“‘Dysphoria’ is a mental state where you can be bipolar and not stable with your mind,” senior Ben Macedo said. “Like something traumatizing happens … you just can’t control your emotions.”
Every year, students in Film Analysis are assigned to make their own films with a couple of their classmates. They are given no guidelines whatsoever; they are told to use their creativity and the skills they had learned in class.
Films like “Dysphoria” were chosen to be shown at the annual Film Festival which took place in the Eagle Theater on Monday, April 23. At the film festival, a panel of judges consisting of Vice Principal Galen Rosenberg, math teacher Teresa Dunlap and former student Lauren Machado awarded the producers of “Dysphoria” and “Block Party” (by Lauren Mok), with top honors and a $150 award.
For their senior project, Ben, along with seniors Roxanne Cardenas, Lola Perez and Jasmine Benito captured in their film project “Dysphoria”, a silent film about a young girl named Innocence, who suffers from anxiety due to her father’s death.
In “Dysphoria”, Innocence copes with the loss of her father by painting her memories on canvas. Throughout the film, Innocence creates a masterpiece and discovers that she can live without having her father on her mind constantly.
Whether it was raising their own butterflies, creating their own soundtrack or acting in their film, the group created Innocence’s story to appeal to the audience.
In the film, butterflies symbolize a turning point in Innocence’s life, showing that one can find happiness despite setbacks. There was also a distinct correlation with the colors and Innocence’s memories; each scene and color represents her memories.
“People should take that life keeps going on, even in the hard moments,” Lola said. “There’s always a way out … it’s within yourself. You can’t find happiness any other place except for within yourself.”
For the impact of closure, the group used real butterflies. Roxanne bought the butterfly eggs and raised them until they were ready for filming.
“In the beginning, we talked to the person that mentored us throughout the film, and we told him that we wanted to use butterflies,” Jasmine said. “He told us that it wasn’t a good idea and it’s hard to work with animals… But we insisted that we use the butterflies, and in the end, it worked out well.”
The real challenge was composing music for the film since it consisted of no dialogue. Ben, along with his friend Cory Salles, created the soundtrack from scratch.
“At first, we had to watch the film and see what each scene was trying to represent, what emotion we were trying to show,” Ben said. “I honestly had no clue [what to do]. I know how to play guitar, but I can’t come up with chords on the spot. So I just started playing and it just happened. He played a chord, I played a chord…We synchronized.”
The process was incredibly tedious since the soundtrack had to match the film’s dysphoric mood. The group devoted an entire day debating over the most appropriate music for the film.
“We had already put the soundtrack together, but we didn’t agree with it,” Lola said. “That was our biggest argument. It’s a silent film, and every emotion has to be in the soundtrack. Our original soundtrack was not good. It was boring, it was flat. We wanted to show the dysphoria.”
To compensate for the lack of dialogue, the film had strong actors and actresses who portrayed their emotions in the film. Roxanne acted as Innocence in a portion of the film.
“I’ve never acted before in a movie before,” Roxanne said. “I had [my group] leave the room for the really emotional parts because there was so much pressure to be the character. I kind of related to the character because I actually don’t really talk to my father because my parents are divorced. When I connected to her, I thought about my dad and it really helped me connect to her.”
While “Dysphoria” is a fictional film, “Undocumented,” which was also shown at the Film Festival, took on a more serious issue: immigration. The film, which originally focused on immigration, transitioned into the idea of citizenship.
“For me, it was just the fact that when people immigrated here, they felt obligated to get citizenship,” senior Carla Alonso said. “That was a big part of everyone’s story and their background story and how they got here, so it just kind of just got together and made a more better and interesting story.”
Carla, along with seniors Salvador Chavez and Cristin Martin, explored this concept through extensive interviews of not just family members, but also of students attending the school.
“Growing up here and being here for citizenship, that’s definitely played a role,” Salvador said. “I’ve always been interested in immigration since I was little. Personal stories like growing up and seeing how people are teased for just not knowing the language and immigrants are sometimes called ‘wetbacks’.”
