a person with purpl e hair adjusting her skate
Story Student Success

Ready for Their Close-Up

Alisia Ruble

CSU honors promising filmmakers across the university with its prestigious Media Arts Festival Awards.

a person with purpl e hair adjusting her skate

​A still image from the short film "SHRED," which won "Best Documentary/Creative Non-Fiction" at the 2023 Media Arts Festival.​


California is home to the world's largest film industry, so it's no surprise the California State University attracts some of the most promising young filmmakers. Students at each of its 23 universities learn from faculty and mentors who are powerhouses in their fields, and get hands-on experience working with the latest technology and opportunities to build their portfolio before graduation.

To give talented students studying film, broadcasting, video, screenwriting and new media an opportunity to present their works for critical review, CSU Summer Arts established the Media Arts Festival in 1991. 

A panel of distinguished faculty and industry leaders selects each year's finalists and winners, and all finalist selections are screened at the festival. Cash prizes and the prestigious CSU Media Arts Festival Award are bestowed on selected work in four categories: animation, documentary/creative non-fiction, narrative and short screenplay.

The 33rd annual Media Arts Festival Awards were announced on October 26, 2023. Meet this year's winners.

"Found You" | Best Animation 

Marijane Vargas, Grace Bennett, Felix Jara, Mitch Alano, Rosanna Davila, Maya Carroll, Lilly Tran, Pierina Caligaris, Maia Mallari, Derek Christmann, Esteban Enriquez, Cindy Hoang, Meghan Graham, Kelsey Ward, Farah Hussain, Angela Macedo, Julietta Zamora Lam, Jaleen Gong, Devin Rowe and Fiona Rieta

San José State

Found You" is a mixed 3D and stop motion short film about a girl named Lucy who is turning into a werewolf during a sleepaway camp event. She tries desperately to conceal herself from the other campers, only to realize she may have more in common with some of them than she thought.

“We wanted to touch on the theme of authenticity and coming to terms with yourself, but we also wanted to touch on the idea of finding community in unexpected places," says San José State​ alumna Marijane Vargas, who served as director and technical art director of the short film.

Vargas says she and her team were inspired by artists like Guillermo del Toro and classic horror movies, especially ones that explore the multifaceted identities of monsters. She credits her "incredibly talented" team members and faculty mentor David Yee, as well as her involvement with a student-run animation/illustration club at SJSU, the Shrunkenheadman Club, with the film's success.

A Bay Area native, Vargas says she chose to attend SJSU because it was close to home, and because it was affordable. She says she enjoyed the wide range of animation and illustration classes, as well as the camaraderie of her classmates.

“San José State has a really strong animation community, and it has one of the best animation programs in California despite the fact it's not a dedicated art school," she says. “It was a really great choice."

Vargas graduated from SJSU in spring 2022 with a bachelor's degree in animation/illustration and recently completed an internship as a technical artist for video game developer Visual Concepts. In this role, she continued to hone her design skills working on dynamics for character clothing, hair and more.

"Kites" | Best Narrative

Liezl Bitas, Kate Whitham, Nicholas Dobry, Erica Smith, Charisma Garcia, Evatt Carrodus, Ryan Silber, Annie Hall and Kristin Simpson 


Exploring the themes of isolation and injustice in prisons, “Kites" follows two people incarcerated in different parts of the world—one in the Philippines and one in the United States. Through metaphoric notes called kites, they begin to talk and get to know each other, giving them temporary happiness and pushing them forward.

The film was written and directed by CSUN​ alumna Liezl “Liz" Bitas, '21, who won “Best Screenplay" for “Kites" in the 2021 CSU Media Arts Festival. In her original mission statement, Bitas wrote:

“As a Filipino student in California, I've had the rare opportunity of keeping a close eye on news coverage in my home country while seeing events as they unfold here in the United States. Issues relating to the systemic injustices ingrained in corrupt governments, broken criminal justice systems and violent law enforcement are decades old. But this year, when more eyeballs tuned in to screens than ever before, marks a pivotal time to talk about those issues through film."

