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Lights! Camera! Action!

Award-winning, summer program helps high school students create their own documentary films.
By Alejandra Prado, Student Writer/CHASS Marketing and Communications |

Introducing students to the world of filmmaking is only a small part of the OFF THE BLOCK program at UCR ARTS. Run by Nikolay Maslov, Curator of Film & Media Projects at UCR ARTS, the award-winning, filmmaking summer program helps high school students create and release their own documentary short films while developing skills such as problem-solving, team building, and storytelling.

Marking its 13th year anniversary, Conserving California is a “direct response to the profound need for youth arts initiatives in the Riverside area,” according to Maslov.

This year’s program was held in-person at UCR ARTS July 5-29 with no cost to the students and filmmaking tools and equipment provided. Open to high school students, ages 13 to 18 in the Inland Empire, participants did not need prior experience in filmmaking or the arts.

“Students develop critical thinking, problem-solving, collaborative and team building skills, as well as positive self-expression through the arts,” Maslov said. “Past students have won awards and received recognition from several film festivals and media organizations such as Sundance, PBS SoCal, the Palm Springs International Film Festival and Adobe Youth Voices.”

“My experience in the program was fantastic,” said Andrea Gomez, a student filmmaker who participated this summer. “[I] loved meeting new people, learning their story, and finding creative ways to share it with others.”

Gomez created a student film, Planta Man, which focuses on the story of Jesse Aleman, a Tiktok star, influencer, and artist. “I thought it'd be incredible if I could actually learn how to create my own documentary,” she said.

Ellamarie Ferreira-Copat’s student film, Made with Love, focuses on the struggles and experiences of a Punjabi family. “Watch for a heartwarming story about family food and overcoming hardships,” Copat said.

“I will take with me the knowledge I gained from my mentors, guest speakers, and hands-on experience working with Adobe Premiere Pro that helped me develop my newfound interest in film,” she said.

“It’s always incredible to work with students and hopefully inspire the next generation of filmmakers,” Maslov said.

On Saturday, August 27th at 5 p.m. all four short documentaries from the OFF THE BLOCK program, including Made With Love and Planta Man, will premiere at UCR ARTS and are free to attend.

To learn more about the OFF THE BLOCK program, please visit