Young Filmmakers Set Out to Capture the Complexity of L.A. and the Results Are Beautiful

As part of a Frieze L.A. program, emerging movie makers created L.A.-centric meditations on everything from gig work to filmmaking itself—and you can watch them all

Voting is open for the second annual Deutsche Bank Frieze Los Angeles Film Award.

Ten emerging filmmakers ages 18 to 34 were selected in March to partake in an intensive four-month program at the celebrated non-profit Ghetto Film School (GFS). Each filmmaker responded to a brief asking them to “explore the ocean as a framework for thinking about the complex environment of Los Angeles.”

The resulting five-minute films are diverse and beautiful thematic meditations. Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, they tackle subject matter ranging from mental illness and meetings with mystics (“Your energy is dry” “Dry? I drink a gallon of water a day and I mind my business!”) to bereavement and the struggles of gig work. The material is both timeless and topical; one film is told through the eyes of a high school senior learning lines for a Zoom production of The Tempest as her parents struggle to keep their Chinese restaurant afloat in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each features artful cinematography and the unique perspective of its creator. The original scores and music compositions also impress—haunting, evocative strings; jazzy piano-infused hip-hop; bright, brass-driven orchestrals.

Project manager Timothy Offor is familiar with the experience these young artists undertook; he was a GFS fellow last year. “Having had the opportunity to participate as a fellow in the first year followed by the honor of leading and organizing the program in the second, I can truly say it is a worthwhile experience for all aspiring filmmakers.”

The filmmakers may be emerging, but they are far from merely aspiring—they are fully-invested, motivated creatives who have been honing their craft steadfastly. A few have had work featured on platforms like Hulu, Amazon Prime, FX, and BET; others are regulars on the festival scene, having been selected for the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, Sundance’s Ignite Fellowship, and the HOLA Mexican Film Festival. Some of the filmmakers plan to use their experience as a launchpad for their future. Fellow Gisella Bonilla says, “I am incredibly grateful I was pushed to create, as I hadn’t shot a narrative film since undergrad and decided to use this short to apply to AFI. It reminded me that I could take charge of my own path.”

The winner, chosen by a jury of art and film industry leaders, will receive $10,000. An audience prize will also be awarded to the film which receives the most votes from the public.

“If I were fortunate enough to win, I would use a portion of the prize money to give back to nonprofit organizations such as Visual Communications, the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE), and other Los Angeles-based initiatives that have devoted their time to empowering artists of color and creatives from underrepresented communities in our city,” says filmmaker David Liu. Others echo his sentiment. Says filmmaker Ciara Zoe, “I would like to be able to give back to those who generously gave me their time, hard work, and love over the years so that I could get to where I am and continue without delay. Community is where it starts and where it will continue to flow; we all must remember where we came from and who helped us to find our wings to fly.”

The films are available to watch and vote for now (descriptions below from Voting closes June 12 and winners will be announced during a public virtual ceremony on June 24.

‘El Llano en Llamas’ – Andrés Vázquez

“An incarcerated firefighter struggles to find emotional stability as he relives searing memories of his traumatic past. ‘El Llano En Llamas’ is a meditation on trauma, the fluidity of memory, and the isolation experienced by those suffering from mental illness.”

‘Sit in Water, Float in Peace’ – Alyse Arteaga

“‘Sit in Water, Float in Peace’ invites you to do exactly that. It is an exploration into the subconscious that reveals the insecurities of an artist and her familial connection to the water just west of Los Angeles.”

‘Surface’ – Ciara Zoe

“A meditative experience with a kindred stranger provides a moment of reflection and release for an isolated spirit.”

‘Amaris’ – Ashley Chrisman

“Lesley, a young woman who feels that her life is spiraling out of control, goes to visit a self proclaimed mystic with the hopes of getting answers, and a ‘quick-fix’ solution to her problems. Instead, she is encouraged to visit the ocean which prompts an internal journal where she learns that she held the answers to everything all along.”

‘River’ – David Liu

“Three siblings walk along the dry, concrete expanse of the Los Angeles River, reminiscing through memories about their recently deceased mother. One of them remembers her dream about a river.”

‘You’re not from Around Here, Are You?’ – Giselle Bonilla

“A kayaker’s attempt to protect conservation efforts disrupts a memorial service.”

‘Essential Work’ – Jeremy Burkett

“Set in the bustling neighborhood of Koreatown, Los Angeles, ‘Essential Work’ is a meditative piece chronicling a gig economy worker’s last day to make rent and avoid eviction.”

‘Dear Mama’ – John Rizkallah

“A young woman from the Middle East recounts her first experience in Los Angeles to her mother back home.”

‘Oceans’ – Tayo Amos

“After moving to L.A., an ambitious filmmaker encounters considerable success with her career. However, these successes force her to grapple with the memories of his passing through the powerful, cleansing forces of water.”

‘Sorry for the Inconvenience’ – Jane Chow

“In Los Angeles Chinatown, a lonely teenager tries to help her parents keep their seafood restaurant afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. Between chopping green beans and packing takeout orders, she attempts to hang on to a semblance of normalcy by studying for her driver’s permit and prepping for her high school Zoom theater debut in The Tempest.”

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