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Student Academy Awards

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The Student Academy Awards became apart of the famous Academy Awards ceremony in 1973 and has kept rewarding qualified and extremely talented students ever since.  The awards were originally known as the Student film Awards until 1991, when they were named what they’re known as now, the Student Academy Awards.  Students from all over the world have the opportunity to submit their films to the Academy and have them run for a nomination list.  The applying process can be done online at, http://www.oscars.org and only includes submission of your film electronically and an application that is also electronically.  Different rules apply for national and international students, but not by much.  There are also specific regional coordinators that the submissions are due to.

There are four specific categories that students can be nominated for.  The four include, Animation, Documentary, Narrative and Alternative.  The categories vary throughout the years.  There’s also an award for Foreign Film.

A little history about the awards:

  • September 1972, Herbert Klynn, who was an American animator suggested a separate category for student recognition for their short films.
  • In July of the next year, recommendations were brought to the Short Subjects Branch Executive Committee.
  • By September 4, 1973, rules were made.
  • The first Student Film Awards (ever) were announced on December 20, 1973.
  • In 1975, the awards became a summer ceremony that included medals, merits, and cash prizes.  This is the main difference between the original Academy Awards (Oscars) and the Student Academy Awards, besides being during different times of the year, the Academy Awards are based on receiving the statuettes whereas the Student Academy Awards are based on winning medals and other prizes.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also offers a timeline (http://www.oscars.org/awards/saa/history.html) of how far the Student Awards have come since September 1972 when the idea was first pitched.

Well-known winners:

While there are plenty of noteworthy winners and nominators, there have also been a collection of winners who became very well-known directors and actors.  The long list includes:

  • Bob Saget – won the Documentary Merit for his film, “Through Adam’s Eyes” while he was attending Temple University in Philadelphia in 1978.
  • Spike Lee – won the Dramatic Merit for his film, “Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads” while he was attending New York University in New York City in 1983.
  • Trey Parker – along with Chris Graves, won the Silver Medal for the Animation category for his film, “American History” while he was attending University of Colorado, Boulder in 1993.
  • John Lasseter – won the Animation Award for the Animation category for his film, “Nitemare” while he was attending the California Institute of the Arts in 1980.
  • Robert Zemeckis – won an award for the Special Jury in Dramatic category for his film, “A Field of Honor” while he was attending the University of Southern California in 1975.

There’s a very long list of the winners of all of the Student Academy Awards each year since 1973 at http://www.oscars.org/awards/saa/winners/winners.pdf.

According to http://www.oscars.org, each year a compilation presentation of the gold medal award-winning films is circulated each year free of charge to educational and non-profit organizations nationwide.

There was only a small few that were available online:

Zoologic was directed by Nicole Mitchell and won the Animation Gold Medal in 2008.

Dried Up was directed by Isaiah Powers and Jeremy Casper and won the Animation Silver Medal in 2010.

Viola: The Traveling Rooms of a Little Giant was directed by Shih–Ting Hung and won the Alternative Gold Medal in 2008.

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Student Academy Awards

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The Red Jacket (2002) directed by Florian Baxmeyer won the 2003 Narrative Foreign Film Student Academy Award.  This is the first student Academy Award that we’ve watched in class and set the standards pretty high.

This film was very interesting to watch because it was a complete shift from what we had been watching before.  The intimidation factor set in as soon as I learned that these were Student films, let alone an Academy Award winning Student film.  This movie was very touching and was pretty unpredictable for me.  Not that I enjoy predicting films but sometimes my mind just takes over and does it on it’s own and I forget to release that and just keep my mind completely open.  I wasn’t disappointed when I was wrong, though.  I was almost pleasantly surprised.  The first thing taken in my notes was that the jacket was the most vibrant thing throughout the film.  I think this is completely important because the jacket is the most important thing in the film, almost like the character that it had belonged to before, even if he wasn’t present at all.

I think this film is more expected to be the typical contents of a feature length film.  Possibly with the man’s son involved, and their interaction together as father and son, and maybe a mother’s involvement and how or why the father was on his own.  And possibly the back story of the boy who eventually finds the jacket and steals it and keeps it for himself.  There were plenty of routes that a director could go with this particular story but this story remained just as impressive and entertaining as a short as it would’ve expected to have been if it were a feature film.  I don’t think the film needed any more details than what the viewer is provided with.  Needless to say, I really enjoyed this film.  It came full circle at the end and reminded me that irony is such a predominant factor that goes into a short film because there’s such a tiny time frame.

