OCC student films selected for Newport's festival

COSTA MESA —Seven student films were selected to be screened at the 2011 Newport Beach Film Festival, while almost 50 others were left on the cutting room floor.

For those lucky — and talented — few, the opportunity means a padded portfolio, real-life experience and a better shot at a big-time career after graduation in May.

"In the classroom, you learn a lot of terminology and how things work," said Juan Alvarez, 22, an Orange Coast College film student and project manager of the OCC collegiate showcase series. "It's not until you get out in the field and apply it that you really learn from it."

Alvarez produced a documentary, written and directed by fellow OCC film student Matthew Rodgers, 22, titled "Uncaged."

For both students, who will graduate in May, the film wasn't their first, but it was their first time dealing with the unpredictability of real life and scenarios in filming a documentary.

"You're not dealing with classmates anymore or teachers," Rodgers said. "You're dealing with real people and trying to make these stories happen, despite all the obstacles."

The duo chose to make their short film following an Orange County mixed-martial arts fighter, Yoko Hamamura, as he struggled to meet the requirements of a lower weight-class in time for his first fight in Salt Lake City.

However, neither filmmaker was a fan of the sport.

"We didn't really like MMA and didn't like UFC," Alvarez said. "But, we didn't understand it very much. Our whole goal was to see why it's such a popular sport and why people like it so much."

The film, along with the other the six chosen by a panel of festival judges, screens at 1 p.m. May 1, at the Regency Lido Theatre in Newport Beach.

While "Uncaged" won third place in the Best Documentary category earlier this year at the Los Angeles New Wave International Film Festival, the Newport festival will be other students' first experience in the big leagues.

"You can't afford to make movies that aren't going to film festivals," said OCC alumnus Nicholas Ybarra, 21, who filmed "Out Of Bounds" last year before graduating with a film certificate.

Film students are under immense pressure because of high levels of competition and employer scrutiny as well as the high production costs of making a film.

With the economy making the situation more difficult, film students need to make every project count, he said.

Ybarra's film deals with a controversial subject: two women in love.

"Why I chose that subject is because what I want to do as a filmmaker is take a look at things I'm not happy with in society or in the economy and shed a little light to them," Ybarra said. "I'm not naive enough to think I can change the world or everyone's viewpoints, but if I can get two people to think about it, then I've done my job."

The film has already been accepted into two more festivals following Newport's, he said.

And while filming was an educational experience, actually getting the film out to industry professionals and making the rounds on the festival circuit is a whole new set of lessons.

"The work doesn't stop when you're finished editing," Rodgers said. "Distribution can take a whole year or more. You have to be ready to put a lot time and energy into a project if you're going to make it."

Other films include "Lemonade," directed by Will Gabriel; "Froghouse," directed by Gustav Sandegard; "Shortcut," directed by Gabriela Pea-Uri and produced by Steve Guzman; "Condemned," directed by Natalia Wong and Joshua Lang; and "In for The Kill," directed by Nathan Boice and produced by Claudia Lee.

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