July 2021 Festival – Highlights and Videos

AUDIENCE AWARD WINNERS:
Best Short Film: LA MARELLE
Best Performances: DREAMER
Best Cinematography: POST-ELECTION WORKS
Best Direction: GEORGE FLOYD: SAY THEIR NAME
Best Sound & Music: THE STORY OF LILY CHEN

Theme of night: Life

NOTE: Festival took place during the COVID-19 virus lockdown so all screenings were held in private.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Videos:

festival posterPOST-ELECTION WORKS, 17min., USA, Experimental



festival posterDREAMER, 8min., USA, Drama



festival posterLA MARELLE, 3min., France, Drama



festival posterTHE STORY OF LILY LEE CHEN, 18min,. USA, Documentary



festival posterGEORGE FLOYD: SAY THEIR NAME, 7min., USA, Music Video



The beginning of a (temporary) new era.

See you at the festivals. Whenever that happens!

– Matthew Toffolo

Director Biography – Nox Yang (THE STORY OF LILY LEE CHEN)

Nox Yang is an LA-based filmmaker, a current undergraduate student in UCLA’s film and sociology departments. Growing up in China and receiving higher education in the United States, she has a focus on racial, gender, sexual, social justice issues, and has participated in making documentaries that feature Japanese American WWII internment camp survivors, formerly incarcerated African American women, sexual trafficking survivors in Hollywood #Metoo movement, etc.

This current film The Story of Lily Lee Chen, a story about a minority woman breaking into American mainstream politics in the 1980s, is her directorial debut. Her goal is to use storytelling to amplify the voice of the minority, empower the marginalized, promote justice and a greater understanding across different cultures and communities.

Director Statement

In early 2020, I started a campaign to run for International Student Representative as the first Chinese candidate in UCLA’s history.

As you can see, I came to the United States in 2018 dreaming to live in “the land of the free” but only found myself, an Asian female at the age of 18, become the minority here, along with many other people who have also been disappointed and alienated by this land – especially with the COVID-19 and the exacerbated anti-Asian sentiment, racism, and xenophobia.

Driven by the urge to speak for my community, I decided to run for that position. But it was not easy for a foreign student and a novice in political campaigns. Crippled by my lack of knowledge and experience in this American game, I lost.

A few weeks after my failed attempt, I was introduced to Lily Lee Chen through a mutual friend and was shocked to hear about her story – another foreign student who came to this country almost 60 years ahead of me, worked hard to become a US citizen, ran for office, and actually WON. However, despite having achieved incredible success as a minority woman, she experienced racial and gender prejudice no differently than I did, and fought relentlessly to combat it.

It was then I knew I wanted to tell Lily’s story.

I want her story to be a reminder: what America used to be, how it has attracted countless people like Lily and me with its promises, how much the generations before us have done to get closer to those ideals, and how it is our responsibility, as the younger generation, not to let them down.

Director Biography – Christopher R. Owens, Alyssa Dann (GEORGE FLOYD: SAY THEIR NAME)

ALYSSA DANN

Alyssa Dann was a quiet and reserved child raised in a very musical household. Her father is a highly-regarded bass and guitar player and her mother is a singer. For Alyssa, music has always been her voice. She started lessons at the age of five and songwriting by seven. By 13, Alyssa was playing bass on her father’s gigs at clubs in New York City. Fast forward to 2018, and Alyssa, while still in high school, was performing in New York City and Boston and releasing her own recordings.

During high school, Alyssa was introduced to the power of storytelling through film. She directed, filmed, and edited two of her own music videos, and fell in love with video editing. In a “Media as Service” program with Woodstock Travels, she visited India and Nepal, working with NGOs to create promotional content. After high school, she taught video editing and recording media arts to 8th Grade kids — in her old classroom!

Alyssa’s decision to direct and edit “George Floyd: Say Their Names” during her transition to college has opened her eyes and changed her life — and she is not looking back.

Alyssa recently started attending Sarah Lawrence College (US-NY), Class of 2024, and sees herself majoring in Psychology, Public Health and Music.

CHRISTOPHER R. OWENS / CHRIS OLEDUDE

As a singer-songwriter and performer, Chris Owens has been musically active for nearly 55 of his 62 years. He studied piano, cello, recorder, and African drums, and also sang in numerous choruses. Owens had been in bands and school musicals, but no videos or films.

