Sunday June 17, 2012
Earning a spot at the Oscars
By STEVE POND
Promising new filmmakers in the United States were honoured for their creative story-telling efforts in an award ceremony that recognises and encourages fresh talent.
STUDENTS from the University of Southern California (USC), California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) and Columbia University qualified for next year’s Oscars by winning gold medals at the 39th Annual Student Academy Awards in Beverly Hills, the United States.
The institutions produced the top winners from the United States, while the University of Westminster in the United Kingdom yielded the gold medal recipient in the Foreign Film category.
Gold medal winners in the four categories (Alternative, Animation, Narrative and Foreign) automatically qualify in the shorts categories for the upcoming Oscars.
The gold medal in the documentary category, which went to a film from New York University (NYU), does not automatically qualify its recipient for the Oscars.
The ceremony capped a week in which the 13 winners were wined, dined and taken to meetings around Hollywood by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ officials.
The student Oscars ceremony was hosted by academy president Tom Sherak, and featured actors Mena Suvari, Cuba Gooding Jr., Greg Kinnear and Laura Dern handing out the awards.
“I thought I was going to see a lot of films with people’s parents in them,” said Gooding of his initial reaction when Sherak asked him to participate. “But this is blowing me away, man. I realise that this is an opportunity to grease up some of my future employers.”
The first winner to whom Gooding presented an award, the Art Institute of Jacksonville’s Heather Burky, began her “thank-yous” by turning to Gooding and saying, “I will hire you any day of the week, for sure.”
“One down!” shouted Gooding.
Typically for the awards, many of the winners could not help but remark on the strangeness and pressure that came with standing on the stage and saying, “I’d like to thank the Academy ....”
CalArt’s David Wolter, who won the gold medal in the animation category for his fable-with-a-twist Eyrie, walked to the podium and said, “I can’t feel my hands. Is that normal?”
The gold medalist in the alternative category, USC student Amanda Tasse’s The Reality Clock was also an animated film; an impressionistic three-dimensional (3D) look at an aging watchmaker dealing with memory loss and a fractured sense of time.
NYU’s Keiko Wright won the top prize among documentaries for Hiro: A Story of Japanese Internment, an exploration of the three years her grandfather spent in a United States detention camp during the forced evacuation of Japanese-Americans in World War II.
The gold medal in the narrative category went to Mark Raso of Columbia University for Under, the initially lighthearted but eventually harrowing story of a young couple who journey to a remote mountain cabin to detoxify.
“I am freaking out,” said Raso when he accepted his Saul Bass-designed plaque which came with a cash award. All gold medals awarded at the ceremony carried a cash award of US$5,000 (RM15,900).
Silver and bronze medal winners received US$3,000 (RM9,500) and US$2,000 (RM6,400) respectively.
In the foreign category, David Winstone from the University of Westminster beat out two German entries with his humorous For Elsie.
The story relates a piano teacher’s encounter with a gangster who has unrealistic ideas about how long it will take his daughter to master a Beethoven piece.
Accepting the award from Laura Dern, Winstone said, “This is an amazing moment for me — not just because it’s an Academy Award, but because I’ve been in love with Laura Dern since I was five years old.”
That love, clarified Winstone, came when he was obsessed with Jurassic Park at age five.
Towards the end of the evening, Sherak retook the stage to congratulate all the filmmakers.
“Guys, ladies, you make us proud,” he said. “You are our future.”
The 13 winning filmmakers knew that they would receive student Oscars, but the level of each award was not disclosed until the ceremony in the academy’s headquarters — though Tasse was the exception, since voters in the alternative category had only opted to give out one award.
Past student Academy Award winners include Robert Zemeckis, John Lasseter, Spike Lee, Pete Docter, Trey Parker, Bob Saget, Ken Kwapis and Cary Fukunaga.
In recent years, Oscar nominations have frequently gone to student winners, including two of the three foreign winners last year.
Luke Matheny’s God of Love won the Oscar for Live-Action Short in 2010, eight months after winning a student award.
Over the years, student Oscar winners have received 46 Oscar nominations and won or shared eight Academy Awards. — Reuters