Four USC students were selected as winners at the 47th Student Academy Awards competition on Sept. 15 — the most winners from any school. The winning works are eligible to compete for three different categories of the 2020 Oscars — Animated Short Film, Live Action Short Film or Documentary Short Subject.
The four USC student winners were Curry Sicong Tan, Allison A. Waite, Yucong Chen and Rommel Villa Barriga. They competed against 1,474 entries that included 207 domestic and 121 international schools.
“Once you have a Vimeo link of the film, then you can use a private link to apply for the Academy Awards or any other festivals through all these websites,” said Villa Barriga. “So that didn’t really change. What did change is, obviously the format of things, so the actual event is going to be online and they told us that everything is online.”
Despite the unique circumstances, these Trojans were four of 18 winners voted on by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences.
The students will find out their medal placement — bronze, silver or gold — at a virtual ceremony hosted by The Academy on Wednesday, Oct. 21.
Previous winners have gone on to receive 64 Oscar nominations and include prominent filmmakers like Spike Lee, Trey Parker and Patrica Riggen.
Tan, the winner of the Alternative/Experimental category, wrote that she became inspired to write her film, "Simulacra,'' when studying multiple personality disorder and the notion of self-awareness.
Waite’s film, “The Dope Years: The Untold Story of Latasha Hollins,” and Chen’s film, “Unfinished Lives,” were announced winners of the Documentary category.
Chen, whose film documents Ji Xinran, a Chinese international student who was beaten to death by a gang of teenagers on campus in 2014.
“I really wanted to do a film about an international student, especially international students' experience in America,” said Chen. “I feel like it’s just a very tiny group of people and sometimes, like people just don’t care about their experience and kind of ignore it.”
The film, which took over two years to make, documents the legal processes of the case, which only recently wrapped up with Albert Ochoa, one of the gang members, receiving life in prison in March. Chen said she wanted to bring attention to the safety issues on campus, especially when it comes to international students.
“Even though we have the yellow jackets, we have a lot of things improved [in terms of safety]” she said. “The danger is still there, so I need to do something to make people aware about this and bring more attention to this.”
Villa Barriga, the winner of the narrative category, wrote that his film, “Sweet Potatoes,” which is about Luis Miramontes, the Mexican scientist who synthesized the main hormone of the birth control pill.
The moment Villa was told he was a finalist at the virtual meeting with the Student Academy, he also received another exciting surprise.
“As I was starting to respond to it, then they cut me off and then they said, we want to introduce you to somebody who’s been waiting and then Spike Lee shows up on the screen.”
Villa said he was “speechless” in the presence of Lee who is one of his film industry heroes and that it felt even more surreal for Lee to announce that he had been chosen to receive a Student Academy Award."
“I was like you shouldn’t be congratulating me, I should be congratulating you!” he said. “It’s a true honor, obviously to be a winner of this prestigious award. But just to hear from one of my favorite directors like ever is just priceless, you know.”