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Local student invited to Cannes Film Festival

Sometimes the trick to making it in Hollywood is to just believe you Cannes.

Local student Michael Morales has been invited to the prestigious international Cannes Film Festival in May and is now crowdsourcing the funds to make the two-week trip to France to attend.

“I got the email and I didn’t correctly read it, I thought it was just another update,” Morales said about getting news that he’d been invited to what is perhaps the biggest film festival in the world. “Then I re-read it sometime later and was like, ‘holy — you know. This is real. I’m going.’”

The San Francisco State University junior produced, edited and wrote the story for the Spanish-language short film “Guardia de mi Hermano."

Morales, along with other cast and crew members, created the film for Campus MovieFest, the world’s largest student film festival. The competition challenges students to create a five-minute short film in only one week.

The film was selected as a Top-16 finalist out of around 100 entries, eventually winning the first-place Jury Award.

“It goes to show that my storytelling, the way that I like to put a film together, people see that and they appreciate it,” he said. “It’s a pretty powerful thing, to be honest. I have the power to send a message to people.”

The film concerns two brothers and how the choices they make can affect each other.

“It ends in a cliffhanger. It leaves the audience to use their imagination to decide what happens,” Morales said.

“One of the great things about the film is that everything is in the details,” said Michael’s father, Mike. “The film presents a real moral dilemma.”

“Guardia de mi Hermano” is currently available to watch on Morales’ GoFundMe page at

The trip will cost at least $3,000, which is a hefty bill for the college student, and he’s asking for donations to help with the costs.

Morales has never been to Europe and is excited for the opportunity to network and pick the brains of veterans of the industry.

“I’m not sure who I’m going to meet out there, but whoever I do meet, for us to cross paths, it was meant to be,” the filmmaker says. “Another thing I hope to get out of is the knowledge of what other directors and producers know and to apply that to my work.”

Of course, rubbing elbows with Hollywood A-listers wouldn't be so bad, either.

"It would be cool to meet Christian Bale or Leonardo DiCaprio," he says.

Morales is currently in SFSU’s broadcast and electronic communications program, hoping to eventually land a job producing prestige genre shows, like HBO’s “Westworld.”

He plans on vlogging from the invite-only film festival to keep everyone back home up-to-date on the experience. 

California has ample weapons to fight Trump on drilling

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — In the decades since a 1969 oil spill near Santa Barbara tarred sea-life and gave rise to the U.S. environmental movement, politicians and environmental activists have built up ample ways to make it difficult but not impossible for the Trump administration to renew drilling off California's coast.

The Interior Department said Thursday it plans to open most federal waters off the United States to oil leases.

In California, where no new federal leases offshore have been approved since 1984, Gov. Jerry Brown joined governors of Oregon and Washington in vowing to do "whatever it takes" to stop that from happening off the West Coast.

State officials, environmental groups and oil-industry analysts say California has solid regulatory and legal means to try to make good on that threat.

For one thing, oil companies know that even if the federal government sells leases in federal waters, California and other coastal states by law control the 3 miles nearest to shore, all along the coasts.

That means California decides on permits for any oil pipelines that would connect oil platforms to land, along with any transport centers, refineries or holding stations once the crude makes it ashore.

"Operators don't tend to operate (off) states that don't want production," said Kevin Book, an analyst with ClearView Energy Partners in Washington, D.C.

There are ways around California's 3-mile lock on shore — such as using ships to transport oil from platforms in federal waters instead of pipelines, he said.

But considering all the potential financial, regulatory and legal problems oil companies would face in drilling off California, oil prices would have to go far higher to make that enticing, Book said.

"At today's crude oil prices, the way companies look at political risk ... when you do the math on paper it doesn't add up," Book said.

Two Democratic state lawmakers, Al Muratsuchi of Torrance and Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara, said Friday they would reintroduce stalled legislation from last year that would bar the state from permitting pipelines or any other support for new oil and gas drilling in federal waters off California.

Brown joined both U.S. senators and other state officials last year in appealing unsuccessfully to Obama to ban California offshore drilling before he left office, and polls show most Californians opposed to offshore drilling.

Californians vividly remember the 1969 oil spill and a 2015 Southern California spill from a pipeline serving a platform in federal waters that blackened more than 100 miles of public beaches and closed two state parks.

"You walk on the beach and see oil in the sand and the water and washing up, and there's dead birds and dead fish," said Kristen Hislop, with the Environmental Defense Center, a Santa Barbara environmental group formed in response to the 1969 oil spill. "You very much remember why we fight so hard to protect our coastline."

In California, "we do have plenty of opportunity to fight these new oil developments and we will pursue all those avenues," said Linda Krop, legal counsel for the same group.

For example, a 1972 federal coastal act gives California extensive input on federal actions along the coast, including the granting of federal oil leases.

"Nothing galvanizes bipartisan resistance in California like the threat of more offshore drilling," said Dayna Bochco, chairwoman of the California Coastal Commission, which would have the authority to oppose offshore leases under that act. "We've fought similar efforts before, and we will fight them again."

Should Hanford be worried about federal cannabis policy?

