North Hollywood : Student Filmmakers Cast Odd Characters

A mental patient convinced he's the son of God. A portly secret agent lured back for one last mission. A headstrong reporter chasing a hot story. An agoraphobic searching for love.

Born from the imaginations of Cal State Northridge students, the motley cast of characters shared the spotlight Wednesday night at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in North Hollywood. The occasion? CSUN's sixth annual Student Film Showcase.

"There's an amazing amount of interior work going on in these films," said veteran screenwriter Joseph Stefano, the evening's host.

For writer-director Dustin Ellis, 25, it was an exhilarating end to a production delayed for months when footage from his religious comedy "Matthew 7:11" was trapped in a campus building damaged by the Northridge earthquake.

"I really enjoyed seeing the audience reaction," he said. "I didn't think a lot of the jokes would go over that did."

Erik Rogers, the 26-year-old writer-producer of "Guinea Pigs," said that while his film ends ambiguously, he hoped it would stimulate debate about the ethics of animal research.

"It's a whole bunch of questions that don't really get answered," he said.

Made for an average of $16,000 each, the four films represent months of work, and in many cases, a doorway into the professional world.

Last year, Eric Stormoen's "The Unbearable Whiteness of Dean," a spoof of 1990's "La Femme Nikita," screened at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. Later this spring, Anthony Rocha's "Phil" will compete in the New York Film Festival.

Rocha, 28, said he was especially gratified that audience members accepted the gay characters in his film, an hourlong drama about a reclusive apartment dweller whose life changes when a gay man moves in next door.

"There's nothing more that I love than making films," Rocha said. "I'm interested in telling stories and that's what excites me."

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