‘It all turned out the way it was supposed to’: Naomi Miyamoto ’21 selected as finalist at KCET student film festival

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Naomi Miyamoto ‘21 at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Sep. 20, 2021. Eddie Dong/The Occidental

“Well, It Wasn’t Supposed to be This Way,” a short documentary film by Naomi Miyamoto ’21, turned out exactly way it was supposed to. At the start of this month, the film was selected as a finalist for the 22nd Fine Cut — a preeminent film festival from local TV station KCET that features works from student filmmakers in Southern California — and will air at 10 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 29 on KCET in Southern California.

“It still hasn’t hit me yet that I’m a finalist for Final Cut,” Miyamoto said, a week before the air date. “I haven’t told that many people that I know.”

Combining real-time footage, drawings, animations and desktop recordings, Miyamoto’s senior thesis film showcases the relationships of five couples and how they have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aleem Hossain, an assistant professor in the Media Arts & Culture (MAC) department and Miyamoto’s advisor, said Miyamoto’s film exemplified the opportunities and unique aesthetics presented by the pandemic.

“She [Miyamoto] made a film that only would exist this way,” Hossain said. “What’s really wonderful about the best films [is] that they didn’t feel like second-rate, compromised versions of the films they wanted to do all along.”

The impact of the pandemic was reflected in a decrease in the number of the festival’s narrative submissions and the overall tone shift in the festival, according to one of the Fine Cut producers Erin Ball.

“The tone has definitely shifted [to be] a little bit more serious,” Ball said. “The stories this year were very close to the filmmakers. There was less of an entertainment value for sure, as more of a personal story.”

A still from Miyamoto’s new short film, “Well… It Wasn’t Supposed to be this Way.” Sep. 24th, 2021. Eddie Dong/The Occidental

Varda Bar-Kar, LA-based director and one of the panel of nine judges of the festival this year, specializes in documentary. Bar-Kar said she liked how Miyamoto’s film maintained optimism toward love despite the pandemic.

“She uses the flowers and the curtain and all these different playful elements to create a lightness, and it also very much reflects being in love,” Bar-Kar said. “No matter what’s going on in the world, when you’re in love, especially first love and early love, nothing really else matters. It’s just the joy of it.”

Ian Chitwood (senior) was the composer for Miyamoto’s film. A music major with production concentration, he met Miyamoto in Spring 2021 during a cross-over class between students of the Dramatic Scoring class and the MAC production seniors. Chitwood said his collaboration with Miyamoto was a lucky coincidence because they both wanted to work with the other after initially showing their demo and project in class.

“Mimi [Miyamoto’s nickname] trusted me way too much,” Chitwood said. “She basically was like, ‘You know the vibe, go make some music.’”

While at Occidental, Miyamoto made a three-minute-and-half-minute video about what love meant to students, inspired by a classroom assignment from Hossain. She has also participated for three years in the annual Oxy Film Festival, taking home the Judge’s Choice in 2020 with a documentary short film about Moroccan women harvesting argan oil.

Hossain said he appreciates Miyamoto’s respect for her subjects as both collaborators and architects of the story.

“I think she’s a very humanist filmmaker,” Hossain said. “I think she’s interested in people and their emotions.”

Miyamoto said documentary filmmaking allows her the space to ask questions, meet new people and explore the world in ways she likes, but there was something more.

“I like the unpredictability of it [documentary making],” Miyamoto said. “I think it’s better that way because it pushes you to be more creative and to think outside the box.”

The pandemic has changed her plans, but in retrospect, Miyamoto said she was glad that the circumstances had pushed her limits because otherwise, she probably would not have known the stories of the five couples, picked up animation or rekindled her childhood hobby of doodling.

“It all turned out the way it was supposed to,” Miyamoto said.

The FINE CUT Festival of Films will be broadcast in 2021 as a series of four one-hour broadcast episodes starting at 10 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 29 on KCET in Southern California and at 11 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 30 ET/PT on Link TV nationwide (Dish Network 9410 and DirecTV 375). Many films are also available for streaming at kcet.org/finecut.