SF State makes strong showing at San Francisco International Film Festival

Cherry Rumpus.net

Cherry marks the filmmaking debut of established author and Rumpus.net Editor-in-Chief Stephen Elliot (left) and was written alongside Lorelei Lee (right), an adult film industry veteran. Photo by Henry Nguyen

Shining stars as well as up-and-coming talent from the film industry gathered at cinematic landmarks around the bay April 19-May 3 for the International Film Festival, and local talent from SF State made their presence known in a big way.

Lorelei Lee, Brian Benson and Westly Chu are all SF State alumni who were involved in this year’s 55th annual festival.

Established in 1957, the festival was a two-week event that takes place each spring that brings filmmakers and audiences together to watch films and to witness the acceptance of awards for cinematic excellence.

The film genres include action, animated shorts, television and theatrical documentaries, new digital media and more.  SF State alumni Westly Chiu and Lorelei Lee, and SF State professor Brian Benson, have been involved with the festival in one way or another.

Benson, a graduate from the University of California Los Angeles made the move to San Francisco shortly after graduating. He has since been an SF State professor for four semesters in the cinema department.Looking back on his first semester, Benson explains why he stayed for four semesters.

“I had a window for one semester and I fell in love with the process. I was inspired by my students, it fed my soul,” said Benson.

Benson received a degree in acting but thought a change to work behind the camera would be a new trade to learn. He premiered a film, “Haiku Tunnel”, at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011, which was later bought by Sony.

He also produced “All About Evil,” which was shown at the SFIFF in 2010. He believes students should take advantage and attend film festivals, or any type of festival.

Chui, who was also student of Benson’s in 2010, is an intern at the SFIFF.

“Interns usually work in one department, I’m in 3. I know I’ll be doing miniscule tasks but I’m learning a lot of behind the scenes stuff,” said Benson.

Like Benson and Chui, Lorelei Lee knew she wanted to be involved in the film industry from an early age.

“Cherry” is a book-turned-film directed by Stephen Elliot, co-written by SF State alum Lorelei Lee. The writing process began in December 2010 and the movie was shot in June 2011 in the Mission District’s Armory, once an arsenal for the United States National Guard and now the home of adult entertainment company Kink.

The film is based on the true experiences both Elliot and Lee had while in the adult industry. When looking for a director both Elliot and Lee were concerned if a director could portray the adult film industry accurately. Elliot ultimately decided he would direct the movie.

“To try to explain to somebody how the world of porn works, so they are able to present it in a realistic way, I just thought that was going to be really tough. If we’re just going to take a chance on somebody, it might as well be me,” Elliot said.

“This whole thing is new to me, script writing. I have written a lot of poetry and a lot of short stories and a novel. This was just a very different form and that was really exciting. The entire process of writing with Stephen and thinking about how to put the story together visually,” Lee said.

“I enjoyed being at that school because it’s so diverse and economically diverse as well. I had a lot of great teachers and frustrating experiences. I also felt alienated, it’s such a large campus, at times it felt lonely,” Lee said.

Elliot had prior experiences at film festivals such as Sundance Film Festival. Some of the movies presented at the SFIFF have been shown at Sundance as well.

Chiu, on the other hand is still hoping to break into the industry. Since graduating SF State he’s worked on two projects but finds himself having little to no time to work on them.

“Currently I’ve been working on and off on the projects. I haven’t been doing a whole lot. It’s my first year as an intern for SFIFF and its a lot of behind the scenes stuff and it’s time consuming,” said Chiu.

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