Student Academy Awards — a launching pad into Hollywood — celebrate 50 years
Spike Lee already had several big moments with the Oscars by the time he finally won a competitive statuette in 2019.
His first came almost 40 years earlier, in 1983, when he was a film student at New York University. Lee submitted his master’s thesis film Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, starring Monty Ross, to the Student Academy Awards. And it won.
The Student Academy Awards may not be as glitzy or high profile as the Oscars, but in its 50 years it has proven to be a vital launching ground for emerging film-makers. Inclusion and access may sound like recent buzzwords, but the film academy has been striving to break down barriers to entry for decades.
In 1973, then Academy President Walter Mirisch said, prophetically, that they were celebrating the young people who “will be taking our places”.
Over the years, student winners have included Pete Docter, Robert Zemeckis, Trey Parker, Patricia Riggen, Bob Saget, and Patricia Cardoso.
Academy members, 640 of them this year, vote on the awards, which offer invaluable exposure for a young film-maker. Many have emerged from the programme with representation, some with jobs and all with a new network of peers.
“Once your name is tied to a Student Academy Award, it just opens all of these doors,” Carter said. “It’s so transformative for emerging film-makers.”
And one of the flashiest benefits of winning is that those films are then eligible for a competitive Oscar nomination in the short film categories, which happened for one of last year’s winners, Lachlan Pendragon.