Campus MovieFest offers student filmmakers validation, encouragement

Campus MovieFest/Courtesy

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It’s a particularly singular experience being able to walk on any sort of red carpet. The UC Berkeley student filmmakers participating in Campus MovieFest had that very opportunity Sept. 23 as the festival concluded with a grand finale. Out of nearly 30 entries, the CMF team narrowed the field down to 16 films that would screen throughout the night before the four Jury Award winners were announced.

The filmmakers showed a wide variety in both subject matter and style. From comedies to dramas to documentaries and more, the 16 finalists were as eclectic as could be, offering the judges the difficult task of weighing such different films against each other.

But at the end of the night, four deserving students received Jury Awards for their wonderful films. Winter Martin won for “T.H.I.N.G.S.,” a Toy Story-like stop motion comedy about random personified things under the couch of a messy student’s apartment. Kevin Tavangari and Luigi Sarracino were recognized for “By This River,” a surreal drama about a college freshman and his long-distance relationship. Abdull Hamud won for “I Am Not a Robot,” a dramedy about a college student who befriends a grumpy A.I. on his computer. And Abby Jackson-Gain’s “Campus Pets: The Squirrels of UC Berkeley,” a documentary about the lovable squirrels of our very own campus, was the final recipient.

After speaking with Tavangari, Sarracino, Hamud and Jackson-Gain, it’s evident that they all have immense passion for storytelling.

“My ultimate goal in filmmaking was, and still is, to make people’s days,” Hamud explained. “It’s cliché to say, I know, but I remember days where I’d come home depressed, then after watching one hilarious video, I’d forget all the bad that happened that day.”

Jackson-Gain started with a little point-and-shoot camera. Despite being self taught, her drive helped her grow by doing. “My first videos were very bad and embarrassing, but the more you do it, the more you get an eye for what things look good and what things don’t.”

Both filmmakers of “By This River” started at a young age. Tavangari’s interest in photography led him to film in his early years of high school, while Sarracino fell for film after making horror shorts all the way back in elementary school. It was my favorite thing to do at the time and not much has changed,” Sarracino said.

And although the two are freshmen, they’ve felt inspired by the aura of UC Berkeley and by the freedom of college. “Being at Berkeley, surrounded by other open-minded students, has definitely made me more open to sharing my creative ideas with people, something I’ve been hesitant about for a long time,” Tavangari said.

The filmmakers all found something to touch on from their individual UC Berkeley experiences. In Jackson-Gain’s first few weeks here, she had a run-in with the squirrels that lovingly populate campus. “I was sitting in sort of a redwood grove area and I was eating a sandwich and a squirrel walked right up to me and was not afraid,” she recounted. The experience filming the rodents was just as amusing. “The squirrels don’t want you to see where they hide your nut, so they’ll go run,” she explained. “I had to chase the squirrels.”

Hamud, on the other hand, has had difficulty truly seeing himself as a fit on campus. But it’s those very experiences that gave inspiration for his short film, one that explores the mind of someone feeling alone and looking for connection — something that so many college students have felt at one point or another.

The awards have already resulted in immense encouragement. “It definitely made me feel more strongly about wanting to go into filmmaking as a career,” Jackson-Gain said, whose ultimate goal is to travel around the world and use her studies to make documentaries about marine biology.

The positive reception meant everything to Hamud. “I was thrilled; the whole thing was so surreal,” he said. “After making a video, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking ‘Man, this is video is shit,’ so it’s nice to have a few awards and a group of entertained people remove that doubt.”

Going in, Sarracino was hesitant about some of the subject matter of his film. “I was definitely nervous about how a movie centered around semen shipment would be received, especially as the writer and lead actor,” he explained. After the film won, it wiped away those thoughts. “It still feels great to think about (the night), especially as a bit of artistic validation. I feel a lot more confident about developing ideas that I probably would have thought of as too weird before.”

The Jury Award winners as well as the rest of the UC Berkeley students’ CMF films can be seen at

Kyle Kizu covers film. Contact him at [email protected]. Tweet him at @kyle_kizu.