Rory Kennedy, Gregory Nava Celebrate Films Creating Social Change at 2019 Student Academy Awards

“I think storytelling is really our hope because there is such divisiveness right now in the world. And, I think that stories enable us to hear each other and see different sides of an experience,” documentarian Rory Kennedy told Variety at the 2019 Student Academy Awards on Thursday at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

Kennedy was one of the five presenters for this year’s Student Academy Awards — along with Melina Matsoukas, Gregory Nava, Phil Lord and Chris Miller — which honored 16 student winners from colleges and universities around the world.

While the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has existed since 1929, the student academy wasn’t founded until 1972 in an effort to encourage student filmmakers while acknowledging them for telling stories that do more than just entertain. Robert Zemeckis, Spike Lee and Patricia Riggen were past Student Academy Award recipients.

Kennedy praised this year’s “extraordinary winners,” saying, “They represent such a range of talent and ability and filmmaking styles and subject matters. These are the next generation of filmmakers.”

Popular on Variety

“I recently founded the climate emergency fund with Aileen Getty and Trevor Neilson with the idea we wanted to create a fund that would support activists,” Kennedy continued. “These activists, these young people who are striking, walking out of their schools, taking to the streets are really our greatest hope to actually affect [climate] change and to get the message to policy makers that they actually need to do something about it.”

Nava’s “El Norte” promoted social change by aiding activists’ in their fight to help refugees from Central America after its release in 1984.  In honor of both the 35th film’s anniversary as well as Hispanic Heritage Month, the Academy restored the film for a one-day screening in September.

“‘El Norte’ helped change the laws of the country in terms of the United States granting protected status for refugees from Central America,” Nava recalled. “The Academy was part of all that. It changed my life. So I have to say that the Academy was very very important to me when I was a young filmmaker. So it is a great honor for me to give back and to be here.”

Even though “El Norte” was made 35 years ago, the issues surrounding citizenship and obtaining protected status are still relevant today, when films, such as student director Eva Rendle’s “All That Remains,” provide a different perspective on the immigrant experience. Rendle’s film tells the story of undocumented immigrants who live in a state of insecurity a year after Northern California’s wine country was ravaged by wildfires, earning her the bronze medal for the documentary at the awards.

“It’s necessary, and it does have impact, and it does make a difference,” Nava said of the importance of making films that lead to social change.

Director Princess Garrett’s documentary “Sankofa” is also a social change story that examines the loss of identity for black males while exploring the complexities of mental slavery. It won the gold in the documentary category.

“’Sankofa’ will always be about the art of storytelling, using the art of film to breakdown cultural barriers, challenging our own preconceived notions of the world,” Garrett said. “It is meant to invoke everyone to think about their positions in these systems of oppression that continue to infest our country today and to act to make concrete structural change.”

Documentary winner Princess Garrett, “Sankofa,”; Animation winner Kalee McCollaum, “Grendel,”; International Documentary winner Yifan Sun, “Family,”; Narrative winner Asher Jelinsky, “Miller & Son,” International Animation winner Daria Kashcheeva, “Daughter,”; International Narrative winner Zoel Aeschbacher, “Bonobo,”; and Alternative/Experimental winner Georden West, “Patron Saint,” during the 46th Annual Student Academy Awards® on Thursday, October 17, in Beverly Hills.
CREDIT: Todd Wawrychuk / ©A.M.P.A.S.

