The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

Two LAHS student-made films nominated at local film festival

Aimee Ge
The Luminescence Bay Area Teen Film Festival, held last Friday, aims to give student filmmakers a platform to share their work.
17 student-directed films were nominated for and screened at the Luminescence Film Festival, including two made by Los Altos High School students. (Aimee Ge)

Last Friday, two films submitted by Los Altos High School students were nominated for the Luminescence Bay Area Teen Film Festival. Junior Julia Hayden Fung and Greenthumb Productions, a team of senior students in the Film Analysis class — Paavo Lahdesmaki, Alexandru “Razvan” Popescu, Annelise Hein and Abigail Wang — won for their films “Stranger” and “Shell” respectively.

Hosted by the Teen Arts Council, the festival, which seeks to celebrate student filmmakers, screened 17 nominated films at the Palo Alto Children’s Theater. In recent years, they’ve opened up the competition from Palo Alto High School (Paly) to the greater Bay Area.

“Usually film festivals tend to be restrictive — you’re going to need a pretty big production crew or maybe even a budget to get in,” Paavo said. “The Luminescence Film Festival gives an opportunity to students who really wouldn’t be able to showcase their work otherwise.”

“A lot of young filmmakers don’t get recognition for their films,” Teen Arts Council co-President and Paly senior Rorie Escudero said. “This is a place to do that. We want them to feel special and seen.”

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Greenthumb Productions, the four-person team behind “Shell,” created several pieces focusing on comedy before. But unlike their past productions, the team wanted to take a more serious angle with this film. Using eerie human-like creatures from the “uncanny valley” online trend as a starting point for inspiration, they worked to craft a horror story based on the experiences of a man being followed by his doppelgänger.

“We went above and beyond for the film and absolutely did more than we had to,” Paavo said. “It was a lot of work and a lot of mental strain — we were exhausted, but it was fun.”

In creating “Shell,” Greenthumb focused on the visuals to best convey their horror film. Though, according to Paavo, “it’s not easy to be scary” without a large budget, the camera angles and lighting were deliberate and careful — enough to create a chilling mood despite the limitations of student productions.

“We focused on the vibe of the film and put a lot of emphasis on trying to make it look good,” Annelise said. “I think we did a good job on the cinematography — there’s some shots in there that can be fun to see on the big screen.”

“It reminded me a lot of a Chris Nolan film,” LAHS Film Analysis teacher Susana Herrera said. “Someone is in the house and after this other person. And then there’s this reveal at the end and you’re like, ‘No way, I didn’t even know that!’ There’s a kind of mystery and intrigue, I think really gets the viewer to say ‘Yeah, I want more of this.’”

The team was under a tight deadline, having to create the finalized film in roughly two weeks’ time. More often than not, they were filming at odd hours of the night and thinking of ideas for shots on the fly. Annelise recalls it having “come together” largely in the filming process. 

“We filmed near midnight all the time, sometimes during school days,” Razvan said. “It’s just a constant ‘try not to be tired the next day,’ because we’re constantly filming, one day after the other. We were pretty much not getting any sleep.”

Despite those limitations, the team functioned as a cohesive whole. Each member played a critical role in the making of the film, and they were able to come up with a well-executed product that paid off in the end.

“Working with these guys has been a lot of fun,” Annelise said. “It’s been a lot of collaboration — we listened to everyone’s ideas. We didn’t want to miss out on anyone’s view of what the film could look like, and that made the best product.”

“They’re a very special group and I love how they found each other,” Herrera said. “Razvan as the heart of the group, bringing everybody together, Paavo’s great use of the camera and understanding how to set up a shot, Annelise and Abigail throwing out ideas and thinking so far outside the box — they all inspire each other.”

The other winning film, “Stranger,” was created by Julia. Though she’s involved in various forms of performing arts, most notably theater and singing, she finds that filmmaking is something she has a special “knack for.” Julia has spent time creating films before — albeit short ones — but nothing quite like what she put into “Stranger.”

“It’s the first film that I’ve put more than an hour of thought into,” Julia laughed. “Film has definitely influenced the way I think — it’s been a really, really big part of how I’ve grown up, so it’s very important to me, creating ‘Stranger’ on my own for the first time, because that was essentially my directorial debut.”

Using her personal experience as a starting point for creating, Julia drew the idea for her film from her past dealings with the loss of close friends.

“Honestly, I felt like [the film] was a long time coming,” Julia said. “I have a lot of people that have come and gone in my life. It’s a very universal thing to miss someone — I think everyone’s experienced that.”

She goes into filming with a near-complete idea of what she wants the final outcome to look like and describes the creative brainstorming process as a “little movie theater” inside her head. Sophomore Kaden Calder, who played one of the main characters in “Stranger,” attests to this skill of hers.

“Jules had a very clear idea of how she wanted [the film] to go, which is really important for a director,” Kaden said. “However, I was still comfortable with my creative freedom — it wasn’t a high-stress situation. Rather, it was very go-with-the-flow, very laid back.”

Though neither of the co-actors starring in the film had met before, the filming process was smooth thanks to their natural on-screen chemistry. 

“We walked up and there’s this girl,” Kaden recalled. “Jules told me to lie down and talk about clouds, and we just kind of jumped into it immediately. And I was like, ‘This person’s really cool and I want to be friends with them.’”

“The beginning scene is almost completely improvised,” Julia said, “They’re just naturally interacting with each other, and I had to remind myself that they weren’t childhood best friends. I could not have asked for a better cast.”

Though “Stranger” has been shown at other festivals, this is the first one that she’ll be attending in person, which she considers a step forward in the filmmaking career that she hopes to pursue in the future.

“It’s a little bit more about the precedent that I want to set — you don’t see a lot of female filmmakers of color, and you definitely don’t see a lot of women in cinematography, which is what I want to do with the rest of my life,” Julia said. “So it’s important to me that I get started now, tell my own story, and branch out.”

For both Julia and the seniors in Greenthumb Productions, many of whom are interested in going into college focusing on filmmaking as well, the recognition they’ve received for their work is a massive credit to their abilities and the beginning of future successes to come.

To learn more about Julia’s work, go to her website at or Instagram account at @jhf.ilms. To learn more about Greenthumb Productions, check out their Instagram account at @greenthumb_prod or watch their works directly from their Youtube channel.

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Aimee Ge
Aimee Ge, Features Editor

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