Young filmmakers shine

April 28, 2005

Elia Powers

Whitney Ellis is a filmmaker and an entrepreneur who thinks inside

the box.

Or, more accurately, inside boxes.

For her most recent project, the 17-year-old Newport Beach

resident instructed a handful of actors to place cardboard containers

over their heads as a way to represent conformity.


"I'm playing with symbol- ism," said Whitney, a junior at Orange

County High School of the Arts. "The film promotes the idea of


Her seven-minute produc- tion, called "Finding Emo," follows two

characters who wear nametags that identify them as teenage

prototypes, Whitney said. They are trapped in a world of "block-

heads" who attempt to restrict the students' individuality.

The story is based on observances Whitney has made about the

stereotypes of adolescent life. And it is one of 19 student short films that will be screened at 6 p.m. today at Edwards Island 6 in

Newport Beach as part of the Newport Beach Film Festival's Teenage

Mutant Ninja Shorts.

Whitney is the mastermind of the 90-minute compilation of films

that comprise the first-ever youth-short-film program at the


The films range in length from two to 12 minutes, and the

filmmakers range in age from 8 to 18, Whitney said. Comedy, drama,

animation, and experimental film genres are represented in the


The inaugural Youth Division student panel screened more than 200

films entered by filmmakers across the country and in Canada. Many of

the panel members are Whitney's friends in the visual arts program at

Orange County High School of the Arts.

After the screening, Whitney and the Youth Division team are

hosting an after-party at Thaifoon Taste of Asia in Fashion Island.

At the event, students will display works of art, and many of the

young filmmakers will answer questions about their productions and

receive accolades.

Whitney called upon friends at high schools throughout Orange

County to construct the awards, design T-shirts and develop a website

for the event.

"She has been involved in interesting projects throughout her

life," said Shelly Ellis, Whitney's mother. "She loves to


Whitney, who frequently enters films in national and international

film festivals, approached Newport Beach Film Festival Executive

Director Gregg Schwenk last summer with the concept of a youth-film

showcase judged by their peers.

"I liked the idea," Schwenk said. "We wanted to give a voice to

young filmmakers and provide them with a place to screen their


Whitney said Schwenk told her that it would cost at least $2,000

to reserve theater space for the event. In all, she said she raised

about $7,000.

Costa Mesa-based Volcom donated about $4,000 and is the official

sponsor of the after-party. The William Gillespie Foundation provided

monetary support, and the City of Newport Beach Youth Council also

provided assistance, Whitney said.

She said she is expecting a host of her friends to be in


"It's exciting," Whitney said. "I've been getting calls from lots

of young filmmakers. I know there's a lot of talent. It's just been a

matter of getting their work out there."

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