School Pulls Student Film from Annual Festival

Student film “Grand Theft Auto: Los Altos” was removed from the school’s evening showing of the Canned Film Festival on Monday, April 20, due to the film’s racial content. Since the film was not shown in the evening, it was ineligible for awards offered at the festival.
Directed by seniors Nils Lennartsson, Bradley Green and Jeff Larraux, the film depicts a Caucasian student whose reality is influenced by the video game “Grand Theft Auto,” which is rated Mature for drug and alcohol use, partial nudity and violence. Playing off of racial stereotypes and video game satire, the film was deemed unfit for the festival’s 7 p.m. screening; it was, however, played in the Eagle Theatre during fifth period.
Although voted by film students among the top 7 films of 15, “Grand Theft Auto” was removed for inappropriate content from both the screening and the competition. As a result, the film was ineligible for the competition’s monetary awards. It was instead replaced by the eighth seed film, “Survival,” directed by seniors Enrique Calderon, Brendan Ferrell and Duncan Tormey.
According to Principal Wynne Satterwhite, this was not the first time a film was pulled from the festival.
Film Analysis teachers Galen Rosenberg and Lisa Bonanno said students were alerted of school policy prohibiting use of the “f-bomb” prior to the day of screening. Students signed contracts the day of the festival reaffirming the prohibition of the word.
Though “Grand Theft Auto” met these requirements, Satterwhite felt that some scenes in the film conveyed negative messages that would offend viewers.
“My job as principal is to find the line of whatever happens here,” Satterwhite said. “If things fall outside these guidelines, they’re not going to happen on this campus.”
The film depicts a Caucasian male student who becomes “gangster” after playing “Grand Theft Auto.” At school, he encounters a group of Latino, Indian and African American students from a “real gang.” The film ends with a battle between the “real gang” and the Caucasian boy’s friends, with similar effects and language used in the game.
“We were just trying to portray the reality of the game that he played,” Bradley said. “There was no racial intent in making the movie.”
According to Rosenberg and Bonanno, film class students for the most part are over 17 and have permission to watch restricted movies. Classes were able to watch the full uncut films, some of which Rosenberg rated as a “light R.”
It was expected that films for the festival would be rated PG-13 so as not to offend families and community members. Some swear words, sexual innuendos and violence were allowed as forms of artistic expression.
“The issue wasn’t language; … it was the issue of race,” Rosenberg said. “The movie wasn’t shown … because of the way it dealt with race and how problematic that was.”
Film classes reviewed “Grand Theft Auto: Los Altos” the following day on Tuesday, April 21, and discussed the appropriateness of the content. Some found the satire entertaining as opposed to offensive.
“The impression I got … was that it was all for comedic value,” senior Nikita Popov said. “The stereotypes were there, but they were in every single movie.”
Other students felt as if the movie crossed the line.
“It definitely had some racial elements [in] it that were intended as jokes and some were funny, but I feel it was a bit much to a degree,” senior Mike Colman said.
According to Rosenberg, a possible solution that was considered this year and may be used in the future is mounting a disclaimer on the door of the theater warning audiences of possible explicit or offensive content.
Satterwhite believes that the manner in which students choose to express themselves is entirely up to them, but it is a choice that is hand in hand with responsibility.
“In life, you always have options … but there will always be consequences,” Satterwhite said. “High school should reflect that.”