In UCLA student filmmaker Pam Tom's film "Two Lies," a Chinese-American mother has plastic surgery to change the shape of her eyes. Her two daughters are confused and hurt. "You know what they say about eyes like that in school," one daughter brashly tells her mother. "Two eyes . . . two lies." When the mother looks out from under her bandages, her vision is blurred. The audience sees a blurry world along with her.
But the students showing their work at the UCLA Vision 1990 Festival, the third annual weeklong outpouring of UCLA film student work opening this afternoon, demonstrate a clear vision as they present films dealing with ethnicity, cultural diversity and global issues. There will be no buddy cops, car chases or Ninja turtles in UCLA's Melnitz Theater. There will be about 70 small films showing a trend among student filmmakers: a desire to speak in their own voices and a willingness to go against the Hollywood grain.
As Tom, a fifth-generation Chinese-American whose parents own a downtown Los Angeles Chinatown restaurant explained, "It seems we're interested in stories that are close to home. Filmmakers like Spike Lee have allowed us to come into this voice." She said that dealing with personal issues motivates her. "Two Lies," which plays tonight, is based on something that happened to her relatives. "The film was painful to make, but that provided a certain amount of drive. I was so personally invested in it."
Ruth Schwartz, chair of the UCLA Department of Film and Television, said that she has noticed a difference in this year's festival. "If there's a theme in this festival, it's diversity and independence," she said. "There's less conformity, fewer copycats than I've ever seen before."
The diversity comes from a student body with an international flavor that Schwartz said is characteristic of the UCLA program. Student filmmakers come from China, Colombia, Germany and England.
Anna Chi, a student who worked as a filmmaker in Beijing, will present her film "Silk Box" on Sunday; it's about a eunuch from the Forbidden City who befriends a young Asian-American boy. Chi said that she was encouraged by UCLA to make a film about her own culture. "I don't want to try to fit into Hollywood," she said. "I just want to use this medium to tell my stories."
In addition to the international students' films, there are films from American students unafraid to explore their ethnic backgrounds. "I have faith that the stories of Asian-Americans are important enough to watch," said Tom. "I grew up watching stories about white people, and I was able to translate them. So why can't white people translate our stories?"
What happened to the words high concept and blockbuster ? Many of the students seem undaunted by the industry and the box office.
"I feel like I don't have a choice. No, I couldn't compromise even if I wanted to. There are not that many black female filmmakers out there. I have to do things with integrity. I take the images I create very seriously," said Los Angeles-native Karen Hayes, whose film "How It Is," about the gang culture in Los Angeles, runs tonight.
Are these just a bunch of idealistic students who have yet to confront the real world? Or a fresh new breed of filmmakers? Henry Jaglom, an independent filmmaker known for "New Year's Day" who is speaking on the last night of the festival, said he has a hunch the tide is turning.
"There was a period where kids thought they had to grow up to be Spielberg and Lucas," he said. "Now they realize they don't have to do big action-adventure films. They can find in film some human expression of their lives."
Still, festival organizers have invited some 3,000 industry people in an effort to expose the students' work to Hollywood bigwigs. Cameron Spencer, director of the festival, explained it simply: "I want to help the students get jobs."
Screening time during the week is 7:30 p.m. General admission is $4. The festival opens this afternoon at 2 p.m. with a special screening from the British National Film School.
Information: (213) 825-8710.