panel judged the submissions on a variety of criteria such as subject matter, creativity, originality and technique.

Panel member Steve Pierce recalled "Gershwin" and "Brock" as the festival's final submissions. The judges learned, after viewing the films, that both were the works of Balian and Shatraw.

"(The judges) started watching them, looked at each other and said, 'Wow, this is great,'" Pierce said. "It was just very refreshing."

Their interest in film started at a young age. All it took for Balian was the scene in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" when the menacing crows were perched on playground equipment near actress Tippi Hedren. As a child, Shatraw joined his father on acting auditions while turning his neighborhood into the backdrop for short films.

Their passions for film fused at St. Francis with Shatraw finding a niche for post-production work such as editing, and Balian leaning toward visuals, story concepts and music.

"We became best friends and co-workers [by] accident. We know what works and what doesn't," Shatraw said. "It turned out to be better than I could imagine."

For now, graduating from St. Francis has halted the pair's collaborative efforts that started a year ago. Balian will attend Cal State Northridge to study television and cinema, while Shatraw will take up visual and media arts at Emerson College in Boston, Mass.

But the hiatus won't last long. St. Francis has tapped the pair to create an admissions video for the all-boys' school as well as visual effects and sound work on its upcoming production of "Les Miserables."

"It's really solidified that this is what we want to do," Balian said. "Receiving this honor is a nice way to end our summer and collaboration until we can work together again."

Pierce said both films are examples of why Balian and Shatraw have a future in filmmaking, and Balian said that could start as early as Christmas break when he reunites with Shatraw.

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