‘Love Is Not A Dream’: How a Class Project Became an Internationally Renowned Film

head shot of a young woman with dark hair

Last spring, a vision came to Media Studies senior Samantha Berlanga, a filmmaker from Queens, New York.

“I had this striking image in my mind of a young girl perched up against her TV watching romantic movies,” Berlanga said. “She picks up these binoculars and she’s like, ‘I’m gonna go look for love.’”

When Berlanga enrolled in the Advanced Narrative Production Class in August of 2021, this vision returned to their mind. It morphed into Love Is Not A Dream, a film exploring how infatuation impacts a relationship between two women. Berlanga’s film recently won first prize in the romance category of the Golden Short Film Festival, and will be in competition for overall winner at the festival in Italy this August

What makes Love Is Not A Dream especially unique is that it is nominated in both the romance and horror categories. It has come far from the initial vision, Berlanga admitted.

“(That vision) is not at all what the film turned out to be,” they said. “But it definitely came from that idea and is rooted in that kind of innocence, in looking for love and exploring that. You know, I feel like love can be this bewildering, fantastical-like, intimate experience, but it can also be scary, unnerving, and chaotic. I think the film mirrors that a lot.”

line drawings of a storyboard

Every aspect of Love Is Not A Dream is rooted in this duality, from the original score to the style of cinematography and actor performance. It was truly a collaborative effort, Berlanga said.

“I had amazing people working with me to help bring the picture to life. In the class, we all have to work together to shoot each other’s films, so I had support from other USF students.”

The actors in the film were cast on Backstage.com, a service connecting local actors to theater and film projects. Aditi Sanghavi and Makilahsade Davis led the cast of twelve.

a woman twirling her hair and blowing a bubble gum bubble

The part of the collaborative process that was particularly striking for Berlanga was the soundtrack. USF Students Juhuhn Kim and Seref Ha’Qol collaborated with Berlanga’s friend, singer-songwriter Sophia Yau-Weeks to create the film’s score.

“The music collaboration was really important because I needed to create an original score for the film. I had a very specific idea of what I wanted,” Berlanga said. “They all helped collaborate with me to bring the music and score to life.”

a dark image of two blurry women

The film was conceptualized and created over a period of five months, from August to December. Once finished, Berlanga submitted it to FilmFreeway.com under the romance, horror, and student categories. Love Is Not A Dream was submitted to twenty festivals, and they are still waiting to hear back from eighteen.

While there were submission fees to all entries, many offered a student discount, Berlanga noted. Still, that did not limit the financial burdens of the project.

“I feel really grateful to be appreciated for the film, because I did spend so much money on this project. I was working at Trader Joe’s, and I quit that September, because I knew this is what I wanted to put my all into,” they said.

While the school provided equipment, the money for the cast and crew’s meals, costumes, props, and transportation all came out of Berlanga’s pocket.

“I was using my last paycheck to fund the film. So I feel like I committed to making a good film. You know, it’s mine, but it’s everyone’s at the same time. It’s such a cathartic feeling.”

As Berlanga plans to graduate from USF and, depending on COVID-19, travel to see their film in Italy, they have been thinking on what their artistry means to them.

“I’ve created films before this, but this one is definitely closest to my heart. I gave it my all,” they said. “I want to go into the film industry, but I feel very protective over my voice as an artist. It’s okay if I change my voice, and it grows along my journey, but I don’t want to succumb to the industry standard of entertaining. Film is the medium in which I best like to express myself, so that’s definitely the plan to keep it in my life for as long as possible. I just want to make art at the end of the day.”

Photos courtesy of Samantha Berlanga.