In the rapidly changing landscape of modern cinema, where streaming, the internet and television are fast becoming the dominant mediums, the art of the short film is becoming more than a mere calling card for aspiring filmmakers. Like collections of short stories, short films are as powerful and satisfying these days as full features, if only because media is making time itself feel as if it is hurtling forward. A short music video such as This is America, by Childish Gambino, will ignite passions about race relations in America faster than any feature film. Yet this is not a particularly new phenomenon to storytelling. With few exceptions, the great literary minds of the last two centuries have flourished in the art of the short story. From Roberto Bolano to William Faulkner, smaller narratives have encapsulated powerful ideas.
A major breakthrough in the art of the short film is being carried out in Santa Monica College, where a revolutionary film program is training students in the craft of filmmaking while producing exceptional, competitive shorts. The program, under the official class title of Film 33, is headed and supervised by Salvador Carrasco, the acclaimed director of the 2000 feature The Other Conquest, a marvelous historical epic about the Spanish conquest which for a time held the rank of top grossing Mexican film ever. An early pioneer of the New Mexican Cinema, as Roger Ebert termed it in the 2000s, Carrasco has been devoting his energies to providing students a top level film education for a fraction of what you would pay at other institutions. The idea is both simple and ambitious — a college film program designed like an actual studio. The class can all pitch their ideas and the one deemed the standout is then produced. A producer, director and crew are assembled. Every rigorous, nightmarish aspect of film production is undertaken, from crowd funding to location scouting, from casting to pre and post-production.
Already films by the program, such as Solidarity, about Mexican and Lithuanian migrants in Los Angeles, and Cora, about an African American woman’s struggles in the Jim Crow South, have been exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival. But one of the program’s recent projects, Like a Rolling Stone, is about to make its online debut after making the rounds at various festivals and premiering at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica. Its setting is modern, but there is a primitive and classical force in its storytelling. Both survivalist tale and psychological drama, it combines genres to provide a striking metaphor for the will to pull through, and the tragedy of interrupted love. It is also a wonderful revival of the talents of the actress Carrie Finklea, who here re-emerges as an artist of underrated strengths.
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