From horror with a twist to a personal diary, LBUSD students made short-film art during COVID

The annual Cherry Hill Film Festival celebrates the short films produced by high school students across the entire Long Beach Unified School District.

Last week, 11 films entered in different categories were honored during a virtual ceremony that included a viewing of each entry.

“The most amazing thing this year is that most of them had to do the work on their phones or chrome books,” Lakewood teacher Paul Copeland said. “With just the influence of media in their lives, there’s a level of raw talent that’s fun to develop. A lot of the work was very well done.”

Copeland, who is retiring this year after 31 years at Lakewood High School, created the Cherry Hill Film Festival with former Jordan High School teacher Judy Irish. They started with their own students and slowly incorporated all of the LBUSD schools.

Copeland wanted to make sure they named it something that would include the entire district.

“We tried to think of something that had heritage in Long Beach and so looked up the name of early oil fields in Long Beach and one of the names was Cherry Hill,” he said.

Copland added that the festival’s notoriety quickly grew because “(the students) just love being a part of something that’s bigger than themselves and this district-wide representation. They’re getting their name out there and they’re getting advice.”

Now teachers across the district tell their students about the film festival in September as a form of motivation before teaching them the skills needed to enter and compete for the top prize.

This year, the Best Picture award was given to Angel Gago from Wilson for his dramatic work titled “Never Gone.” The simple story about a haunting turned love story is a sweet twist on an old trope:

Last year’s overall winner Benjamin Tinsley won a pair of awards this year. His dystopian take on technological surveillance called “Surv3y” was Best Drama:

And his comedic horror story about why you should “Always Keep an Eye on your Roomba” was named Best PSA:

Copeland was specifically impressed with his own students Aribeth Sanchez and Amanda Thomas.

Sanchez won Best Time Capsule for “Dear Class of 2021,” which used personal diary video clips and smart icon graphics to recap a unique senior year:

Thomas’ “Beautiful Pencil” won a stacked category for Best Action by incorporating lightsaber special effects:

Each video was judged on 10 different criteria including editing, lighting, sound, acting, credits and staying within the three-minute time restriction. The LBUSD film teachers and a few industry professionals judged the films and then discussed them during the live virtual awards ceremony.

You can watch all of the entries and the awards show at the official website: cherryhillfilmfestival.com.

2021 Cherry Hill Film Festival Winners:

Best Picture – Never Gone by Angel Gago (Wilson)

Best Time Capsule – Dear Class of 2021 by Aribeth Sanchez (Lakewood)

Best Action – Beautiful Pencil by Amanda Thomas (Lakewood)

Best Animation – A Thing by Ariana Romero Ramos

Best Documentary – How My Family Came About by Saniah Sowell

Best Drama – The Surv3y by Benjamin Tinsley (Wilson)

Best Lip Sync – Save Your Tears by Miguel Inigo Vinoya (Jordan)

Best Live Performance – My Future by Dayana Quinonez (Jordan)

Best PSA – Always Keep an Eye on your Roomba by Benjamin Tinsley (Wilson)

Best Silent Movie – Every Tick of the Clock Counts by Miriam Alzebdah (Poly)

Best Voice Over – Best Part of Me 1 by Vincent Fields

Editor’s note: JJ Fiddler volunteered as a judge for the Cherry Hill Film Festival

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Mike and JJ go together like mac and cheese: they’re best friends, business partners and Long Beach sports experts. They’ve been working together for over a decade covering Long Beach local sports and now run the562.org, a community-funded nonprofit media outlet.
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