With a family to support and a career to sustain, Chris Owens put his passion for music aside until his father, Nelson Mandela and family friend Pete Seeger all passed within three months of each other between October, 2013 and January, 2014. As a result, Chris and his two brothers formed OBB – The Owens Brothers Band and started performing original music live. Then, in 2017, Chris’ wife was diagnosed with cancer … and music was again put on hold.

In 2020, a year after Sandra’s death and at the start of the COVID pandemic, Chris Owens decided to create the artist known as CHRIS OLEDUDE to serve as the full outlet for his creative energy and the burning desire to speak out during challenging times. Focused on music, Owens never really thought about “videos”. He really knew nothing about video production or editing.

Chris Owens founded CESO ENTERPRISES, INC. in May, 2020 to manage the work of CHRIS OLEDUDE and the intellectual property past, present and future from Chris and his two sons.
On June 14, 2020, Owens recorded the vocal tracks for the song “George Floyd”. During that session, studio musicians, singers, and the recording engineer’s young daughter gathered outdoors around three microphones to record the chants heard in the song. That young woman was Alyssa Dann, then a high school senior, who also served as the “voice over” towards the end of the video. Alyssa is a singer-songwriter herself and was so inspired by the song, that she asked Owens if she could work on a video for the song. And Owens consented.

The result was an inter-generational, cross-cultural, and geographically diverse urban/rural relationship. Owens had worked in local politics for a few years, including campaign management. He had overseen production of some short videotaped candidate messages for voters, but never a musical production. Dann had worked on high school video projects and her own music videos. But this video was much more complex and nearly seven minutes in length.

Between June and October, Owens’ company, CESO ENTERPRISES, INC., produced the video, “George Floyd: Say Their Names,” with Owens and Dann co-directing and Dann handling the editing. Owens had a small singing role, and singer Wendy Ward had the lead role, along with the community church-based Angels of Transformation Dancers.

The production was “low-budget,” technically challenging, and emotionally draining. But, in the end, everyone involved with “George Floyd: Say Their Names” was moved by the experience. Now, audiences are moved as well.

Director Statement

CHRIS OLEDUDE:

The murder of George Floyd focused attention on police brutality against people of color, and racism in general, in a way that few moments have in American history. As an artist, I had to speak out in my way, right away, because I was just as angry as everyone else.

We need stability and a focus on “people first” in order to rejuvenate our nation! If you know economic justice, you will know peace. If you know health care justice, you will know peace. If you know education justice, you will know peace. If you know fair and equal justice under the law, you will know peace. If you know human and civil rights, you will know peace. And, as one of humankind’s most powerful communication tools, music brings us closer to feeling these issues in our bones and saving our collective soul.

I was also blessed and honored by the strong interest of the talented Alyssa Dann in making the video. GEORGE FLOYD: SAY THEIR NAMES is a unique statement in large part because Ms. Dann brought the energy and perspectives of younger people to the project — as well as her excellent aesthetic sense.

It is a tribute to her commitment and fortitude that Alyssa was able to complete her good work on her first ‘professional’ video while simultaneously starting her freshman year at Sarah Lawrence College during the COVID pandemic here in New York State. I don’t know if I could have done that.

ALYSSA DANN:

When I was a background vocalist for the Chris Oledude song, “George Floyd,” I was caught up in the passionate frustration and determination embedded in the music. In the aftermath of the recording session, I kept visualizing aspects of the song. I knew I wanted to create this video. When I asked Chris for the opportunity to do this, he gave me a strange look, but he agreed right away and we embarked on a wild journey into unknown territory. After all, we are both strong-willed songwriters. What could be more perfect, right?

As we completed “George Floyd: Say Their Names,” however, it became so clear that we had created something special — more of a short film than a simple music video — more of an “experience” than a “moment.” When someone whispered the phrase “film festivals,” we paused and agreed to explore some more. Wow! Neither Chris nor I had any idea that there was a world of music video and short film festivals where GEORGE FLOYD: SAY THEIR NAMES could be shared. Now, we are truly grateful for the opportunity to be part of these events.

Short Film: GEORGE FLOYD: SAY THEIR NAME, 7min., USA, Music Video

When will the “last” time be the LAST time? Chris Oledude’s single “George Floyd” has now been re-presented in the powerful video, “George Floyd: Say Their Names.” America’s struggle for equality and fairness throughout law enforcement parallels those struggles faced by minority groups in every society where the majority feels empowered to disregard civil and human rights. The powerful protests that erupted worldwide after George Floyd’s murder in May, 2020, are celebrated here. The enduring power of Black women as determined healers of a torn community is celebrated here. The victims had names. We honor their lives by saying their names.
The pressure for change must continue. No justice? No peace!

