By Kim Adelman | Indiewire November 19, 2008 at 4:57AM
Back in May 2008, eight UCLA graduate students were given good news: the nonprofit organization AARP wanted to give each of them $10,000 to make short films on the hot-button topics of healthcare and financial security. The bad news was the students had only three months to shoot and edit their pieces, which had to be completed by an August 1, 2008 deadline. The eight shorts made under the Stolen Dreams competition umbrella were then whittled down to four finalists, which were shown on October 23, 2008 to AARP's Emilio Pardo and industry heavyweights Steven Bochco, Curtis Hanson, and Reggie Hudlin. After an intensive morning spent screening then deliberating, the four-man jury awarded a $7,500 cash prize to Anthony Onah's "The Cure." Onah's short will go on to be integral part of AARP's bi-partisanship Divided We Fail initiative.
With a mandate to bring an intergenerational perspective to dramatizing the consequences of America's broken health care and economic systems, the eight AARP/UCLA Stolen Dreams shorts focus on lives in crises.
"It is amazing how effective these students were at capturing the urgency and complexity of the two most pressing domestic issues facing our nation," praised Emilio Pardo, AARP's executive vice president and chief brand officer. AARP is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to people over fifty years old, and Divided We Fail is its initiative to give voice to millions of Americans who are tired of letting Washington gridlock stand in the way of affordable, quality health care and long-term financial security. "These films illustrate the extent to which these issues transcend generations and impact all Americans."
Of the eight filmmakers participating in the Stolen Dreams competition, Chris Mais is the only one to attempt animation with the stop-motion "Heart Attack," while the team of Alex O'Flinn & Mikiko Sasaki are unique in their documentary approach with "Cost of Life."
Perhaps the slickest of the eight UCLA films is Xavier Tatarkiewicz's "Sneeze," a four-minute long tour de force which follows germs generated from a sneeze passed on from one person to another. The film ends with the statement that every year the flu kills 36,000 people in America, mostly elderly and children.
Vanessa Rojas's "After the Shearing" takes a child's eye view of how to best to fight forces beyond one's control. The ten-minute drama is a touching, complex story that illustrates writer/director Rojas' commitment to working on intimate character-driven stories.
Anthony Onah's "The Cure" is a nine-minute drama about a single working mother whose job at a hair salon doesn't provide health care for her and her young son. When the son accidentally blinds himself while left unattended at home, the mother is faced with a medical system that isn't sympathetic to her plight. This film ends with the statement that nearly 50 million Americans are without health insurance, 10 million of them being children.
Olivia Silver's "Side Effects" features an elderly man whose strange behavior cannot be easily explained. Cory Miller's "Downward Slide" and Bradford Schmidt's "Golden Years" rounded out the live action efforts.
At the award ceremony held at UCLA's Melnitz Hall on October 23, 2008, juror Steven Bochco praised all the Stolen Dreams films as "enormously impressive" while Reggie Hudlin agreed the jurors had great time discussing the merits of each of film. Curtin Hanson congratulated all the filmmakers for "telling stories, conveying emotions, and getting the audience to care." Then the jurors announced Anthony Onah the winner of the $7,500 cash prize.
Onah's award-winning idea for "The Cure" was partially inspired by a New York Times newspaper article he had read about a boy needing a cornea transplant after an explosion had blinded him. To increase the production value of his short, Onah decided to shoot on Fuji film. His major coup was getting to use the "Grey's Anatomy" hospital set.
Onah is currently focused on his next film, a story about deaths in U.S. immigration detention centers. He expects to use the $7,500 prize money from the Stolen Dreams contest on his future filmmaking endeavors.
"The Cure" and the seven other AARP/UCLA films can be seen online at www.stolendreams.com.