Salvador has experienced the struggles of immigration and has personally been called a ‘wetback’.
“I wanted to expose it to other people and see how they reacted just because it’s just that feeling ever since I was little,” Salvador said. “It’s so interesting and so powerful especially those words.”
Carla, a first generation American, wanted to portray how her parents’ life were more difficult than the one she lives.
“Both my parents were born in Mexico; it’s completely different because you realize your parents go through so much more than you do growing up in America,” Carla said. “People don’t really understand that other people that come to the United States from other countries are just trying to look for a better future.”
The film stresses that immigration isn’t an issue just in California, but rather one of the entire country. This is supported by detailed interviews and clips of President Barack Obama speaking about the issue.
Because the film explored sensitive and personal material, Carla, Salvador and Cristin had a difficult time getting interviewees to tell their story.
“I think just the hardest part was getting the interviews comfortable enough to tell their story,” Salvador said. “When you see them, you can tell that they were holding back some things and [we had to] try to push them to tell their stories.”
The film hopes the audience will acknowledge immigrants as people, persuading them to use the term ‘undocumented’ instead of ‘illegal’.
“I would like [the audience] to leave with more consideration of the words that they use,” Salvador said. “Even in the introduction when the title comes up it says ‘illegal’ and then it gets crossed off and it says ‘undocumented’. Now I’ve noticed that some people stop saying illegal, and I was really happy about that because when I think of illegal, I think of them not even considering them [the immigrants] people, it’s dehumanizing.”
“I want people to leave with an open mind,” Carla said. “An open mind about people who immigrate to the United States and how they’re not here to take people’s jobs, but to find a place they can call their own, to find a country they can call home.”
While “Undocumented” focused on a pressing, more national and political issue, the film “Blue Skies”, made by seniors Meg Nichols and David Schuman, delved into the skydiving.
Unlike other school projects, the group could pursue an interest of their choice.
“I finally got to do what I wanted to do rather than what the teacher wants,” Meg said.
David had always been interested in skydiving ever since he had been exposed to it. However, he couldn’t do it because his parents wouldn’t give their consent; he waited until he was eighteen to do so.
Last year in Global Studies, David decided that his senior project was going to center around skydiving. After his initial research, all he needed to do was jump and film.
The film featured a plethora of perspectives on skydiving.
“I think it was a really interesting process because what the movie is right now is so different than what we had envisioned it to be,” Meg said. “We came up with more and more ideas and then realized that our initial ideas were not feasible or relevant or good or interesting. It ends up being this really cool film that gets all these views and perspectives and throws it into these videos and it takes a comprehensive look into what skydiving is.”
While filming, both David and Meg encountered unforeseen issues.
“Everything that could go wrong went wrong,” Meg said. “And a lot of the stuff you don’t think about.”
During David’s first jump, the plane broke down. This had been an inconvenience because they were on a deadline and needed raw footage.
After skydiving, both David’s and Meg’s perspective had changed, which can be seen in their film.
“I thought it was going to give me an adrenaline rush, but then the second and third time, I didn’t get it at all,” David said. “And that’s what I was really attracted to, the adrenaline rush, but it really is just really peaceful, and I think I like it even more.”
Meg had initially thought it was going to be scary but found it to be a more serene and peaceful experience.
“It’s like you’re a tiny ant and you’re watching this really big world,” Meg said. “I think it’s really calm at that point, it’s more about looking around.”
By creating a film for their final senior film project, students have learned more about work ethics, teamwork and independence and have been able to reflect on their years at Los Altos.
“If you really put commitment into something you want to do, then in the end you can really do it,” Ben said. “We thought we wouldn’t have enough time, but we put all our effort into it and it came out to be something so beautiful I’m proud of.”
Missed the film festival? Check the website again to see some of the films that were shown at the festival.