For the past 47 years, the Student Academy Awards have been a celebration of young, up-and-coming filmmakers who represent the next wave of cinematic talent. A wide and brilliant variety of nationalities, genres and schools has been represented over the years with a range of stories from filmmakers who made their mark on the industry. Here are just a few, demonstrating what can come out of our annual awards ceremony honoring creative student voices around the globe.
Now known for a string of beloved classics including this oft-quoted time travel hit, Robert Zemeckis was just starting out in 1975 when the USC student won a Special Jury (Dramatic) prize for his short film, A Field of Honor, an absurdist comedy about a military vet whose release from an institution plunges him into a new kind of adventure. Zemeckis would go on to direct numerous other titles including Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Flight and Romancing the Stone, ultimately winning an Oscar for Directing for Forrest Gump.
While at NYU, Cary Joji Fukunaga made the short film Victoria Para Chino, which took home the Narrative Silver Medal at the 2005 Student Academy Awards. That proved to be just the beginning. He has since gone on to Emmy-winning glory with True Detective and directed such films as this powerful look at growing up in the most violent of circumstances, along with others including Jane Eyre and the upcoming James Bond entry, No Time to Die.
Now enshrined as one of America’s most important living filmmakers who wowed audiences with this breakthrough film that still resonates today, Spike Lee directed one of the most famous Student Academy Award winners while at NYU: Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads. A Merit Award winner in 1983, it paved the way for Lee’s electrifying first feature, She’s Gotta Have It, and a string of classic Spike Lee joints to come including Malcolm X and BlacKkKlansman.
One of Latinx cinema’s trailblazers thanks to films like this Sundance favorite, Colombian-American filmmaker Patricia Cardoso has won a number of prestigious accolades over the course of her career. One of the earliest came at the 1996 Student Academy Awards when she won the Dramatic Gold Medal for The Water Carrier of Cucunuba, made while she was studying at UCLA. She would go on to become an instructor herself at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.
See also: Patricia Cardoso’s list of top 5 films that get it right
Known today as co-creator, animator and a primary voice artist of the long-running series South Park, and a developer of the Broadway smash The Book of Mormon, Trey Parker was already using his trademark construction paper animation approach in his comedic short, American History. The University of Colorado art class project went on to win a Silver Medal for Animation at the 1993 Student Academy Awards, and the rest, as they say, is history, including this Oscar-nominated animated musical showcase for the long-running TV series.
Before directing this fact-based film and Under the Same Moon, Mexican-born filmmaker Patricia Riggen caught the eye of the movie world with her powerful short, La Milpa (The Cornfield), which earned a Gold Medal in the Narrative category in 2003. Made while she was studying at Columbia University, the short paved the way for Riggen’s socially conscious features stemming from her work in both film studies and journalism.
The Student Academy Awards went international in 1981 with Jaco Van Dormael, the first winner in the Foreign Student Film category for the short film Maedeli la Brèche from the Institut National Supérieur des Arts du Spectacle in Belgium. Subsequent winners have hailed from Mexico, Israel, England, Germany, Denmark, South Africa and Sweden (as well as multiple later wins for Belgium), while Van Dormael went on to direct this acclaimed feature which won the Caméra d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
Before he became an eight-time Oscar nominee and two-time winner for Pixar films like this one (an instant classic about a widower embarking on a truly fantastic journey) and Inside Out, Pete Docter won a Gold Medal in Animation in 1992 for his short film, Next Door, made while he studied at the California Institute of the Arts. Since then, he’s become a major voice in American animation with other directing credits including Monsters, Inc. and the upcoming Soul.