Rona Ahdout poses with ChopShop executive Ken Anderson at the screening of her film. (Photo by Hannah Schoenbaum)
Corona del Mar High School

Student film ‘Below the Surface’ takes third at Newport Beach Film Festival

BELOW THE SURFACE from Neema Sadeghi on Vimeo.

Have you ever imagined what one might think about in their last moments alive? Student filmmakers Neema Sadeghi and Rona Ahdout chose to tackle this difficult question as the topic of their original film, “Below the Surface.” The film took third place at the Newport Beach Film Festival Youth Showcase for its masterful cinematography and thought-provoking messages.

Ahdout and Sadeghi are seniors at University High. They each selected film as their medium of choice at a young age.

Sadeghi was always amazed by the endless possibilities of film. He was the first freshman accepted into the FilmEd Academy of the Arts program. This program provided him with the proper tools and mentors he needed to thrive as a filmmaker. “If it were not for the FilmEd Academy of the Arts, I might not be doing film today,” commented Sadeghi.

During his sophomore year, Sadeghi was invited onto the set of a student film at Chapman University. Through that experience, he developed a fascination with cinematography. He was inspired to take his films to the next level, complete with full crews, powerful stories, and high production values.

Ahdout discovered her passion for writing early on in life. She began writing screenplays and attending film workshops where she was mentored by esteemed filmmakers. “I became interested in film because I loved the way movies and television could make me fall in love with characters and their stories. The filmmaker creates a special connection between the characters and viewers, and I wanted to be able to do that for people,” shared Ahdout.

Sadeghi and Ahdout decided to combine their talents, creating a powerhouse partnership which would dominate the youth film circuit.

This year, the aspiring duo decided to create a film to enter into various festivals. Ahdout began writing the screenplay with no idea where it was headed. “At first I didn’t know where the story was coming from,” commented Ahdout, “my initial goal was to write something relatable, memorable, and meaningful. I wanted to write about forgiveness and how as humans, we are flawed. We make mistakes, but it’s about forgiving ourselves and moving on.”

As she developed her ideas into a script, Ahdout focused on the special bond between siblings. “As we filmed, I realized how similar my relationship to my little brother is to what I wrote between my characters,” Ahdout commented.

She wrote about two sisters who try to protect each other from all of life’s hardships. In the end, they realize that they cannot always be there for one another, but their shared experiences and promises are enough to make life worth living. In her final minutes, the older sister discovers that she must forgive herself for the times she could not help her sister, and instead, focus on all the wonderful memories they share.

The film “Below the Surface” is a beautiful tribute to the importance of familial bonds in one’s life. The two actresses in the film, Casi and Joelle Kurzeja, are real-life siblings. The authenticity of their relationship greatly benefitted the film and made the casting process easier for the directors. “The sisters had such a strong relationship in real life, which created beautiful chemistry on screen,” Ahdout said.

The filming process proved to be a struggle for the young filmmakers. Sickness and lack of equipment delayed the filming process so much that they feared the film would not be finished in time. They ended up filming two days before the deadline and editing as they went along.

Sadeghi’s goal for the filming process was to make the audience feel the same emotions as the characters in their moments of happiness, sadness, and struggle. He tried to portray the sibling relationship in most honest way. To do so, he captured unique shots that told just as much of a story as the script did.

“Below the Surface” was submitted to dozens of film festivals. It was accepted to over fourteen festivals in the United States and received honors at many. The film was the winner of the youth shorts category of the Screen Film Festival, Orange County Film Festival, Best Shorts Competition, and Los Angeles CineFest. It placed third in the Newport Beach Film Festival Youth Showcase. “We submitted to Newport because it’s such a well known and respected festival, and it’s an honor to have been selected,” Ahdout said.

Sadeghi and Ahdout plan to pursue careers in the film industry. “I am deciding between NYU and Chapman film schools. I hope to one day enter the film industry as a director and screenwriter on feature films and create my own television series,” Ahdout said. She is currently working on a feature-length script that she will send to production companies, with hopes of making it into a movie.

Although Sadeghi did not get accepted into the college of his choice, he hopes to move forward in his career as a filmmaker by continuing to work with students and alumni that he has met over the years at Chapman. He continues to work on Chapman sets and was recently on the set of one of Jason Derulo’s music videos. Sadeghi aspires to have a career as a cinematographer on feature films.

These partners have a bright future ahead of them in the film industry. Their creativity, perseverance, and skill will lead them to a successful career. No matter the circumstances, Sadeghi and Ahdout will always produce a film worth watching.