“Long live cinema!” proclaimed Maria Silano, as she accepted the top award at the 2023 Winton Arts Film Fest.
Horror, comedy, drama, experimental, super-shorts, and middle school. Regardless of the category, the Winton Arts Film Fest celebrates the creativity of student filmmakers at Carondelet, De La Salle and East Bay middle schools.
On the evening of March 10, 2023, students across the Bay Area came together in the Jean Hofmann Center for Innovation at Carondelet High School to debut their original films. Featuring film screenings, recorded red carpet interviews, limo rides, an Oscar-like award show, and special VIP guests, the Winton Arts Film Festival was the culmination of countless hours of creativity on the part of the student filmmakers.
In spite of the fact that student film festivals are not a new idea, there are few student film festivals in the San Francisco East Bay area. The annual Winton Arts Film Festival, first established in 2020, fills this whitespace by providing students a positive environment to showcase their works of art with a supportive audience. Chris Walsh, Director of the Jean Hofmann Center for Innovation, was the driving force behind the initial idea. “This is all about creativity… and finding your voice. I think we really want to encourage students to take risks and have those risks celebrated,” says Mr. Walsh.
Each year, awards are given across multiple genres to recognize the achievements of student filmmakers. With roughly 50 submissions this year, the process was competitive, and all student filmmakers should feel proud of their hard work and creativity. There were no limitations to the stories, themes, props, characters, and worlds that could be incorporated into their films – as long as students worked within the given copyright and content guidelines, of course.
The winners of the 2023 Film Fest by category were as follows: “Haunts & Taunts” by Ana Green, Jolie Hair, and Nayeli Castillo for Best Comedy/Musical Film; “Repost” by Serena Marwah for Best Drama/Horror Film; “Years to Come” by Lola-Maria Zermeno for Best Super Short Film; “The Valencia Strain” by Maria Silano for Best Experimental Film; “Godzilla vs. Mecha-Godzilla” by Aidan Perl for Best Middle School Film.
In addition, the Film Fest awarded the “Best in Fest” award to Maria Silano for “The Valencia Strain.” The second special award, dubbed the “People’s Choice” award in honor of the fact that it is awarded based on audience votes, was given to Michael Brown III for “Overlooked.”
Winners get gift cards and a unique, one-of-kind award statue dubbed an “Oaky” — which is a leaf-shaped plaque made from natural oak wood. While oak trees are known to symbolize stability and longevity, the “Oakies” take on a special meaning by relating to the unique Bay Area environment – and, as a way to be more eco-conscious, awards are 100% biodegradable.
Mr. Walsh has noticed great improvement over the years. What once started out as an assortment of simple videos and TikToks has now evolved into something that could rival the Oscars. “I’m super proud of all the films that were submitted to the festival,” says Mr. Walsh. “Over time students have really embraced telling their original stories, both fiction and nonfiction, and the quality of films continues to improve each year.”
For the 2023 Film Fest, students led the way. The student leadership team took the helm in organizing, promoting, and orchestrating the entire event. This dedicated team saw the event through from start to finish by posting announcements and fliers on campus, reaching out to other schools, producing slides and video content, designing the old Hollywood environment for the event, laser-cutting the Oaky awards, interviewing VIPs on the red carpet, and even acting as emcees for the award show.
Emmeline Sincoff ’25, who co-hosted the red carpet experience, felt the event went very smoothly. She loved that everyone dressed their best for the event and that the atmosphere was a fun, inclusive experience.
Looking ahead, the Film Fest team wants to include more students next year. They hope to include more Bay Area middle and high schools so that more perspectives can be represented. Someday, they hope to host the event in a large local theater. Emmeline envisions that eventually, “Carondelet becomes an icon” in the world of student film festivals.
Check out this year’s winning films in our Winton Arts Film Fest 23 Showcase, hosted by Olive Read ’25.