Bitas passed away from health complications during production of the short film in 2022, and crew member Nick Dobry stepped in to oversee completion of the project.

“To help carry out Liezl's work was an honor," Dobry says. “Her passing was extremely hard on all of our crew, and to go through all of that and still have such success for the film means the world to us. We are so proud of this film and all it stands for."

Bitas wrote and submitted the script for “Kites" during the COVID-19 pandemic when the world was in a constant state of loneliness. Dobry says Bitas was heavily influenced by this and wanted viewers to relate to both characters, Isabel and Alonzo, through their states of isolation.

“In a time where we were all forced to keep ourselves from our loved ones and communities, it was difficult to find hope," he says.

Originally from the East Coast, Dobry chose to attend CSUN because he had heard great things about the university's film production program, and because of its proximity to the film industry. He credits his professors and FotoKem, a film laboratory and post-production studio, with helping make “Kites" a success.

Dobry graduated from CSUN in spring 2021 with a bachelor's degree in film/video production, with an emphasis in film editing, and currently works as a video editor for both large and small projects.

"Blin 'Circus'" | Best Short Screenplay


Lada Egorova 

Cal State LA

Blin" is a comedy show about the Russian American community in Los Angeles, with "Circus" being the first episode. The show follows the challenges that children of immigrants face navigating two cultures, including Katya, a young Russian American woman forced to put her dreams of being a New York City designer on hold to run her mother's grocery store back home. Her hilarious struggles to find her place in a community she thought she had left for good are, ultimately, endearing.

Cal State LA alumna, '22, Lada Egorova was inspired to write the screenplay in part by her upbringing. She was born in Russia and immigrated to France when she was four years old, and she says returning to Russia to visit relatives was always a culture shock.

“I kind of gave up my Russian culture—I even told my mom: 'No, we're in France. Let's talk just French,'" she says. “But there was always the question of how to balance two cultures and still appreciate your Russian culture even though you're not there anymore."

Egorova wants to shine a light on the Slavic community, which she says is often underrepresented or misrepresented in American entertainment. “There's not really a show that depicts Russian culture in a real way. We're not all stereotypical villains or spies," she jokes.

She wrote and workshopped the screenplay in a TV-writing course while completing her master's degree at Cal State LA as a French exchange student. She remained in L.A. after graduation and is now working on producing a pilot for a half-hour comedy show.

Egorova holds a license in cinematography and film/video production from the Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée in France, a filmmaking degree from the University of New Orleans in Louisiana and a master's degree in video and photographic arts from Cal State LA. She is an accomplished filmmaker, screenwriter and photographer, and has produced several films, among other works.

"SHRED" | Best Documentary/Creative Non-Fiction​

Giovanna Trujillo, Shalisa Krualphan, Katherine Nino, Richie Rosales, Eli Roberts, Cole Ratliff, Nick Lindell-Wright, Caro Knapp and Justin La Turno


Colorful and raw, “SHRED" aims to capture the essence of the skate and LGBTQIA communities in Southern California. The film follows three queer, Latinx skaters struggling with crippling mental health disorders and familial and societal expectations, who use skating as a form of therapy.

“As a fellow queer, Latinx skater, I was so enamored with the community around me, and I wanted to share that with the world," says Giovanna Trujillo, who served as director and producer on the film. “The friendships I made with Kait, Hazel and Daze helped me grow into the person I am today, and it's an honor to share their stories."

Trujillo says attending the university during a pandemic, and as a commuter student, presented many challenges, though faculty like Assistant Professor of Cinema and Television Arts Judy Korin were instrumental in helping her earn a degree.

“She was the greatest mentor I could've asked for," Trujillo says. “She continuously challenged and motivated her students to find stories and share them with the world."

Trujillo earned a bachelor's degree from CSUN in spring 2023 and is working as a full-time freelance filmmaker. She plans to continue directing and producing music videos for new talent and pursue more opportunities to produce commercials/documentaries and photography.

Learn more about CSU Summer Arts and the Media Arts Festival.

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