Student film fest headlines weekend

Student organizers Madison Unell and Nathan Baker helped put together this Friday’s REEL Stories FilmFest at Pepperdine.

“National Treasure” director Jon Turteltaub and “X-Files” creator Chris Carter are among the notables appearing at Pepperdine’s film festival, which will feature live entertainment, a premiere and a post-party.

By Michael Aushenker / Special to The Malibu Times

While awards season kicks into high gear in Hollywood, Pepperdine University salutes its student filmmakers at the Third Annual REELSTORIES FilmFest on Friday. The film festival, which is run entirely by students, showcases short and feature-length works by Pepperdine students as well as professional films.

The evening promises to be a celebration of campus cineastes who may, in the years to come, become the Spielbergs and Scorseses of their generation.

The free event includes screenings of feature films and shorts, as well as two parties, food and live entertainment.

Keynote speaker Jon Turteltaub (director of the “National Treasure” movies and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”) and a panel of accomplished Hollywood talents judging the four winning student entries highlight the program.

Pepperdine junior Madison Unell serves as executive director for this year’s festival.

“It’s been an adventure,” Unell said. “We’ve faced a lot of challenges, but we’re going to have an incredible event.”

Unell, who is currently juggling a job, an internship and her schoolwork while running the film festival, said the logistics of coordinating with people in Hollywood to appear and screen films at the festival has been a challenging but fruitful experience.

“They run on their own schedule so it’s often a waiting game,” Unell said. “Especially trying to get them to listen to a student. That can be difficult.”

Judging by the list of judges scheduled to be on hand, the students’ efforts have been successful.

“The X-Files” creator Chris Carter, “Braveheart” and “The Man in the Iron Mask” writer Randall Wallace, veteran editor and frequent Malibu Stage Company director Graeme Clifford, and Joseph Sargent, director of the original “Taking of the Pelham 1-2-3” heist movie, are among this year’s celebrity judges.

The 10- to 15-minute movies will compete for the judges’ favor for a number of awards, including the REEL Cause Award, the Technical Excellence Award and the Grand Prize Selection. Additionally, the Audience Choice Award will be given to the film judged by the audience to be the best.

At 6 p.m., a premiere party program will feature live music by Los Angeles band Polaris at Noon, as well as an art showcase and catering from Calabasas restaurant Wolf Creek and desserts from The Sweet Truck.

The film program will be split between three venues: the Rockwell Dining Center, George Elkins Auditorium and Smothers Theatre.

Screening of student films, all shorts, will begin at 7 p.m. Those screenings will be followed at 8 p.m. by three feature films: “Being Elmo” (director Constance Marks is scheduled to appear), “Buck” (editor Toby Shimin will be on hand) and “Life in a Day” (which a pair of Pepperdine professors will discuss and pontificate over).

This year’s festival will also mark the debut of the Pepperdine 75th Anniversary Commemorative Award, given to the student film that best reflects the ethos of Pepperdine University, including such themes as “Purpose, Service, Leadership,” and “Freely Ye Received, Freely Give.”

Nathan Baker, assistant director for the festival, said the process has been rewarding and he is excited for the festival to begin.

“I’m really looking forward to getting to hear what the filmmakers think of what the feature films have to say,” Baker said.

As an aspiring editor, Baker is especially interested in hearing Shimin speak about “Buck,” a film he enjoyed watching in one of his classes.

“We look forward to bringing together the Malibu community and the Pepperdine community,” Unell said. “We have some amazing student films here at Pepperdine and we’re excited to share these films.”

For more information on the film festival, visit