See the full list of winners from the Student Academy Awards below:

Alternative (Domestic Film Schools)
Gold: Georden West, “Patron Saint,” Emerson College

Animation (Domestic Film Schools)
Gold:  Kalee McCollaum, “Grendel,” Brigham Young University
Silver: Aviv Mano, “Game Changer,” Ringling College of Art and Design
Bronze: Emre Okten, “Two,” University of Southern California

Animation (International Film Schools)
Gold: Daria Kashcheeva, “Daughter,” Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU)

Documentary (Domestic Film Schools)
Gold: Princess Garrett, “Sankofa,” Villanova University
Silver: Abby Lieberman and Joshua Lucas, “Something to Say,” Columbia University
Bronze: Eva Rendle, “All That Remains,” University of California, Berkeley

Documentary (International Film Schools)
Gold: Yifan Sun, “Family Squared,” The Polish National Film, Television and Theatre School in Lodz

Narrative (Domestic Film Schools)
Gold: Asher Jelinsky, “Miller & Son,” American Film Institute
Silver: Hao Zheng, “The Chef,” America Film Institute.
Bronze: Omer Ben-Shachar, “Tree #3,” American Film Institute

Narrative (International Film Schools)
Gold: Zoel Aeschbacher, “Bonobo,” Ecole Cantonale D’Art De Lausanne (ECAL)
Silver: Rikke Gregersen, “Dog Eat Dog,” Westerdals Kristiania University College
Bronze:Charlie Manton, “November 1st,” National Film and Television School

More Film

  • Liselott Forsman

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond Boasts Record Budget for 2020

    As the Nordisk Film & TV Fond prepares to celebrates its 30th anniversary, at this month’s Göteborg Film Festival, CEO Liselott Forsman has outlined her vision for the upcoming yearm which sees the fund boasting a record high budget of NOK 127 million ($12.8 million), up from last year’s total of NOK 97.75 million ($11.4 [...]

  • CNC Chief Outlines Plan to Update

    CNC Chief Outlines Plan to Update French Production Infrastructure

    Speaking at an industry round-table at the Paris-based Production Forum on Thursday, Dominique Boutonnat, president of France’s National Film Board (CNC), announced a new plan to update local production studios in order to make them more internationally competitive. The modest plan, which involves new funding, training sessions and additional research, follows a March 2019 report, [...]

  • Bait

    ‘Bait’ Director Mark Jenkin Sets Next Feature With Film4

    Writer-director Mark Jenkin, whose feature debut “Bait” was nominated for two BAFTAs last week, has set his next project, “Enys Men” (“Stone Island”), with Film4. Jenkin will direct from his own script. Denzil Monk is producing for Bosena. Johnny Fewings is executive producing, with Kate Byers and Linn Waite as associate producers. Film4 will co-finance the [...]

  • CineAsia

    CineAsia Turns its Back on Hong Kong

    CineAsia, the long-running convention for the film exhibition and distribution sectors, has ditched Hong Kong, its home for the past decade. It was forced to cancel the 2019 edition in December, due to the political unrest in the city. New York-based organizer, the Film Expo Group, announced on Friday by email that the 2020 edition [...]

  • Mama Weed

    New Films With Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Omar Sy Unspool at UniFrance Rendez-Vous

    Showcasing the wide scope and many nuances of French comedies, Oscar-winning director Michel Hazanavicius’s “The Lost Prince,” “Mama Weed” with Isabelle Huppert (pictured), “The Lion” with Dany Boon, and “Welcome to the Jungle” with Catherine Deneuve are having their market premieres at the 22nd edition of the UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in Paris, which [...]

  • VHYes

    'VHYes': Film Review

    Its slim premise involving a couple of 13-year-old boys having fun with a camcorder in the late ’80s, “VHYes” is maybe a little too faithful to their sensibility — being exactly what a kid raised on “Saturday Night Live,” “SCTV,” and maybe cable broadcasts of “Kentucky Fried Movie” would imagine as the coolest home-made movie [...]

  • The Wave

    'The Wave': Film Review

    A sort of “After Hours” update with a lot more drugs and time ellipses, “The Wave” throws Justin Long down a rabbit’s hole of sometimes hallucinatory, sometimes mortal peril when his button-down protagonist makes the mistake of celebrating a career breakthrough a little too adventurously. This surreal comedy from debuting feature director Gille Klabin and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content