Not A Dry Eye In the House

“Big Heart Small Film” Competition Showcases the Often Gut-Wrenching Efforts of Local Non-Profits

The title got it half right, because last Thursday’s awards ceremony, which culminated a 10-month-long competition among local non-profits, certainly showcased the community’s “big heart.” But there was nothing “small” about the films submitted for the first-ever festival that was co-sponsored by Alibaba Pictures and the Pasadena Community Foundation and held in Rothenberg Hall at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, so much so that event emcee John Horn of KPCC said next year’s event “should be sponsored by Kleenex,” so many tears did it coax from attendees.

It all began in January of this year, when Alibaba Pictures and the Pasadena Community Foundation announced a partnership to support nine local non-profit organizations with the launch of the ‘Big Heart Small Film’ short film competition. Nine aspiring filmmakers were chosen to partner with the non-profits and create short films highlighting the critical work of the organizations and to raise awareness of the various philanthropic efforts in the Pasadena community.

The finalists for the Big Heart Small Film competition, including filmmakers, non-profit representatives and actors, assembled on the stage last Thursday in Rothenberg Hall at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. The competition was co-sponsored by Alibaba Pictures and the Pasadena Community Foundation. Photo by David Crane Photography

Gold Prize for first place went to filmmaker Jiayuan Liu, of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, who created “Dear Mama” on behalf of the Flintridge Center, which creates opportunities for individuals to become contributing and self-sufficient community members following incarceration.

The haunting film featured a man entering prison and writing a letter of apology to his mother. The letter is written in reverse, however, the pencil point erasing the words, symbolizing the redemption that is encouraged by Flintridge Center.

“I had an entirely different idea, said Liu, upon receiving the award. “I realized they were open to showing their vulnerability. We all make mistakes in life, but we all deserve a second chance.”

Filmmaker Rui Cui, also of USC, garnered Silver Prize for second place with “Point & Dream,” a touching vignette that explores the issue of homelessness from the eyes of a child, who fantacizes that when she points at a homeless person on the street, the individual magically finds a home. The film was created with the cooperation of Union Station Homeless Services, which helps homeless individuals and families rebuild their lives with the goal of ending homelessness in the community.

Competition was so tight, the panel of judges – which included director Steven Spielberg and actor Billy Zane – awarded two Bronze Prizes for third place.

“Them” offers a slice of life for a girl with autism and her mother’s heroic determination to ensure her child receives sufficient opportunities. The film was created by Taro Wei, of USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, on behalf of the Professional Child Development Associates, or PCDA, which offers a range of specialized therapy services and programs for children, teens, and young adults who have autism or other developmental disabilities.

The second Bronze Prize went to filmmaker Eva Ye of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts for “Headshot,” which shares the story of an aspiring actress and a printing professional, who look beyond their disabilities and learn there is no limit to what they can accomplish.

The film represents the mission of AbilityFirst, which provides a variety of programs designed to help people with disabilities achieve their personal best throughout a lifetime.

“We are excited to have been able to be a part of this event and celebrate these powerful stories of ‘doing good’ in Pasadena,” said Jennifer DeVoll, CEO of Pasadena Community Foundation, who addressed the capacity crowd at the beginning of the ceremony. “Our films give the community a unique perspective on the missions of our incredible non-profits. We are proud of our collaboration with Alibaba Pictures and look forward to seeing these stories shared.”

“Giving back to the communities we serve is a shared priority of Alibaba Pictures and Pasadena Community Foundation,” said Wei Zhang, president of Alibaba Pictures. “These filmmakers have shown a true dedication to telling the compelling stories of Pasadena-area non-profits. Our hope is that this project inspires others to find their philanthropic passion and make an impact in their communities. As a local resident of the Pasadena area, I’m proud of the stories being told due to this partnership and to positively contribute to all of the great organizations involved.”

Each of the nine non-profits received a $2,500 grant from the Pasadena Community Foundation. The event raised $200,000, which will be used to support Pasadena Community Foundation’s grant-making programs for non-profit organizations.

Other participating non-profits include Arroyo’s & Foothills Conservancy, Five Acres, Pasadena Playhouse, Huntington Senior Care Network and Pasadena Police Activities League.

Even Spielberg weighed in on the competition.

“I applaud the filmmakers for their creative contributions to the goals of “Big Heart Small Film,” said Spielberg, one of the industry’s most successful and influential filmmakers. “Their variety of stories expressed not only their talent, but also their desire to make a personal impact on viewers here and around the world. It is terrific to see a partnership between Alibaba Pictures and the Pasadena Community Foundation designed to turn a light – and a lens – on the good work all around us.”

The non-profits also received permission to use the films for promotional purposes.