Another major note that I took was that the production value of this particular film was unbelievably high and extremely impressive coming from a student.  It’s hard to not wonder how students have these types of resources to produce such amazing films with great quality and scripts and lighting and sounds and settings.  The list can go on and on and while I may be able to have these resources available to me on my campus, I am completely unaware of it.  Unless, these students have a lot of their own equipment which would make sense considering it probably took them much more than a semester to make these films.  There also wasn’t much dialogue in this film but it wasn’t necessary.  There really wasn’t anything that I noticed that was lacking about this film, I think as a student film it was impeccable and as a regular short film, it is still recognizable as a great one.  As a student, I truly am admirable for these types of films because of the amount of effort and talent that goes into them from someone who is around the same age as me is truly extraordinary.

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A Day’s Work
(2008) directed by Rajeev Dassani is the winner of the 2008 Gold Medal Narrative Student Academy Award.  It is also the winner of many other awards including the winner of the Best Film & the Best Directing at the First Look Film Festival at USC and the winner of the Best International Film Short Shorts Film Festival in Japan.  These three awards are only a few among the large selection of awards that this film is recognized and well-deserving of.

This film is really good visual evidence of social class issues and how a lot of our culture perceives different races based upon their career choice or their lack of having a choice on how they can make money.  But it is also a great visual representation of how those “different” worlds intertwine and end up contrasting one another.  This film touched upon those ideas extremely well and while these types of problems are mainly complex, this film shrunk it, only because of the time frame.. not because of the problems themselves.

My favourite thing about this film was the interaction between the son and the worker and how that became pretty crucial towards the end and played a much bigger part than what you think when they first interact.  Again, something like this was extremely impressive in terms of touching on a subject that is so widely discussed and broken down and put into a visual concept to convey the truth.  It also touches on the idea of stereotypes and how that is the start of how people construct this idea about social issues and so on.  The main concepts from this that I gathered were unemployment, like the husband and the workers having to make end’s meat as best as they can, even if it’s bargaining their original asking price for their help.  The idea of trust and assumption amongst different races come into question too, just in the sense that the husband lost his wallet and the workers assumed that he “lost” it so he wouldn’t have to pay him when it really was the case of just losing something.  That part of the film also plays into suspicion across cultures and how that truly affects the environment, instantly and sometimes for the worst.

Not only was this film impressive from a social issue standpoint, it deserves extreme recognition for it’s production value, especially coming a student.  I think Dassani successfully opened the viewer’s eyes (once again) to something that is important and even more in need for discuss if someone as young as early 20’s brings it on the table again.  I’m not sure if it was the setting but this film also reminded me a little bit of the feature film Crash which was made in 2004 and directed by Paul Haggis.  The movie won 3 Oscars and was nominated 44 times.  I think the reason why both of these movies seem similar to me is because they are filmed in the same location and they’re both about colliding with one another in a way that can be extremely dramatic and we may not realize it until after awhile.  Crash deals a lot with different races in a very broad story, too whereas A Day’s Work points out the differences in races pretty predominantly in one short story that has a lot of underlying importance.  I enjoyed this film a lot and would like to see more like it, from students or anyone in short or feature film length.

for more info on this film you can go to http://www.daysworkfilm.com/

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Kavi (2009) directed by  Gregg Helvey was the winner of the 2009 Gold Medal Narrative Student Academy Award.

This film is another one that has social significance in consideration, considering social classes.  The difference, however, is the country it’s filmed and based in.  I think the most impressive thing (for me, at least) about this film is the resources the student had to create it, and the actors.  Even just writing about this, I’m more amazed at the idea of how time constraining this all had to have been for a student.  And how the final product is something so extraordinary, it’s almost inspiring to know that this can be a product of someone’s work who is as young as me.  But also extremely intimidating at the same time.

Anyway, Kavi is a great film.  I thought it was a good representation of another culture and the problems they go through with slavery and separation of family along with class, for example, the rich kids go to school and the poor kids work.  That is also an expansion on the importance of education and how unfortunate it is that kids all around the world don’t have that kind of privilege and it’s even more sad to know that something like working long hour jobs is what replaces getting an education. But the movie was tied together extremely well and all of the little components, from the plant that he grew, his relationship with his parents, the moment when he returned the ball to the children coming from school, the agreement he had with the head guy, etc.  It was all extremely thought through and significant to the message of the story.

I really thought it was interesting that I wrote this in my notes, too: This seems completely advanced and amazing for a student film.  As a student,  how is this possible?  To travel places and hire actors and to have these detailed stories with so many shots and the access to so much editing.

I hate repeating myself but its hard not to when watching and talking about these films.  I am truly amazed by the general outcome and think all of these awards were well-deserved.

