For most, awkward silence is something to be avoided. For the UCR student film club, R’Shorts, awkward silence is what wins awards.
In spring 2019, R’Shorts submitted their short film Awkward Silence to the Film Festival run by UCR’s Associated Students Program Board (ASPB), as well as the Riverside International Film Festival (RIFF). R’Shorts won multiple awards, including the RIFF Audience Choice Award and the ASPB Best Film award.
Written by 2019 Theater, Film and Digital Production (TFDP) graduate Casey Jacobs and directed by 2019 TFDP graduate Christopher Henley, the short film included a cast of more than 50 student volunteers.
Awkward Silence features a deaf high school student named Mikaela, and follows her experiences acclimating to a new school and navigating a budding romantic relationship with a difficult language barrier. Other characters in the film include Mikaela’s love interest, Nate, and Nate’s best friend, Weston, played by fourth-year TFDP major Robert Gallegos.
“My inspiration as director was simply to tell the story of an individual who doesn't typically have stories told about them,” Henley said. “Deaf individuals are grossly under-represented in film and media, so I wanted to make sure we told an accurate, positive story while doing justice to American Sign Language and the deaf community.”
Production for the student film began in October 2018, and wrapped in January. The club submitted its completed film to the Riverside International Film Festival, where it won the Audience Choice Award in the Student Film category.
“Hearing that we won the Audience Choice Award was really cool,” Gallegos said. “We weren’t expecting much because we were going against other films with high budgets, and when it came to us, we filmed with no budget and only 50 students putting in volunteer work. Everyone at the festival was impressed. We wanted to show what could be done with people who are passionate about what they do.”
“We were really proud to present our film and declare that it was done with zero budget,” Jacobs said. “Because submitting to festivals and competitions can be expensive, it’s hard to afford very many, but we pushed for the ones that were important to us. All we wanted to do was get our film out there, and let students know about R’Shorts. We want people to know who we are and what we can do.”
R’Shorts also submitted their film to ASPB’s first annual film festival, where it won the Best Film award. R’Shorts also included the film in its own film festival, where it won the Jury Award and Audience Choice Award for Best Film.
“I am very proud of the entire cast and crew who produced Awkward Silence,” Henley said. “If it wasn't for their hard work and dedication, Awkward Silence would never have been successful. They are the true winners of the awards.”
“I think that these awards are going to reflect on how we have a bunch of talented people who can produce great content here,” Gallegos said. “The film department is up-and-coming, and this will give us a ton of exposure. We have a great group of film students that are creating their own content, and I think the department is listening and trying to expand.”
With an ever-expanding department, the club hopes to continue expanding as well and hopes to submit more films to festivals in the future.
“I believe film benefits CHASS because CHASS is all about diversity in the humanities,” Henley said. “It’s an art form that can reach anyone in the world with the click of a button, and can be considered a way of expressing yourself, a way of inspiring people or a way of telling untold stories. It can even be used to retell old stories. Anyone can tell a story or create art, but sometimes not everyone has the chance to see it, so film is here to help break down that barrier.”