CSUN students in Los Angeles Short Film Festival

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Upon learning that their music video, shot on a shoestring budget and starring a lot of dedicated friends, had been rejected by the Los Angeles International Short Film Festival, Kristopher Valentine, with a hint of sarcasm congratulated his partner, John Duarte, on their failed submission and walked away.

Valentine had no idea that in just a few days he would be able to remove the cynicism from his statement. Soon he and Duarte learned that the e-mail rejecting their student project was sent in error. The festival had accepted their music video, called “Expo 86.”

The rejection e-mail was disappointing for Duarte and Valentine, both 22-year-old junior CTVA majors with an option in film production. The rejection was nearly the proverbial straw that broke the camels back for Duarte, who lost his girlfriend and his job just days before.

“Everything in my life,” Duarte said, “sucks,” shouted Valentine, finishing the sentence for his friend.

“John is usually the more optimistic one,” Valentine continued. “Some days you feel like it is fate and everything will work out, other times you think life sucks and the sooner you accept it you can move on.”

Luckily, the duo did not have time to embrace failure.

“A week later I received a call asking me why I had not sent in my acceptance letter (to film festival),” said Duarte, who quickly mentioned the rejection notice he had received to the caller.

Duarte and Valentine said they felt validated after learning that their short film would be premiering at the 9th Annual L.A. International Short Film Festival on Sept. 11 in the ArcLight theater in Hollywood. It was accepted by “the biggest film festival of its kind,” Duarte said.

“It proves you do not have to spend $2,000 or $15,000 on your student film,” Duarte said.

Valentine added a similar sentiment.

“You don’t need money or connections, you just have to be prepared,” he said after praising Duarte’s pre-production planning and vision.

“It’s basically eight videos in one,” said Duarte about of “Expo 86,” which uses a split-window effect, similar to the introduction to the “Brady Bunch,” to tell a story. The film stars Duarte and his ex-girlfriend.

The band Death Cab for Cutie contributed the film’s title track, “Expo 86.”

The band was not that popular at the time of the shoot, which played a factor in the decision to use the song in the film, Duarte said. Death Cab’s first major label debut, Plans, sold 90,000 copies last week, giving the band the No. 4 selling album in the country.

“They are so major now,” Duarte said.

Valentine and Duarte’s visual representation in “Expo 86” was a clandestine operation. They have no contact with Death Cab for Cutie and are pretty sure the band is unaware the video even exists.

The video took nearly five weeks to shoot and was shot entirely at CSUN. The video was shot for a whopping $300.

“This thing was all about timing,” said Duarte, who admits to hustling his friends to fill out the cast and crew.

“A lot of it is about just making connections with people at your school and in the industry,” said Valentine. “They have been awesome; they gave us free pizza for every shoot.”

Upon completion of the film, Mary Schaffer, head of the multimedia option in the CTVA Department, suggested to Duarte that he enter “Expo 86” in the “Mecca of short film festivals,” Valentine said. Schafer gave Duarte all the information needed to submit the film and he did the rest.

“(Schaffer) is a hardcore caring person,” said Duarte.

Duarte and Valentine said they hope their project will inspire other students to work together and get faculty support, they said.

“There is so much potential at CSUN, but the majors are so separated,” said Valentine. “Let’s start breaking down the barrier and work together.”

Valentine said he feels that his peers stay within their own departments too much.

The festival began Sept. 6 and runs through today.

Darren D. Dickerson can be reached at ane@sundial.csun.edu.