The Next Generation of Filmmakers Honored at 40th Student Academy Awards

The Development of the Digital Animator

For four decades, the Academy has recognized student filmmakers with the annual Student Academy Awards, featuring some of the brightest and most diverse cinematic talents. This year was no exception with a vibrant ceremony on Saturday, June 8, 2013.

Academy President Hawk Koch welcomed the crowd and, along with thanking show producer Jennifer Todd, asked all the winners to stand and receive a round of applause. “They’ve had a week to remember,” he said, which was certainly true; for example, the winning students had a chance to go to Disney Animation Studios and met industry animators, get an inside look at the ASC Clubhouse and the Sundance Institute, meet with executives at Lionsgate, and enjoy a real Hollywood dinner at Spago. They also had visited the Academy Archive to see where their films will be stored for future generations.

An entertaining opening video took a look back at some notable past recipients such as John Lasseter, Robert Zemeckis, Pete Docter, Lauren Lazin, Ken Kwapis and Todd Holland. Another featured recipient was the evening’s host, Bob Saget, who won in 1978, returning after previous hosting duties at the 30th Student Academy Awards. “Since then I am ten years older and three relationships wiser,” he quipped. “Well, two of them were wiser. One, I’d rather not talk about. Unless you have seven minutes.”

The first presenter of the evening, actor Clark Gregg, has been seen in such films as “Iron Man,” “Iron Man 2,” and “Marvel’s The Avengers.”  “I was killed in ‘The Avengers,’” he said about making his plans for the evening, “and I don’t have much to do!” The Foreign category was the evening’s first, with Gregg noting he’s a big foreign film fan himself. The category is unique in that it has existed for 33 of the ceremony’s 40 years, with the Academy working with CILECT (the International Association of Film and Television Schools) to select this year among 48 films from 31 different countries.

The winner of the Bronze Medal was Wouter Bouvijn from the RITS School of Arts, Erasmus in Belgium for his film "Tweesprong (Crossroads).” He thanked his cast and crew who were in attendance that night, all of whom stood for applause, and acknowledged Flanders Image for helping to promote his film about young Maxime, who is forced to confront an uncertain future when his father dies of a genetic disease.

The Silver Medal recipient, Talkhon Hamzavi, hails from the Zurich University of the Arts in Switzerland
“I really didn’t expect that,” she said of the award. “It was an amazing week, and we really had fun with all those great people.” Her film, “Parvaneh,” charts the efforts of a young Swiss migrant from Afghanistan to get money back home to her mother. It was shot during the coldest February in 150 years, “but we still had a lot of fun!”

For the first time in the category’s history, the Foreign Gold Medal went to an animated film: “Miss Todd” by Kristina Yee from the United Kingdom’s National Film and Television School. She actually comes from California (and majored in Folklore and Mythology at Harvard as well) but went to film school in England, “hence the accent,” and had an amazing week (and had been “fed amazing food!”) and found her follow winners’ films “incredibly inspiring.”  She also thanked her parents for understanding that their daughter wanted to be a filmmaker instead of a lawyer, “and an animator no less!” 

Next to present the Documentary category was Kimberly Peirce, the director of such films as “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Stop-Loss” and the remake of “Carrie.” She announced the Bronze Medal winner, Daniel Koehler, who is the first winner to come from Elon University in North Carolina with his short film, “Win or Lose.”  “All of us filmmakers are appreciative of the opportunities” of the entire week, he beamed, and he thanked those who worked with him including his producer, composer, and family. He also thanked Curtis, the photographer subject of his film about the impact of a discriminatory ballot against same-sex couples’ rights in North Carolina, who allowed him to “take that portrait beyond state borders and 'inspire hearts and inspire minds.'”

The Silver Medal was awarded to Rachel Gordon Loube from the School of Visual Arts, New York for “Every Tuesday: A Portrait of The New Yorker Cartoonists.” An artist who specializes in photography, collage and watercolor, she put the spotlight on the witty, unorthodox cartoonists of the famous magazine and thanked her classmates for their help and support and her teachers who encouraged and supported her throughout her time in school.

David Aristizabal from the University of Southern California took home the Documentary Gold Medal for “A Second Chance.” He originally comes from Bogota, Colombia and thanked the faculty and mentors who inspired him as well as his friend Laura, who has “been a lucky charm through this whole process.” His moving film takes a look at the difficulties of a combat medic with PTSD coping with the adjustment to civilian life, and Aristizabal singled out those who work with veterans to deal with their transition including providing dogs and emotional assistance.

Saget returned to the stage and observed, “So, as well as hosting, the Academy has also asked me to vacuum after—that’s not true. They have given me the honor of presenting the awards in one of the categories tonight.” In fact Alternative is “often the most misunderstood” and, for the first time in several years, featured three winning entries.