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Rundown (2007) by Patrick Alexander won the 2007 Gold Medal Narrative Student Academy Award.  This film was the fourth film from Florida State University’s Film School to move onto the Student Academy Awards.

I thought this film epitomized the idea that short films really have a small amount of time to have a story that is worth watching.  This movie succeeded in the first 2 minutes.  It was easy to get emotionally involved in this film and try hard to relate to this woman’s life in the beginning as she struggled through what her career choice was.  I thought the girl in the bathroom was a great addition to the woman’s stress and exhaustion.  I liked the story a lot and I really appreciated the acting.  The film made me really appreciate actors and their roles in short films and while we mostly discuss the production value and the story, the actors still deserve just as much recognition.  Especially in this particular film.  The lead actress in this film had a lot to show and take on and I think she did it perfectly.

Overall, the film was extremely well written and put together well.  I thought the soundtrack enhanced every bit of emotion that was evoked in the film and helped the character of the woman anchor express what was going through her mind.  I think as the viewer, it was very easy for me to put myself in her place and feel terrified for her and really on the edge of my seat, like if it was like I was watching the news that she was reporting about the hit and run.  I felt that the film was a little predictable, but more satisfactory than anything, the ending was also extremely bittersweet.  I loved this film.  I remember later explaining it to someone and they seemed really interested in it and it made me wonder how Alexander could’ve possibly come up with something that easily can keep a viewer’s attention for just 15 minutes.  I know that goes without saying for the majority of the films I’ve seen so far but I think this movie pertained more to my taste and kept my full attention throughout the entire thing, without any means of distraction.  Thankfully, this film is available on vimeo (above link) and accessible to anyone with the internet.

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The Lady in Waiting (1992) by Christian Taylor won the Dramatic Gold Medal Academy Award and was later nominated in the Live Action Short Film category in the Academy Awards in the next year. While doing research for my final project I came to find that Taylor has also written for popular shows that are well known today such as Six Feet Under, Lost and New Amsterdam.  This was also Taylor’s thesis film at New York University

I initially didn’t like the saturation of this film.  I thought it seemed kind of dark and dry and didn’t help the film but i made much more sense once there was the blackout of the city.  I thought it started off like a feature film with telling a story before credits rolled with the title but I ended up liking that introduction more than just jumping right into the story.  This film was a lot different that what we’re used to, I think because it was slow-paced but still remained a short film.  It had a lot of contents but wasn’t hard to understand or take as a viewer.  The coloring of the film also made more sense once both of the main characters were in the elevator together, too.  I really enjoyed the montage of neon colours going out as the blackout took effect throughout the entire city.

My general take on the film was that it was about two different generations crossing paths and each interacting with one another.  The movie was shot in the 90’s and takes place in New York City which has always been known as a fast-paced kind of city with lots of different people and characters that make it up.  The first character we see, the older woman, is a proper woman who seems very old-fashioned but not necessarily close-minded to the world around which is evidently, very different from what she’s used to.  This is clear when she makes the transport between her very large Victorian-esque home to the city.  The second character is a drag queen.  I think this is a very crucial choice of character because during the late 80’s-early 90’s, there was a lot of controversy (at least a lot more noted controversy) about gays and their specific community and the issue of AIDs.  I think having these two different worlds coincide with one another was something that was almost untouchable at the time.  I liked the fact that the older woman wasn’t too quick to judge but eventually did because her generation was brought up completely different compared to what the gay man went through while growing up.  It’s also extremely sad because the older woman had a lot of issues with her self confidence, probably because her husband had an affair and because she was so closed off in that big house by herself.

I think the interaction and dialogue between both characters progressed really well.  I think it was all about self discovery and the idea that these two different people struggle with the same kind of problems and at the end, they boy inevitably brought out the feeling of being comfortable in your own skin in each other.  It was a beautiful story about confidence and differences.

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Christmas in New York (1997) directed by Mark Millhone won the Dramatic Gold Medal Student Academy Award in 1997.

This wasn’t the best film that we’ve watched in class.  It was humorous and lighthearted but not too impressive considering the standards I’ve already set after watching the last few student films that we’ve had the privilege to see.  There weren’t a lot of notes I could write on it except for the fact that it was simple, and it was more of a look at someone’s day on Christmas and how his past became involved somehow and how he dealt with certain situations that he fell under.  It was a cute story, it wasn’t special.  I enjoyed it for it’s simplicity and familiarization but not for it’s story or production value.  As a student film, though, it’s still a lot more impressive than something I’d be capable to produce.