Westmont Magazine Montecito Home to Inaugural Student Film Festival

The inaugural Montecito Student Film Festival showcased the impressive work of undergraduate students from California colleges and universities with screenings on March 25 in Porter Theatre. A jury of industry professionals and special guests judged and awarded the top prizes, while polls determined the winner of the Audience Award.

Wendy Eley Jackson
Wendy Eley Jackson

“Montecito has a robust cultural history and is surrounded by people in the film industry,” says Wendy Eley Jackson, executive producer of the festival, who teaches Documentary Filmmaking, Screenwriting and Creative Writing in Westmont’s theatre arts and English departments.

“We’d love to grow the festival and attract those who live, work and play here to see what the students have done,” she says. “You don’t know where you’ll find your next Nora Ephron or Aaron Sorkin, and I believe our students at Westmont are equally creative.”

Jackson, CEO of Auburn Avenue Films, serves on the boards of two large national film festivals: the Atlanta Film Festival and BronzeLens. “I’ve submitted to and been a part of many film festivals as a judge, director, writer and producer,” she says.

Last fall, students interested in the festival began meeting with Jackson. Seniors Bailey Lemmon and Wesley Yowell produced the festival, which screened about 17 short films running an average of 23 minutes each. Three of the four students in Jackson’s documentary filmmaking course submitted films. “One student created a film on surfing and its impact on mental health and well-being, and another documented the creation of a band,” Jackson says.

Videographer Tamia Sanders
Videographer Tamia Sanders

Junior Tamia Sanders created a film about a forgotten school shooting 18 months before the Columbine High School massacre. Sander’s aunt attended Pearl High School in Jackson, Mississippi, during the 1997 shooting. “The most moving part of making ‘Before Columbine’ has been knowing how much these events have shaped and developed my life even though I was not directly affected,” says Sanders, the granddaughter of Westmont alumna Barbara Allen Sanders ’71. “My aunt, who was 17 at the time and didn’t receive counseling or therapy, talks about how the shooting changed the way she operates and thinks. It’s heartbreaking for me because this event didn’t have to happen. In the film she says, ‘You may have survived it, but you still have to survive it.’”

Sanders remembers being in high school after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School and seeing the dramatic increase in security measures at her Texas school. “The film is dedicated to the survivors,” she says. “So many times the narrative emphasizes the shooter.”

Jackson has challenged Sanders to have uncom­fortable conversations. “I’ve noticed that her films are inspiring because they tackle weighty subjects,” Sanders says. “I can’t wait for people to see my project. It’s been on my heart for a long time, and I had no way of getting this story out. It’s kind of surreal.”

Festival organizers accepted films in every genre or topic and sent invitations to undergraduate film makers throughout the state, including USC, Chapman, UC Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara City College.

“Filmmaking has the capacity to create, impact and explore different themes of how people live as well as the internal and external conflicts that characters may have,” Jackson says. “The creative expression seems to bring out the best in many of these college students. It’s an escape. Seeing their visions come to fruition and debut at the Montecito Student Film Festival is spectacular.”

Westmont sophomore Campbell Ralph of Fox Island, Washington, won the Ettinger award for best editing in “Dawn Patrol.” Westmont sophomore Cole Anderson of San Diego won the Audience Award for “Called Upon the Water.” UC Santa Barbara’s Jeff Peepgrass won the Jury Prize for “Sick Joke.” Westmont sophomore Tamia Sanders of Pearland, Texas, won the Wendy Eley Jackson Award for Best Documentary for “Before There Was Columbine.”