Saget presented the Bronze Medal to John Mattiuzzi from the School of Visual Arts, New York for the film “The Compositor.” The New York native, who grew up as a graffiti artist and has lived in Spain, Mexico and Bolivia after taking up Spanish at the age of 19, started his speech by saying to his mother, “Even though I didn’t win the Gold Medal, I’ll still buy you that house in Beverly Hills.” He also thanked everyone for “changing my New York mentality” about Californians. 

Perry Janes from the University of Michigan took home the Silver Medal for his film “Zug,” and he cited his favorite thing among the extraordinary week as spending time with his fellow winners and “the opportunity to connect among ourselves.”  Also an actively publishing poet and Irish Celtic fiddle player, he thanked his numerous teachers, advisors and mentors as well as his parents and girlfriend “back home who have given me their unwavering support as I have plunged boldly and sometimes blindly into the life of a working artist.”

The Alternative Gold Medal was awarded to Rafael Cortina of California’s Occidental College, which was also the first win for the school. Originally from Spanish Harlem, New York City, Cortina directed the film “Bottled Up” and cracked up the crowd by noting to Saget, “Everywhere you go, you seem to bring a full house.” (After all, someone had to say it.) Cortina also thanked everyone involved with his film and said “there should be 25 people up here” with him, as he chose Occidental because he wanted a good liberal arts education and appreciated everyone who helped him achieve his goals.

The youngest presenter in the history of the Student Academy Awards (and probably the first to require a box to reach the microphone) was nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, who was recently nominated for Best Actress for the role of Hushpuppy in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” She was very happy to present “one of my favorite categories – Animation.” She first presented the Bronze Medal to Kevin Herron from the Ringling College of Art and Design in Florida. Originally from Plano, TX, Herron (who also enjoys doing special effects zombie makeup) directed the short “Peck Pocketed” about a bird who takes advantage of a dozing elderly woman to create the home of his dreams.  “It’s always a blessing to hear everyone else laugh,” he said of a clip shown to the crowd, and he thanked the family and faculty who guided him through the realization of his project.

Filmmaker Eusong Lee was given the Silver Medal for “Will,” about a girl whose yoyo inspires her to long for the ability to bring back the father she lost on 9/11. The student from the California Institute of the Arts has lived in both Ulsan, South Korea and Toronto, Canada and had to overcome a few obstacles getting to the ceremony along the way, but he was overjoyed to be there and thanked his composer who wrote “amazing, amazing music” along with the voice artist who spent hours of “intimate recording time in my car!” He had been out of school for a year since finishing the film and found the event reminded him of his passion to keep making films.

The film “Dia de los Muertos” was the Animation Gold Medal winner for Ashley Graham and Lindsey St. Pierre, two more recipients from the Ringling College of Art and Design. They also brought their “co-creator” Kate Reynolds to the stage, and they talked about the faculty and classmates “who helped us along the way” and everyone who supported their Kickstarter campaign. They also thanked “everyone for loving our film as much as we do.” (After the ceremony, Academy Preisdent Hawk Koch declared that Reynolds will now also receive an award.) On the way off the stage, Quvenzhané stopped to give Saget a big hug for an unforgettable evening. Saget then paused for a moment to point out that the recipients would all receive grant checks, and the medals were designed by the legendary Saul Bass.

The final category of the evening for Narrative filmmaking was presented by Jason Schwartzman, an actor seen in films like “Moonrise Kingdom,” “Rushmore,” and TV’s “Bored to Death, and he and Saget shared some funny repartee before the presentation of the Bronze Medal to Columbia University’s Mauro Mueller. Originally from Zurich, Switzerland, Mueller (who also has a black belt in Karatedo and teaches Aikido) won for his film “Un Mundo para Raúl (A World for Raúl)” and said that “we learned from cinematographers that if you put light on bronze it looks like gold, so that’s what it is for me.” He talked about his experience over the week around Los Angeles and felt his film was “an international collaboration” between himself, his wife from Mexico, and all of the professors who gave him the tools to make his film. 

The Silver Medal was presented to Jonathan Langager from the University of Southern California
Originally from Duluth, Minnesota, he directed the whimsical film “Josephine and the Roach” about a tiny apartment resident who becomes infatuated with the human owner. “Roaches unite!” he exclaimed after a heartfelt thanks to the film’s cast and crew as well as everyone at school who helped him along the way.

Finally Schwartzman presented to Narrative Gold Medal to Brian Schwarz from the University of Texas at Austin for his film “Ol’ Daddy.” The Venice, Florida native (and competitive tennis player) was thankful for being invited to such a wonderful week where everyone was so friendly and open, and he got great advice from everyone they got to meet. “It exceeded my expectations tenfold!”  He congratulated all the other filmmakers and “at times I was wondering what mine was doing in such good company.” Indeed, everyone in the audience and on the stage was great company for an evening they will always remember.

 

Read more about the winners and watch clips from their films and all acceptance speeches here.

Watch all of the winners' speeches on YouTube.

Read about the 39th Student Academy Awards ceremony in 2012.