Each week in July, Weekend Edition is celebrating exceptional student filmmakers from across the country and their projects. We found short films released in the past year that show a unique perspective on events in the news from filmmakers across the country.
Last updated on July 31, 2021.
Chuj Boys of Summer
Listen: Director Max Walker-Silverman On 'Chuj Boys of Summer'
The nearly 17-minute film follows a teen migrant named Yakin. He is from Guatemala and only speaks Chuj (pronounced "chew") — the language of his Indigenous people. Gradually, we see him settle into life in Telluride, a small town in Colorado.
Director Max Walker-Silverman says the film is a coming-of-age story, told through the perspective of immigrants who have to be breadwinners for their families while still going through adolescence.
It uses nonprofessional actors, many of whom are Indigenous Guatemalans who migrated to the U.S. and now live in Telluride.
Walker-Silverman co-wrote the movie with his friend Marcos Ordoñez Ixwalanhkej Mendoza, who is Chuj and originally from Guatemala.
"For some movies, there's a really clear line between writing and casting and directing," Walker-Silverman says. "That's really not the case here, because writing was me and my co-writer sitting down and telling stories, details, things that he cared about, that they cared about, that they would want to be in this film."
The actors would discuss the scenes before shooting, sometimes making changes. "That's the way to give control and to give agency to the people who it's really about," he says. "So it makes everyone involved entirely a writer, a director themselves."
Listen: Director Jaime Wilken On 'Less Lethal'
This short documentary looks back at the use of non-deadly force by police during the protests in Austin following the killing of George Floyd.
It follows Brendan Walsh, a tech worker who spends his time scouring through videos of police shooting a beanbag round at 16-year-old Brad Levi Ayala on May 30, 2020. A video shows Ayala, standing by himself away from most of the protesters, falling to the ground. He was shot in the forehead.
The "less lethal" bullet damaged Ayala's prefrontal cortex.
Filmmaker Jaime Wilken, a student at The University of Texas at Austin, saw the video and heard Ayala's brother's emotional appeal to the city council afterward for more information. Police hadn't revealed who had fired on Ayala. She read about Walsh in Texas Monthly.
"He became an internet sleuth because he was so driven to figure out what cop had shot Brad," Wilken says. "After speaking with Brendan, I felt that this was a really unique way to share Brad's story."
Listen: Director Jorge G. Camarena On 'Spaceship'
The film follows Maria, a Latina trans woman, and her 8-year-old daughter Alex living in East Los Angeles. As the film unfolds, they confront discrimination, poverty and the possibility of separation.
Director Jorge G. Camarena from the American Film Institute Conservatory says the inspiration for the film came from his own mother's story of having to work to support their family.
"When I moved here to LA, I met a trans woman who is a mother, and we started sharing our experiences. And I saw a lot of similarities in her struggle from what I believe was my mother's struggle. And I just thought it was a very universal way of portraying this kind of story," he says.
Space is a theme throughout the film, relating both to Alex's dreams of becoming an astronaut and Maria's feelings of isolation. They pretend their car is a spaceship. "Space is a place that they share where they can be themselves," Camarena says.
To see the full film request a screener through this website.
Listen: Director Sushma Khadepaun On 'Anita'
The narrative short centers around Anita, a young career-driven woman from India. After immigrating to the U.S., she returns to her hometown of Valsad to attend her sister's wedding, where she's pushed to question whether life in America is any better.
Over the course of her stay, rifts form between Anita and her family. They want her to be a full-time wife and mother, but Anita values independence and upward mobility.
Gujarati, a language spoken by people in the Western India state of Gujarat, is primarily spoken throughout the film, but English does poke through at key moments of conflict.
To tell the story, filmmaker Sushma Khadepaun from Columbia University said she drew from her personal experience of moving to America after her arranged marriage in India.
She grew up not far from where she shot the film.
"It was a big family with a lot of love and all kinds of celebration and great food, but there was also the patriarchy and very defined gender roles," she said. "My life today as a filmmaker in New York City is further from anything I've known growing up."
The tension of that divide leaves her asking the same questions Anita must confront.
"A friend once told me, 'You're the one who got out.' But the question is, what does 'getting out' mean?" Khadepaun said. "Do you leave the patriarchy behind when you leave a space physically? Also, when you leave home, along with the unwanted parts you also leave behind everything that's familiar and comforting."
To watch the film for free here, enter the following code: ANITA_NPR
Honorable mention: Forever
In the 7-minute film, a person's life insurance application is denied by a company that uses an AI algorithm to determine an applicant's risk factors. The rejection compels the character to look inward.
Forever is based on a real-life event that happened to filmmaker Mitch McGlocklin, a 31-year-old student at the University of Southern California.
In 2017, McGlocklin's parents — who cosigned his student loans — tried to buy life insurance for him.
But an algorithm denied his application, he said. The main reason for his rejection, McGlockin said, was his unsatisfactory health record and heavy drinking. Tests showed he was on track for liver disease if he continued drinking.
McGlocklin plays most of the people seen in the short, but it's not obvious.
He used an animation technology known as lidar (light detection and ranging) — a tool, typically used in self-driving cars, that detects surrounding objects with lasers — that would let him map scenes onto the screen with 3-D modeling software.
The result is a grainy, low-resolution capture of a human image.
"I really love that aesthetic because it felt like the ghost of an object," he said. "It could be anyone."
The technique speaks to what he says is universal about his story.
"We're all being watched all the time. We're all connected — overconnected — digitally. We all know that we're being tracked, and we're all kind of OK with it," he said. "I mean, people talk a lot about how it's not OK and how they wish companies wouldn't do it, but I don't see a lot of people actually acting on those ideas."
But he decided to tackle that reality through an optimistic lens.
"This isn't going away, this isn't stopping. So, why don't we just take it for what it's worth, and try to put a positive spin on it and try and individualize it and just see how it affects you."
This page was originally published on July 4, 2021.
Andrew Craig created and produced the Weekend Edition Student Film Showcase. Ed McNulty edited the audio interviews. James Doubek and Emma Bowman produced for the web.