2020 Student Academy Award Winners Are the Most Diverse Class Ever

Representing the next generation of filmmakers, the winners discussed the importance of film serving as a medium for diverse perspectives.
Daniela Dwek, Maya Mendonca, and Chrisy Baek's “Hamsa" won a bronze medal at the Student Academy Awards for animation.
Daniela Dwek, Maya Mendonca, and Chrisy Baek

Rhode Island School of Design film senior Pilar Garcia-Fernandezsesma was nearly done with her animated short, “Ciervo,” when the pandemic struck in March. With less than a month before the school’s deadline, she had to be crafty.

“I had to go back to live with my parents. Luckily, I was done with the animation,” she said. “But I did have to switch sound programs completely. It came out fine… I ended up putting flute in my film when I probably wouldn’t have done it, because I had access to my middle-school flute lying in around in my bedroom.”

“Fine” is an understatement. Garcia-Fernandezsesma won a gold medal at the Student Academy Awards, one of 18 student winners at this year’s ceremony broadcast online Wednesday. Garcia-Fernandezsesma and her fellow winners spoke Tuesday during a virtual junket.

The winners were selected by Academy member votes from 1,474 entries, representing 207 domestic and 121 international colleges and universities. Although honorees were announced in September, medal placements revealed Wednesday. All are eligible to compete in the Animated Short Film, Live Action Short Film, or Documentary Short Subject categories at the 2021 Oscars. Clips from the winning films are available on the Academy’s website.

Of the 15 winning films, 13 of the directors are women; in addition to the U.S., the filmmakers come from Germany, Estonia, Belgium, Mexico, and Norway. All told, it’s the Academy’s most diverse class since it started awarding the student honors in 1972. Daniela Dwek, who was on the bronze-winning team that made the animated short “Hamsa,” discussed the role she sees her and her peers filling.

“We all have an advantage: Most people have a phone and start editing videos and putting things together at a much younger age,” she said. “I think for the future generation’s its’ going to become more and more political, we need more voices in the film industry and we need new stories.”

“Hamsa,” which was the School of Visual Arts thesis film from Dwek, Maya Mendonca, and Chrisy Baek, explores the fear of “the other” instilled in a young Israeli girl who is able to put her differences aside when faced with a common danger.

The winners:

Alternative/Experimental (Domestic and International Film Schools)
Gold: “Simulacra,” Curry Sicong Tian, University of Southern California

Animation (Domestic Film Schools)
Gold: “Ciervo,” Pilar Garcia-Fernandezsesma, Rhode Island School of Design
Silver: “Mime Your Manners,” Kate Namowicz and Skyler Porras, Ringling College of Art & Design
Bronze: “Hamsa,” Daniela Dwek, Maya Mendonca and Chrisy Baek, School of Visual Arts

Animation (International Film Schools)
Gold: “The Beauty,” Pascal Schelbli, Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg (Germany)

Documentary (Domestic Film Schools)
Gold: “Unfinished Lives,” Yucong Chen, University of Southern California
Silver: “The Dope Years: The Story of Latasha Harlins,” Allison A. Waite, University of Southern California
Bronze: “Making Waves,” Laura Zéphirin, New York University

Documentary (International Film Schools)
Gold: “Dear Father…,” Maren Klakegg, Westerdals Institute of Film and Media, Kristiania University College (Norway)

Narrative (Domestic Film Schools)
Gold: “Umama,” Talia Smith, New York University
Silver: “Bittu,” Karishma Dube, New York University
Bronze: “Sweet Potatoes,” Rommel Villa Barriga, University of Southern California

Narrative (International Film Schools)
Gold: “My Dear Corpses,” German Golub, Baltic Film & Media School, Tallinn University (Estonia)
Silver: “Crescendo,” Percival Argüero Mendoza, Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica (Mexico)
Bronze: “I Was Still There When You Left Me,” Marie Mc Court, Institut des Arts de Diffusion (Belgium)

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