Film fest a creative outlet for students

She had nothing to lose.

Chaparral High School senior Elena De Santiago remembers thinking this thought when she submitted the first film she had ever made to the Las Vegas Student Film Festival. Though she entered the festival expecting nothing, she left with three awards, several prizes and a full scholarship to a prominent acting camp.

"It was really cool getting to express myself in a different way," De Santiago says. "It opened up so many new opportunities for me."

Max Newman, a junior at The Meadows School, started the Las Vegas Student Film Festival in 2010 after being inspired by his older brother to explore a future in the film industry.

"Films are like an escape from reality," he says. "When I watch them I can think about things other than school."

Newman approached David Schmoeller, associate professor of film at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, with the idea for the festival. As head of the UNLV Short Film Archive, Schmoeller has been instrumental in the festival's organization, including securing the resources and UNLV sponsorship that make the event possible.

"(Newman) did all the work," Schmoeller says. "I just gave advice. He persevered and did a great job."

Schmoeller, who has spent his career working on various film festivals, said the event's first year was a success, with 95 submissions from nine high schools. Newman says he hopes to one day expand the festival to a national level.

"I want to make it bigger every year," Newman says.

The idea for the festival grew out of Newman's passion for film, but also from a desire to facilitate expression through film for other Southern Nevada students in light of recent budget cuts to Clark County's high school arts programs. Participants must be enrolled in high school in the Las Vegas area.

A committee of students from different high schools will judge the films and select the winners for various categories, including Best Actor, Best Director, Best Editing, Best Film and Most Promising Filmmaker. Winners are awarded cash, gift cards, Station Casinos prizes, free movie tickets and full scholarships to the U.S. Performing Arts Camps at Pepperdine University.

For De Santiago, the Las Vegas Student Film Festival helped her discover a new passion. She says the festival process, especially watching her competitors' films, was invaluable. This year, everyone in the film program at her school is participating.

"After doing the film festival and realizing I was OK at it, it totally inspired me," she says. "I think it's really helping the high school film programs get more involved."

The Las Vegas Student Film Festival will be held March 25 at the Marjorie Barrick Museum on the UNLV campus. Submission forms for participants are due Feb. 25, and films must be submitted the following week. Films must run no longer than 10 minutes, but there is no limit to the number of entries a student may submit. More information can be found on the festival's website at