By: Karina Valdes

A night of glitz and glamour in Hollywood highlighted a two-day adventure on the west coast for 12 University of Miami School of Communication students studying motion pictures.

On May 24, the School of Communication and the University of Miami Alumni Association held the 21st Annual Canes Film Showcase at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. There, the winning films and screenplay from the 2018 ‘Canes Film Festival held on campus at the Bill Cosford Cinema were screened for movie and television industry professionals, many of whom are distinguished alumni and friends of the university.

The film Maya was the audience favorite this year,receiving the “City of Angels” award after an audience vote. Mohammad Jastaniah, the film’s writer, producer, and director, describes the film as a “day in the lifetime of a Syrian refugee who has to take on a job that goes against her moral code to make ends meet.”

“[The film is] an allegory for the dark side of the refugee experience and American capitalism,” said Jastaniah.

Jastaniah came to the United States from Saudi Arabia 10 years ago to pursue his education and poured all the knowledge he has gained into the film. Maya was filmed in four days, but it took Jastaniah about 15 months to write the script and two months to pre-produce.

Upon winning, Mohammad Jastaniah told the audience in his acceptance speech how fortunate he felt to be able to make this film in a country like America where freedom of expression is valued, and at a place like the University of Miami where he has felt such overwhelming support by faculty and his fellow students.

“I have opinions and I tried to express them in this film the best way I could. I wouldn’t be tempted to try that if I didn’t have that freedom [of expression] because my ideas are not mainstream. I expressed some of my views on certain aspects of religion, relationships, and capitalism without fearing any threatening consequences,” said Jastaniah. “It’s necessary for a free thinker to have an outlet and be heard” he added.

In addition to the Canes Film Showcase, students were treated to a number of professional activities, including a tour of Bento Box Entertainment and a master class at Dolphin Entertainment hosted by the company’s CEO, Bill O’Dowd. The master class included the following guest speakers: Ben Andron, creative director, entertainment advertising at Bond; Juan Carlos Coto, From Dusk Til Dawn series and 24; Stephanie Long, marketing & creative at Disney ABC Television Group; and Scott Greenberg, co-founder and CEO of Bento Box Entertainment. O’Dowd is also an adjunct professor at the School of Communication.

“What I hear so often from industry professionals or when I do visits to Los Angeles is that our students are making work that looks and feels different than most. Yes, it’s technically well-crafted and looks remarkable, but beyond this, the films coming out of UM have a unique edge, or a distinct angle.” said Dr. Christina Lane, department chair for the Department of Cinema and Interactive Media and associate professor. “

“I think this speaks to the fact that we have faculty members who encourage each student into a space of self-discovery. And we encourage them to find their own stories,” she added.

The Motion Picture program at UM welcomes creative and artistic expression and encourages students to explore and experiment with point of view through faculty mentoring, guidance, and a spirit of collaboration and sense of community. These values are evident in the films produced by students of the program.

The students representing the films and screenplay at the Canes Film Showcase came from all over the world including Puerto Rico, Jamaica, China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.

“The support I’m receiving from faculty and peers is exceptional. I have been through difficult times where I doubted myself, but the environment I was surrounded by helped me find my voice. It takes a collective effort to make a film and I’m fortunate to be doing what I love,’ said Jastaniah.

To view photos from the Canes Film Showcase visit

Films and Screenplay presented at the Canes Film Showcase: 


Writer, producer, director: Scott Alexander Naar

Producer: Sarah Hartman

Producer: Alexandra Santiago

Synopsis: Leif grapples with guilt and instability when his brother goes missing in the woods, but an encounter with a girl named Hallie helps him find healing.


Writer, producer: Ronnie Braithwaite

Synopsis: At a predominantly white institution, Marcus convinces his black fraternity to admit its first white student. What begins as a story that appears to be seated on the lines of interracial brotherhood takes a troubling turn.

Bats and Jokes

Writer, director: Farbod Ardebili

Editor: Yaxu Hu

Synopsis: This film tells the story of Gotham’s darkest night filled with tales of death, immortality, apocalypse, destiny, and time travel! But most importantly this is the night that Joker’s true origin and real name will be revealed to the world.


Writer, producer, director: Mohammad Jastaniah

Producer: Isis Masoud

Cinematographer: Han Chang

Editor: Yaxu Hu

Synopsis: A day in the life of a Syrian refugee newly settled in Miami. To save the life of her grandfather, Maya must take a job that goes against her moral code.

Dysfunctional Dystopia

Screenwriter: Daniel Shaw

Synopsis: A suicidal apocalypse survivor finds a reason to live when he saves a teenage girl who is determined to kill a mutual enemy who is responsible for murdering her parents.