HANFORD — It has been less than a week since California legalized recreational cannabis use, but does the city of Hanford — its journey into the medical cannabis business just beginning — have reason to worry about recent federal rule changes pertaining to the industry?

On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions lifted a policy set forth by the Obama administration that kept federal authorities from cracking down on cannabis trade in states where the plant is legal. Now, it is up to federal prosecutors to decide what to do when state rules regarding legalized cannabis conflict with federal law.

The news throws somewhat of a monkey wrench into the future of the relatively young industry, especially for states that just legalized recreational cannabis use and are trying to navigate the ins-and-outs of regulating something that has black market appeal.

In November, the city issued 21 cannabis permits — a combination of cultivation, manufacturing and distribution permits — to three medical cannabis companies to locate in the industrial park. All of the companies will call Hanford home by the end of the year.

Hanford City Manager Darrel Pyle said although he will wait intently from word from the Department of Justice on the issue, he is not too worried about what the policy being lifted means for Hanford.

Pyle said although the Obama-era policy was written in 2013, California has allowed medical cannabis businesses since the late 1990s, so the state has already conflicted with federal laws for almost 20 years and the industry still grew.

Hanford itself will not have any dispensaries and has issued permits to medical cannabis businesses only.

Pyle said at this point, he trusts the words of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who said Thursday that he would protect the interests of Californians and oppose any federal efforts to crackdown on state-sanctioned cannabis business.

Furthermore, Pyle said to his knowledge the Department of Justice has not been given any more funds to enforce the federal drug laws concerning cannabis, so he doesn’t know how well it will do against the 29 states that have legalized cannabis.

“California is still issuing permits,” Pyle said. “We just have to see how this all plays out over the next year.”

In fact, the Hanford City Council just conducted a special meeting on Wednesday night to approve a relocation request from medical cannabis company Caliva, which wanted to relocate from an approved location on Houston Avenue to a different location on Energy Street.

Council unanimously approved the relocation request and now Caliva will be able to move its distribution operation into an existing 20,000 square-foot facility in the first quarter and begin distribution and manufacturing in the second quarter, six to eight months earlier than originally planned.

According to a letter from Caliva to Council, allowing the relocation means the construction process will start earlier and jobs will be created earlier.

As long as Caliva submits the proper documents, Pyle said the company will get a building permit in its hands far sooner than expected.

“This will speed them up,” Pyle said. “They will be the first to market.”

Caliva and Genezen, two of the medical cannabis companies that will be locating in Hanford and that have the most experience dealing with legislative issues, did not respond by deadline for this article.

Safety probe warns California's dam crisis a "wake-up call"

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — "Long-term and systemic failures" by California dam managers and regulators to recognize inherent construction and design flaws at the tallest U.S. dam caused last year's near-disaster there, an independent panel of dam safety experts said Friday, calling it a wake-up call for dam operators around the country.

Members of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials and the U.S. Society on Dams carried out an independent investigation into the human and technical problems that caused the crisis at California's Oroville Dam. The experts issued their report Friday.

Both spillways at the half-century-old Oroville Dam gave way in February 2017, forcing 200,000 people downstream to be evacuated. The feared uncontrolled release of massive amounts of water over the top did not happen, and residents were allowed to return home days later.

The independent panel of safety experts said the dam had been badly built from the start in the 1960s. The main designer of the spillway had just completed post-graduate work, had no engineering employment beyond two summer stints, and had never designed a spillway before, the dam-safety experts were told.

The crisis started when massive chunks of the dam's main concrete spillway suddenly began washing away.

The report faults California's Department of Water Resources, which owns and operates the dam, an anchor of California's water system, and dam regulators for allegedly failing to recognize and address problems in the 770-foot  structure over decades of inspections and reviews.

"There were many opportunities to intervene and prevent the incident," the experts concluded.

The state has said repairs to the structure will cost more than $500 million. Residents and businesses downstream, including in the 19,000-resident town of Oroville at the foot of the dam, have filed more than $1 billion in damage claims.

"Repairing a dam is great ... but what's happened to the view of Oroville as a safe place to live?" asked David Steindorf of American Whitewater, one of the environmental groups that had long complained that the state ignored concerns about the dam's construction flaws. "There's a lot of long-term impacts that need to be addressed."

The experts said the Oroville crisis made clear that it was essential for dam managers and inspectors to review original dam construction in light of modern engineering practices.

"Like many other large dam owners, DWR has been somewhat overconfident and complacent regarding the integrity of its civil infrastructure," the experts said.

In a statement, Joel Ledesma, a deputy director at the water agency, said state officials had supported the independent review "so we can learn from the past and continue to improve now and into the future."

The water agency said it would assess its organizational structure as a result of Friday's findings and already was assessing its dam-safety program.

Dam experts say the Oroville crisis is a warning for operators around the world.

"The fact that this incident happened to the owner of the tallest dam in the United States, under regulation of a federal agency, with repeated evaluation by reputable outside consultants, in a state with a leading dam safety regulatory program, is a wake-up call for everyone involved in dam safety," the experts said in Friday's report.

The average age of the more than 90,000 dams in the U.S. is 56 years, making thorough inspections and maintenance increasingly important for the safety of people downstream, dam experts say.