Synopses: USC Master of Arts in Visual Anthropology 2013 Thesis Films
The Altarmakers by Rachel Elizabeth Jones
The Altarmakers investigates the modern "spiritual products" industry and the hybridized religious practices of people who buy these items. Set in Los Angeles, the filmmaker uses her own discovery of altarmaking as a tool for healing grief to frame her exploration, which addresses the changed landscape of spiritual practice in a globalized, consumerist era. With footage and interviews from "the world's most complete manufacturer and distributor of spiritual products," as well as tours of personal altars, The Altarmakers asks what is gained and what is lost when religion becomes a creation of an individual's own experience of history.
Central Seasons by Bianca Hernandez
Central Seasons explores the lives of teenagers in California's Central Valley, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. Jose and Jaime are two teenagers who began working in the fields in order to help support their families. At the same time, they are attempting to complete high school, find better, less strenuous work, and fulfill the dreams of their parents, a dilemma that many teens in the area face.
Homecoming: Conversations with Combat PTSD by Ted Woods
What happens when a veteran comes home from war? Homecoming: Conversations with Combat PTSD is a documentary film that looks to transcend statistics in order to understand the experiences of Marine combat Veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Homecoming reveals the raw, complex, and often conflicted landscapes of warfare, morality, and mental health that returning veterans face. Through interviews with veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, the film invites the viewer to rethink the idea of PTSD and their own responsibility to our men and women in the armed services.
Los Villanos of Villa Esperanza by Sabrina Skau
Danny, Melvin, and David are "Los Villanos," a group of friends who grew up together in an affordable housing development in South Central Los Angeles. Against a backdrop of poverty and violence, they and their families have carved out a space for flourishing in the "Villa of Hope." In this documentary, we encounter the young men at the cusp of adulthood. As the joys of a relatively carefree childhood slip further and further away, they face the stresses of work, school, and family obligations. The friends strive to honor their immigrant parents' sacrifices, hoping to live out some form of the American Dream, but their struggles call into question the belief that upward mobility can be achieved by hard work alone. An exploration of the intimate effects of violence, the difficulties of working class life, and the importance of family and friendship, Los Villanos opens a window into young men's coming of age in the City of Angels.
Lowcura: The Creation of Family in Chicano Lowrider Car Clubs
by Jazmin Ontiveros
Rooted in the post World War II era, a time when car ownership became one of the key components of the "American Dream" myth, the James Dean-inspired rebels "without a cause" of young White America rose their hot-rods off the ground and enhanced their speed. Echoing the greater push for economic efficiency, speed, and competition in the U.S., fast food drive-ins and fast-car drag races became symbolic features of hot-rod culture. For hot-rodders, the fastest car came out on top. Chicanos, on the other hand, refused this mainstream need-for-speed. With their chin up, their y que! (so what!) facial expression, and their carefully slicked-back hair, Chicanos cruised the concrete streets low and slow. Under warm California sunrays, Chicanos' candy-painted, gold-spoked lowriders dropped jaws and turned heads. Lowriders were not fast and competitive; they were slow and visible.

Lowcura takes us on a ride into the present-day Bay Area's lowriding scene from the passenger seat of the Padrinos Car Club's lowriders. Through the lens of a car club member's younger sister, the passenger and filmmaker, we see the Padrinos' lowriders as mobile murals for the concrete streets to see. But once the ignitions are off and the lowriders are parked, we are introduced to a 30 year-old legacy of a brotherhood—or a second family—created in the streets of San Francisco. As lowriding has spread globally to places such as Japan and Brazil, the film provides a window into the ways in which the lowriding movement is always rooted in friendships, hometown pride, and, of course, the love of cruising.

The Making of a King by Nicole Miyahara
Lesser known than their more popular counterparts, drag kings are biologically female performance artists who dress in male clothing and perform masculinity. This ethnographic film explores the experiences of drag kings in the city of Los Angeles. Where queens traditionally rule the stage, these kings challenge the pervasive idea that they can't "reign just as fierce." Some perform simply for the love of the stage and as a creative outlet from the monotony of their day jobs; for others, the stakes are much higher. The Making of a King gives us a candid look at this fast growing drag king community as they reveal their aspirations to compete on RuPaul's Drag Race, how they re-imagine masculinity, and what their futures in-and-out of drag hold for them. Featuring the talented performances of: Landon Cider, Lucky Johnson, Havok Von Doom, Phantom, and many more along with the electro pop beats of Hi Fashion.
Photo credit: Gabi Luna/Dusti Cunningham
Contact: nicole.miyahara@gmail.com
Website: www.nicolemiyahara.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/TheMakingOfAKing
Something Funny by Brittany V. Gates


Something Funny is a documentary focused on three emerging, female, comedic talents in Los Angeles. Through interviews, stand-up, and improv material, Something Funny exposes the unjustifiable gender bias within comedic entertainment and demonstrates the hopeful future brewing for women in comedy.


twixters by James Watson
twixters illustrates the lives of three young adults in southern California who have moved back in with their parents. Gloria, Josh, and Michael all moved out of their childhood homes in their teenage years. After struggling to find a place in the adult world, they would eventually return home in order to figure out their next move. Now at home, these adult children face the challenges of leading independent lives while sharing a home with their parents. twixters gives an intimate account of these stories, highlighting young adult lives as they carve out their own unique paths to adulthood in the midst of crowded job markets, high housing costs, and changing notions of careers and success. twixters also serves as a sounding board for these young adults as they strive to both understand and be understood by their parents.
Where the Heart Is by Candice Rusch
Where the Heart Is focuses on issues of homelessness, such as stereotypes, barriers to housing, and the nature of home. The film listens to a diverse group of people, spanning two counties, two years, and multiple generations. It takes into account experiences of the homeless and volunteers who have worked with them for over a decade. The seven homeless individuals featured in this film fall under the definition of "chronic homelessness." Where the Heart Is complicates often-simplified assumptions about homelessness and the people who find themselves living on the street.
Why We Burn by Michele Sullivan
Why We Burn examines a small number of individuals' decisions to attend and participate in an annual event known as Burning Man. The content of Burning Man is generated by the events attendees, placing a high value on intense participation. This participation often requires that individuals or groups invest copious amounts of time, money, and/or physical labor in preparation.

Why We Burn is an attempt to provide answers to the questions of why participants choose to attend Burning Man, what they invest during the year and during the span of the event, what motivates them to make these investments, what meaning they abstract from participation, and how they relate their participation in Burning Man to the rest of life.