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Weekend Edition Student Film Showcase: Watch Standout Student Films

Weekend Edition Student Film Showcase

Updated July 25, 2021 at 11:10 AM ET

Each week in July, Weekend Edition is celebrating exceptional student filmmakers 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 18, 2021. This page will be updated each week with new selections.

Chuj Boys of Summer

Listen: Director Max Walker-Silverman On 'Chuj Boys of Summer'

The 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 it's a coming-of-age story, told through the perspective of immigrants who have to be family breadwinners 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."

Less Lethal

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."

Spaceship

Listen: Director Jorge Camarena about "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.

Anita

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

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.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.