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HIFF gives local film students opportunity to reach worldwide audience

"Cringe Kid Kyle: The Musical" directed by student filmmaker Ian Severino is the first musical to come out of the ACM program.

The Hawaiʻi International Film Festival provides a venue for world-famous directors from the Asia-Pacific to premiere their films, but it’s also an opportunity for local student films to be in the spotlight.

It takes over a year to complete a five to 15-minute short film when you’re a full-time student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa's Academy for Creative Media.

For animation student Debbie Kwon, her process began with a song. She heard the track "Kites" by music producer Grynpyret and envisioned an animated film in her head.

Kwon’s film, “Kites,” is a whimsical animation with lots of references to her Korean heritage from the ceremonial jesa table to the jindo dog running next to the main character.

“Kites” has no dialogue. Instead, the story flows to the instrumental song by Grynpyret — who gave Kwon permission to use the song in her project.

"It never hurts to ask. So I did and sent him an email and he was like, go for it," said Kwon. "He's been so supportive."

Debbie Kwon's animated film "Kites" explores the concept of depth with references to Korean traditions.

The track’s upbeat melody matches the colorful film full of bright flowers. What seems like a carefree film is actually a story about death.

"I grew up religious. Christianity, ideas of what life after death is, and it kinda scared me a little bit. Just because if you don’t believe in God you go to hell, that kind of stuff," explained Kwon. "And for me, in this film, if I was 10 or 12 again, this is what I would want to envision death looking like."

Kwon directed “Kites” and oversaw a team of about 20 student animators. With a five-second shot taking six hours to animate, it took the team a year to complete the film.

Ian Severino also directed a film centered around music.

His live-action film “Cringe Kid Kyle: The Musical” is the first musical created in the ACM program. The rom-com follows two students who meet together in a video game.

The short film has plenty of references to internet gaming culture. The characters go on their computers to play Fortday — a parody of Fortnight. The main character is haunted by his old yearbook picture that circulated as a meme — a reference to the internet meme "Bad Luck Brian."

Seven student films will be featured in the University Shorts Program at HIFF in 2022.
Courtesy Hawaiʻi International Film Festival
Seven student films will be featured in the University Shorts Program at HIFF in 2022.

When his film professor mentioned he has never seen a student submit a musical before, Severino took the challenge.

"I actually don’t know how to write music. All the music and the lyrics were by a UH music student. His name is Justin Garde," everino said.

Severino began working on the film during the pandemic. The art department at UH sent out an email asking students to complete a questionnaire to connect with other students for creative projects. That's where he met Garde.

Severino gathered a cast of UH students and alumni who could sing, dance and act.

"Kites," “Cringe Kid Kyle: The Musical” and other student films can be viewed for free online during the festival.

"It allows us to get a lot more eyes on our films. As young filmmakers, that’s all you can really ask for. It’s just really nice to be able to have that support from HIFF and get that exposure through them," Severino told HPR.

Seven student films will be featured in HIFF’s university shorts program.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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