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Women in Animation revealed the Class of 2020 Best Short Film winners from the organization’s WIA Class of 2020 Showcase during a live Zoom ceremony Thursday, Sept. 17.

Because the coronavirus pandemic curtailed most of the festivals where student filmmakers typically unveil their work, the WIA organized the showcase as a way of helping the burgeoning artists get their short films seen by animation professionals, recruiters, hiring managers, agents and studio executives in a virtual setting. More than 400 graduate and undergraduate student films from 121 schools worldwide were reviewed by a jury of industry professionals.

The winning short films are “Ciervo,” about a young girl who holds violence, submission and independence in an uneasy balance as one morphs into the other, by Pilar Garcia-Fernandezsesma, who recently graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design; “La Vida de una Piñata” by Elena Heller, Marina Kunz, Raphael Pfyffer and Kai Muri, graduates of Switzerland’s Lucerne University of Applied Sciences; and “Meow or Never” by Neeraja Raj, a graduate of the U.K.’s National Film and Television School.

“I’m a little shell-shocked. It’s been quite a week for me,” said Garcia-Fernandezsesma, who won a Student Academy Award for “Ciervo” on Sept. 15. “I’m so shocked and so grateful to be recognized this way, and to win this award. It’s just insane to think about.”

During the WIA’s Zoom ceremony, juror Karen Toliver, executive VP, creative at Sony Pictures Animation, asked Garcia-Fernandezsesma what inspired her to make the unusual coming-of-age story. “I think of it as me talking to myself, so it’s a combination of different things. It’s not necessarily based on a true story, but it’s a mixture of my thoughts thinking about growing up and having to deal with the love that you have for family members or people that you care about but then understanding them as a person separately and maybe seeing things that you either don’t understand or don’t like about them and trying to wrestle with that idea of that other side of them that you don’t connect with,” Garcia-Fernandezsesma said. “Also as a woman growing up, the idea of sexual assault, violence and harassment, especially as a young child, not really understanding what’s happening, but not feeling all right with it and sort of trying to figure it out. It all sort of came together into one story, basically my thoughts about childhood in general.”

The stop-motion musical “Meow or Never” follows the adventures of a cat astronaut searching for the meaning of life who finds himself on a space adventure with an overeager puppy.

Juror John Kambites, a producer at Cinesite, said the film made him recall his childhood. “It took me back to when I was a kid, when I tried to build my own spaceship. You captured it all. All the little details, graphics; you really created a whole new world out of household items. “

“My heart is in my chest beating so hard right now,” said “Meow or Never” director Raj upon hearing her film was chosen. “I’m so honored that you think my film deserves this prize. I’m overwhelmed.”

The sense of fun in “La Vida de una Piñata,” about a piñata reliving the same day over and over again, was a high point for juror Magdiela Hermida Duhamel, Latinx in Animation founder and production of manager of Nickelodeon’s “The Casagrandes,” and she praised the film for its use of mixed media. “Such a fun short. So colorful. … I really enjoyed the mixed media of the 2D and 3D. I love seeing that in a new wave of animation. I can’t wait to see what these filmmakers do next.” She also noted that the creative team was half female and half male.

Honorable mentions went to Clarisse Chua of California Institute of the Arts for “The Kitchlet”; Zhike Yang, Wenjie We and Han Chen Chang of the School of Visual Arts for “RenaiDance”; and Adam Bohorquez, also of the School of Visual Arts, for “Millennium Hour.”

“Thank you, Class of 2020 for sharing your stories with WIA, our jurors, and the industry recruiters. Your creative expressions and crafts are truly inspirational and it is our absolute honor to be invited into the worlds you created in all 409 animated short films,” said Hsiang Chin Moe, WIA’s chair of education.

In addition to Toliver, Kambites and Duhamel, jury members included animator, writer and director Craig Bartlett; Sony Pictures Animation film director Erika Dapkzewicz; creator, director and producer Lauren Faust; Jay Francis, VP of current series, diversity & inclusion at Disney TV; director and writer Trisha Gum; Sarah Landy, senior VP of production and development at Nickelodeon Preschool; Nickelodeon Animation President Ramsey Naito; filmmaker Mark Osborne; director and animator Joanna Quinn; filmmaker Wendy Rogers; Becki Tower, animation department head at Pixar Animation Studios; James Tucker, executive producer of the DC animated series and direct-to-video movies; and designer, author and writer Ronald Wimberly.

“I was very inspired to see all the films,” said Gum. “The thing that really inspired me most was how diverse all the points of view and films were. The stories, they were all so unique.”

Kambites echoed those sentiments. “They were so professional. Diverse, controversial and they made you think. … People weren’t afraid to take certain risks.”