Film School Standouts: The 2020 Student Academy Award Finalists — Alternative/Experimental

See which film schools and standout students are competing for one of film school’s highest honors.

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Still from Curry Sicong Tian’s “Simulacra”

This year has been anything but typical, and it’s completely disrupted most of the usual business happening at Hollywood and in the film industry at large.

While many festivals have been cancelled, postponed or gone virtual — and big events like the Oscars have pushed back their dates — the Student Academy Awards are still going strong.

This is great news for a select group of highly talented film school students who deserve recognition during this difficult time where the actual films in production are few and far between. This is a chance to celebrate the best in filmmaking from a new generation, as well as to see the bright spots in Alternative/Experimental, Animation, Documentary and Narrative category.

In this issue, learn about the films and the filmmakers behind the Alternative and Animation finalists.

ALTERNATIVE/EXPERIMENTAL

Curry Sicong Tian

Film: SIMULACRA

School: University of Southern California

Plot: An elderly Buddhist woman recalls a ritual from her past, undertaking a journey of duality expressed through her many identities.

The ‘X’ Factor: Curry Sicong Tian’s recent work truly stands out from the latest trends in experimental cinema. So much alternative work in this day and age focuses on the archival, lo-fi and vintage elements of the medium (typified by use of film stock or video). Yet SIMULACRA goes the other way; it’s sleek, modern and depends on the best in digital photography. Tian has industry experience in 3d motion design and graphics, which she brings to this work in a mind-blowing way.

However, she is very much in the tradition of experimental film in a different sense. She relies on mood, color and tone to tell her story rather than narrative, plot or dialogue. Sensuous red and blinding white create a phantasmagoria of shade and depth on the screen.

See Their Work: You can see the trailer for SIMULACRA here. You can also visit Tian’s Vimeo page for more work.

Luca Signoretti / Tobias Buchmann / Alicja Pahl

Film: OUT OF ORDINARY

School: Züricher Hochschule der Künste (Switzerland)

Plot: This film is from the everyday viewer’s perspective. It explores what it might be like to travel through the frames and screens, that otherwise keep a voyeur and his or her fanciful ideas and longing experiences at a distance and, instead, turn them into a real-life journey.

The ‘X’ Factor: The best experimental work is introspective, self-reflexive and has something bold and original to say about the medium itself; and this is where OUT OF ORDINARY really seems to step up and deliver. This dance-focused short film may feature choreographic movement as its subject, but the agency of the camera is the main focus here. This talented trio in conjunction with Zurich University of the Arts and the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich has created a work that uses the filmic eye to its truest advantage. All the formal strengths of the medium, depth of field, color saturation and crispness of the image are being used to their greatest advantage.

Experimental shorts that get made in film schools are often exemplified by their roughshod nature, their exploratory, even roaming compositions. They are often overambitious and especially rough around the edges. Yet OUT OF ORDINARY stands in stark contrast as a tight, controlled, and rigidly formal production in a way that actually frees it from those potential stereotypes.

See Their Work: Follow the always-excellent SWISS FILMS to watch the trailer and learn more about this work.

Ewurakua Dawson-Amoah

Still from https://www.gabrielconnelly.com/to-the-girl-that-looks-like-me-page

Film: TO THE GIRL THAT LOOKS LIKE ME

School: New York University

Plot: An experimental visual poetry piece that celebrates black women through poetry, music, and folklore.

The ‘X’ Factor: This wonderful visual collaboration between Dawson-Amoah and DP Gabriel Crawford Connelly feels influenced by many different lineages. One sees the grace and wonder of a Terrence Malick film. But there’s also the sense of culture and looking back that you’d expect from a Julie Dash. The latest music video-film hybrids from Beyoncé and Solange Knowles can also be found here, as black womanhood is brought front and center for celebrating and examination. The film loves to close in on the human face, using natural light whenever possible and bringing out the best in the marvelous grit of film stock. Many experimental works feel abstract and inhuman in concept. But this one’s personality shines right through

See Their Work: You can learn more about Ewurakua Dawson-Amoah’s work as CEO of Melacast Network. You can see more stills from the film here.

Elisa Maria Nadal

Film: PRISONERS OF THE BODY

School: Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film München (Germany)

Plot: Prisoners of the Body is a metaphorical journey of our existence using dance as a language.From a symbolic birth, going throw different stages of our corporal experience, the film is a praise to the power of movement.

The ‘X’ Factor: Like fellow finalist filmmakers of OUT OF ORDINARY, here is another dance film, but rather than performance art, it’s a look into the culture of dance and its dancers. This makes sense given her time and experience as a documentary filmmaker. Elisa Maria Nadal has shot films in countries around the world, and she brings this cosmopolitan, perceptive eye to an otherwise abstract, intuitive work. Body and culture are foregrounded here, but nevertheless beautifully composed. This is perhaps the most grounded short in the list and stands out from many other experimental films in its focus on people in the world.

See Their Work: To learn more about Nadal and her work, start here.

The 2020 Student Academy Awards will be announced on Thursday, October 15th.

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