Project Links

Director Biography – Kate Haug (POST-ELECTION WORKS)

Kate Haug is an artist living in San Francisco, California. In her work, she investigates history – its presentation and consumption. Her practice explores the circulation of information through ephemera, popular culture and historical documents, re-contextualizing and refiguring archival material to examine contemporary issues. She enjoys making her own ephemera and its anonymous distribution into public spaces. Her short films have screened internationally and include “Pass,” New Directors/New Films 1997, and “Deep Creep,” London International Film Festival 1999.

Director Statement

“Post-Election Works” is a very personal project for me. It is hard to know oneself when assumptions about your government become upended and irrelevant. When I first conceived of the film, it was much more about Walter Benjamin; I felt a parallel to his experience. He was an intellectual and a chronicler of modern culture, writing about history as a non-linear, unstable form. In his book, “Moscow Diary,” Benjamin’s journal entries describe the rise of Stalin from a unique vantage point; he was a foreigner, hosted by actors, leftists and academics, privy to their political debates about Stalin and the changing communist party. Twenty-four years later, pursued by Nazis, Benjamin committed suicide. Throughout his lifetime, Benjamin witnessed the rise of Western dictators, continuing his work as a philosopher and critic. The question of how intellectuals and artists function within a context of political turmoil is compelling to me and structures much of this piece.

Production Notes:
Post-Election Works is an essay film constructed of digital fragments, narrated by the artist as she examines her identity after the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. The use of photographs and video culled from the internet mixed with the artist’s artwork and personal experience create a fragmented, prismatic history where the individual becomes the witness, the activist and the subject.

Short Film: POST-ELECTION WORKS, 17min., USA, Experimental Documentary

Combining a philosophical framework of Walter Benjamin with her present day production of political ephemera, the filmmaker/artist examines a circular nature of history and her identity as it evolves within the context of contemporary politics. A collage of internet imagery and personal reflection, Post-Election Works becomes a dialogue between the online, digital archive, activism and the narrator’s subjective experience.

Project Links

Director Biography – Vergi Rodriguez, Diana Zollicoffer (DREAMER)

Vergi Rodriguez, a graduate of the world-renowned LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, the school made famous by the movie and television show “Fame”, has made her debut as a director and writer with her short film “Dreamer.” Within a year it has been selected to over 30 film festivals and received several accolades and honorable mentions.

Vergi has always known that she wanted to be in entertainment and reach a worldwide audience through the power of television and cinema. She’s worked as an Associate Producer on the film “12 Feet Deep” starring Tobin Bell from the “Saw” movie film series and is currently writing her own original digital content.

Vergi had a previous career as an accomplished choreographer and industry expert who has worked with a multitude of names within the entertainment industry. Some of the artists she has worked with include Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Alba, Sofia Vergara, Prince, Britney Spears, Shaggy and Jay Z. She also the choreographed for reggaeton artist Don Omar’s music video “Conteo”, which was featured on the “Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift” soundtrack.
Some of her atelevision credits include Jim Carrey’s “I’m Dying Up Here”, Tru Tv’s “Laff Mobb’s Laff Tracks”, MTV’s “Scratch and Burn,” “Dancing With The Stars” and feature films like Universal Pictures’ “Honey” and Disney’s “The Hot Chick.” She has also been sought after as an expert in the commercial dance world for Canadian TV show “Killer Comebacks” where she was asked to talk about her experience working with Britney Spears.

Vergi has received a certificate of Commendation from the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office , Eric Garcetti for being selected for the NewFilmMaker L.A.’s “On Location: The Los Angeles Video Project.” This project screened her music video from her first Spanish language music single “Quieres De Mi.” It allowed filmmakers, like Vergi, to showcase their talent while making short films/videos about some aspect of Los Angeles in a positive light.

Director Statement

Seeing all of the changes that started to take place within our political climate I felt like this would be the appropriate moment to want to make a change for the better. I started to notice that on a global scale the new sanctions against immigrants and that was the catalyst in propelling me to get involved by taking more of a social justice stance. After working within the entertainment industry as a performer previously, I was faced with seeing certain inequities that drove me to want to use my creative voice to tell the types of stories that push the “Hispanic / Latino” narrative in a more positive direction. I am looking at moving the stories of the Hispanic community’s diaspora through filmmaking. We have such a rich and diverse culture I look forward to using the power of cinema to get some of those unique perspectives to a global audience.