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2020 Student Academy Award Narrative Winners (And Their Oscar Chances)

The 2020 Student Academy Award Winners Have Been Announced. Meet The Winners Of The Narrative Category — Will They Make The Oscar Shortlist?

Screenshot from Percival Argüero Mendoza’s CRESCENDO

Spike Lee. Robert Zemeckis. Cary Fukunaga. These three directors have gone on to great success…but how did they start? They were on the Student Academy Awards winner list. Just last weekend, the Academy announced 18 students who have been added to this esteemed list, including 6 winning directors in the Narrative category.

With three directors from a U.S. based film program and three directors from an international based film program, we can enjoy a wide variety of storylines and perspectives. All winners are eligible to make the shortlist and nominations for the 2021 Oscars. Let’s learn more about the directors, their films and what their chances are to be nominated for in the Best Live Action Short Film category.



Director: Karishma Dube

School: New York University

Plot: A close friendship between two girls is eclipsed by an accidental poisoning at school.

Oscars Forecast: Karishma Dube is no stranger to short film success. Her 2017 film DEVI:GODDESS played at London International Film Festival and Raindance, winning at L.A. Outfest. Like last year’s nominee, BROTHERHOOD, Dube’s latest deals with conflict. Instead of familial or generational warfare, this film deals with friendships gone dark. An advantage with Dube is her attention to the detail of human characters, mixed with moody but nevertheless naturalistic lighting. The vistas and landscapes are as epic as the drama is intimate. This would be a perfect selection for the Oscar shortlist and possibly even make the final five.


Director: Rommel Villa Barriga

School: University of Southern California

Plot: 1951, Mexico City. After synthesizing the main component of the contraceptive pill, young scientist Luis Miramontes deals with the religious and personal consequences of his groundbreaking invention.

Oscars Forecast: This very timely narrative short deals with major themes of social progress and religious conviction. While shorts based on true stories are not seen as often in the Live Action narrative Oscars category as it should, SWEET POTATOES will have a chance because of its excellent production value and ambitious storyline. One aspect working against may be its period themes. The short categories are almost always contemporary-set films, but the relevance of science in the modern world — particularly at a time when it has been put in question by authorities — could make this a necessary win.


Director: Talia Smith

School: New York University

Plot: The morning after having made a promise to celebrate her son’s academic achievement, Domestic worker Sibongile wakes to find he is missing. Despite her worries about her missing son, Sibongile must care for the children of her employer in order to get home and keep her promise.

Oscars Forecast: UMAMA looks to be following in the striking artistic tradition of films like Ousmane Sembene’s 1966 BLACK GIRL, where home workers face difficult choices and subconscious traumas. Recently selected for the Norwich International Film Festival, this film has the pertinent subject matter and look amazing (thanks to Ryan Lee’s lens). It has all the ingredients for an Oscar run. The question is whether Smith, who is previously known for more experimental work or for documentary, has made a narrative short that translates well with the voting viewers.



Director: Percival Argüero Mendoza

School: Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica

Plot: A violinist faces a terrible decision when the leader of the string quartet she is auditioning for tries to seduce her.

Oscars Forecast: With the Sundance-premiering THE ASSISTANT and Courtney Hope Thérond’s REHEARSAL, we’ve had a recent proliferation films dealing with the sexual abuses happening too often in Hollywood. But Mendoza’s latest short decides to go to another artform, music, and reveals the predatory nature that can come from those with too much power and influence. This exquisitely shot short looks so cinematic that the look alone could make it into the shortlist. Yet it also carries the kind of central tension that many short films need to make the final Oscars roster. Mendoza has already made several shorts and with his Philosophy degree (before filmmaking), you can also expect plenty of intellectual rigor behind this social commentary.


Director: Marie Mc Court

School: Institut des Arts de Diffusion

Plot: A little girl is saved from a fire by her young neighbor. They take shelter in an apartment from where they see their tower burning.

Oscars Forecast: This dramatic two-hander is just about to play at San Sebastian Film Festival, and for good reason. The premise may seem simple, but the emotional tension is at 110% throughout. It touches on many key themes — young versus older generations, racial tensions and basic human survival (and decency). It also happens to be the only film on the list with a more cinéma vérité approach to its camerawork, but the film is technically as polished as anything on the list. This is a strong choice and we can expect this selection to go far, both in the world of Oscars and international festivals.


Director: German Golub

School: Baltic Film & Media School, Tallinn University

Plot: Unexpectedly evicted from his house, Erki faces a rather difficult task to take care of his lonely mother. He’s forced to agree to become a corpse carrier. But the situation is about to get a whole lot worse, when Erki meets his new colleague for whom it’s just another day in the field.

Oscars Forecast: What’s one of the best things you can do with a short film storyline? Take a familiar framework but add a surprising or subversive twist. That’s exactly what German Golub does. He makes a workplace scenario go really dark by adding the corpse element and the somber color palette. Some viewers may find the subject matter hard to stomach, but Golub has directed a very strong entry. It’s probably got an outside looking in chance for the Oscar, but it’s certainly worthy of the golden statute in our book.

To see the full list of Student Academy Award winners, go here.