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CBU Film Festival Gives Students Opportunity to Shine on the Big Screen

Future filmmakers took center stage in Riverside as California Baptist University held its Student Film Festival, drawing a crowd eager to witness the students' short films across various genres.

CBU students enter the Box Theatre in Riverside for the CBU Film Festival on April 13, 2024.

On Saturday, the lights in a crowded downtown Riverside theater dimmed to showcase the works of talented California Baptist University (CBU) film students.

The CBU Student Film Festival provides an opportunity for students to showcase their work in front of peers, family and friends while competing for awards in their specialties. The films — 12 minutes or shorter — include genres such as drama, thriller and suspense, coming of age and action. Held in conjunction with the Riverside International Film Festival, this year’s film festival screened nearly 20 films.

“The purpose is to showcase the students' films in front of a festival audience,” said Michael Eaton, professor of film. “It’s also to glorify God by using our God-given creativity to tell compelling and entertaining stories that seek to honor God by revealing some aspect of what it means to be human in our world."

For the students, the filmmaking process has been grueling, thrilling and satisfying. They handle every aspect of filmmaking, including scriptwriting, casting, filming and editing.

Emily Pettett, a film senior, submitted a drama titled “I Grow Up,” a short film about a children’s book author struggling to meet a deadline after suffering the loss of her mother. Pettett’s biggest challenge was formulating the story and deciding what was important to keep in.

“I worked through the challenges by trying different ideas and seeing what worked best while I was filming,” Pettett said. “One scene was not working as anticipated, so I ended up rewriting and reshooting the scene to have it flow better.”

Blake Rice, a film and Christian studies senior, submitted two thriller films, “Cut Off” and “Play by the Water.”

"Each stage of the filmmaking process poses its own set of unique challenges,” Rice said.

Factors such as weather can also complicate the process. “Play by the Water" was filmed outdoors in natural light, which called for strict planning for lighting continuity. This film also had a larger cast and was filmed on only one camera, which required more complex coverage.

“The more planning is done in pre-production the more likely we would find a positive outcome,” Rice said.

Despite the challenges, the process is rewarding.

“The most fun part of the process for me is completing my first and final drafts of the film's script,” Rice said. “It stands on its own as a completed piece of art, regardless of how the film itself turns out. It feels very good to start and finish a project, even if it's just the early-stage step of finishing the writing.”

A rewarding benefit to the festival: the audience and the awards.

Brooke Renee Donovan, a film senior, submitted two films this year: her capstone film “M I N E,” and “things I've learned now that you are gone.” Having seen her own films on the big screen before, she finds it easy to nitpick.

“You are waiting to see if they laugh when they should and be emotional when they should,” Donovan said. “There is always one part where the audience reacts differently than you expected, which is a weird but rewarding experience and allows you to see the project through someone else's eyes for a change.”

Thirteen awards were presented at the conclusion of the evening. Notable awards include Best Picture: "things I've learned Now that you are gone" by Brooke Donovan; Best Director: Brooke Donovan, "things I've learned Now that you are gone"; Best Cinematography: Caleb Chong, "things I've learned Now that you are gone"; and Director's Challenge:"We Have to Stop Barry" by Avery Warren.

To learn more about a film degree or other programs in CBU’s College of Architecture, Visual Arts and Design (CAVAD), visit