Finding Fame At The Film Festival

Seniors fly out to D.C. to meet Obama, celebrities at The White House

Finding Fame At The Film Festival

photograph contributed by The White House

Priya Kukreja, Co-Editor-In-Chief

Although they had to clear extensive background examinations, pass multiple security checks, and be in constant presence of the secret service, nothing stopped seniors Jessie Chen and Alan Israel Ruiz Cantú from exploring the wonders at the White House. However, aside from the usual White House festivities, they also had numerous artists and celebrities to interact with. It was commonplace to see the Lumineers strolling along or Leonardo DiCaprio eating lunch.
Seniors Jessie Chen and Alan Israel Ruiz Cantú flew to the White House in Washington D.C. after receiving an honorable mention in the 3rd Annual White House Film Festival. On Oct. 3, they attended “South by the South Lawn,” a White House festival that celebrates ideas, art, and action. The objective is to bring together people who worked to improve the lives of their fellow Americans and people around the world.
“I never imagined being able to go to the White House because of a short film my friends and I made. Meeting new people, other filmmakers, and some famous people was awesome,” Ruiz Cantú said.
Chen and Ruiz Cantú spent the weekend attending panel discussions, exploring booths, and watching other films while meeting national celebrities in the film, art, and music industries. The seniors recount hanging out with Millie Bobby Brown from the Netflix show Stranger Things, listening to Leonardo DiCaprio talk about climate change, and taking photos with Ty Burrell from Modern Family.
“Meeting Millie was really cute. She’s honestly just like any normal kid. She’s really fascinated with everything that’s going on and a bit hyper,” Chen said.
Still, both Ruiz Cantú and Chen agree that one of their most memorable moments was interacting with President Obama.
“Taking a picture with Obama was a really exciting experience. There was a lot of build up before it. The doors were closed and they made us wait a long time, but when the President finally came in, everyone screamed and freaked out. It was amazing. The very first thing he did was fist bump the tiniest kid in the room,” Chen said.
Obama is part of a national initiative to encourage young people to take action through involvement in the arts. The White House Film Festival invited students to submit their films of what they want the future to look like, themed “The World I Want to Live In.”
“Few submissions envisioned a technology-driven, science-fiction-esque future. Rather, it seems that this generation of youth are inspired by something much more simple: the dream of a more tolerant, more fair, more environmentally-friendly world. One that is widely inclusive, and contains rich opportunities of access for all,” said the directors of the festival.
Chen and Ruiz Cantú’s award-winning short film, “Wishing For A Different Perspective,” speaks to a similar, more accepting future. It follows an immigrant father who struggles to get home to celebrate his son’s birthday and a son who wishes for a better world for his father to live in.
“The message was wishing for a different present—where there is no discrimination, where immigrants are not afraid of being treated differently. We are all equal. No matter what race, or where you come from. We should all have the same opportunities and be treated equally,” Ruiz Cantú said.
Chen and Ruiz Cantú directed the short film during the summer, working with UNC Chapel Hill freshmen Stephanie Dong and using Cantú as the lead actor. Their film was one of many that was featured at the festival.
“Watching films from other young filmmakers and hearing each of their stories made me so hopeful and ready for what the future has in store for us. This entire experience was so surreal and felt like a dream. Although I was sad about leaving D.C., I will certainly remember every single detail of this adventure,” Chen said.