SMC students shooting a film on location.

Santa Monica has long been a creative hub for the film industry and students at Santa Monica College are doing their part to uphold the tradition.

Three Santa Monica College students will be presenting their films at the Santa Monica Film Festival this Saturday. The stories of their films, with genres ranging from thriller to western to documentary, are just as varied as the lives of the filmmakers themselves.

“What ‘Hinge’, ‘Once Upon a Woman’, and ‘Undocumented’ all have in common is that these are films that have something meaningful to say about the world we live in,” Salvador Carrasco, SMC film professor said, “Which tends to happen because our SMC filmmakers bring their rich life experiences and perspectives to the screen with a high level of artistry and uncompromising honesty.”

“Hinge”, directed by Lisa Mayo, is a story of a lesbian couple whose lives become challenged by their mentally unstable neighbor. The story was loosely inspired by real-life events, according to Mayo.

The 37-year old Mayo, who was a year into nursing before pivoting full-time to film, says a friend of hers was once attacked by an unstable neighbor. Additionally, she experienced similar situations as a nurse.  

“It’ll beg the question of what do you do when you have people that have mental health issues living in your neighborhood,” she said. “I hope people walk away with a different perspective, understanding that mentally ill people are not bad people. What, as humans, can we do to figure out how to engage and handle these situations?”

From a claustrophobic neighborhood thrill to the wide open west, “Once Upon a Woman” looks to bring an old-school flavor to SMFF.

“It’s revisionist and a throwback,” director Wayne Hodges said. “Westerns are to movies as jazz is to music. It’s a genre that takes it’s time. This one feels like a throwback to early Clint when he was doing the spaghetti westerns, a nod to yesteryear.”

The 43-year old former-Marine-turned-Lee-Strasburg-Student / Staff-Member-Turned-Bouncer-Turned-Director’s film is described in it’s synopsis as a Western set after the Civil War.

Hodges says familiar genre trappings such as Cowboys and Indians will be included and will dive into personal struggles of the two, all while framed against the approach of life-altering industrialization and the railroad … and doom.

Rounding out the student’s films is the topical documentary “Undocumented.”

The film is well-regarded already, having been an official selection at the 38th International Festival of Film Schools in Munich and a cadre of other film festivals as well as winning awards for Best Director at the Silicon Beach Film Festival, winning Best Audio Visual Film at the Los Angeles CineFest, and becoming a semi-finalist at the Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards.

Directed by Bishal Dutta and co-produced by Lindsay Eberts, Oscar Huezo, and Dennis Sandoval, Eberts says the documentary focuses on a Dreamer figuring out a way to live his American Dream.

“It’s a great starting point for human immigration policy,” Eberts said. “A lot of people are talking about immigration like its a black and white issue and we would love to use this film as a jumping off point for a more nuanced discussion.”

Eberts helped edit the documentary as well as as of now, trying to find it a home after festivals.

Formerly in holistic medicine, the 39-year old Eberts changed her life to focus on film after stints in London, Canada and France. She says she did so to focus on what matters most in her life, creativity, following in the footsteps of her father, Dances with Wolves producer the late Jake Eberts.

“I felt I could go to school and learn from what he did and learn, get my feet back from under me,” she said. “My first day of class at SMC was an epiphany.”

SMC and changing careers — and arguably, their lives — is the common thread tying these up-and-coming, age-is-just-a-number film mavericks together.

“I’ve always wanted to write and direct but never admitted to myself or knew there was a place for me as a brown female in this industry,” Mayo said. “Never saw myself in that role. But Sal (Carrasco) made me think it was possible.”

“It’s the best collaborative experience in film i’ve ever had. They let artists be artists and at the same time, there was always a respect there,” Hodges said.

“The program is so diverse,” Eberts said. “Age, race, religion, it’s unbelievable.  You’ve got underserved populations who are able to come to SMC, tell their stories and get them made. It’s unlike any other film program out there.”

The Santa Monica Film Festival takes place at the Laemmle Monica Film Center, 1332 2nd Street in downtown Santa Monica 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Ticket information and access codes are available on the festival’s website, while supplies last. Q and A sessions will follow each block of screenings.

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