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NXTUP Film Festival 2021 Highlights Successful Film Productions in Pandemic

Despite the obstacles presented by the so-called “new normal,” students from Academy of Art University’s Schools of Entertainment were still able to show that there is no stopping their creativity.

On May 7, 2021, the annual NXTUP Film Festival held its second virtual iteration. Hosted by Executive Director Jana Sue Memel, the festival is designed to serve as a celebration of the excellent student work coming from the Schools of Motion Pictures & Television, Acting, and Writing for Film, Television & Digital Media.

Industry experts and juggernauts, with their impressive array of TV and film production accomplishments, lent their keen eyes and judgment to determine the winners for this year’s festival.

A Rollercoaster Ride Worth Taking

“The past year has been an incredible rollercoaster of emotions: fear, anxiety, elation, determination, and pride in all of the efforts that our faculty, students, and support personnel have put in continuing to create art in these most difficult of times,” said Sue Memel at the beginning of the online event, reflecting on the extraordinary school year it had been for everyone. 

School of Motion Pictures & Television Director Randy Levinson seconded, “The work that is being honored tonight was produced under less than ideal conditions. Much of it was shot on green screen with the use of iPhones by directors and actors sheltering in their homes around the world.”

This year’s festival gave out awards in 22 categories, including Best Directing, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Performance Remote, and Best PSA/Commercial. In between the awards were video presentations featuring students talking about their experiences of filmmaking during COVID-19, their best and worst filmmaking moments, and student interviews, among others. 

And they did have a lot to say about this experience, given how unusual the past year has been, not only for the entertainment industry but for everyone else in general. 

Confession – Best Cinematography (Tianchu Xu) in a tie

Because travel was severely limited, and onsite classes shifted online, students had to turn up their creativity, not only in terms of the stories they want to tell but also in how they’re going to tell it. 

And that’s how it came to be that directors from San Francisco were coordinating with producers from China, while actors and crews in the university’s soundstages at Townsend were being directed over the iPad from Atlanta. 

While COVID separated us, it inspired us to explore the use of technology that has expanded our ability to educate filmmakers wherever they live.

Randy Levinson, Director, School of Motion Pictures & Television

Industry Bigwigs Judge Student Work

Submissions were preliminarily submitted by professors and filmmakers, which were then pored over and reviewed by panels of faculty and staff. From the hundreds of submissions sent in then came the final list of nominees.

Selecting the winners for each of the categories were left up to the professional standards of industry practitioners and experts, including several Oscar and Emmy Award nominees and winners.

There as production and studio production executive Cari-Esta Albert who had worked on films such as The Last Boy Scout, Heart and Souls, The Truth About Cats and Dogs, Secret in Their Eyes; art director for film, TV, and commercials Susie Algeria who lent her artistic skills to recreating real-world environments in convincing production sets for titles such as Ant-Man, San Andreas, Milk, and Contagion; and TV writer and director Sheldon Bull, known for his work on show such as Newhard, Coach, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch

Academy Award and Emmy Award-winning producer, and Nickelodeon Entertainment President, Albie Hecht, who oversaw and the production of shows and films like Spongebob Squarepants, Dora the Explorer, Blue’s Clues, All That, and  Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius also took part in the festival as member of the jury panel.

Burner – Best Directing (Donald Bianchi)

Of Tributes and Awards

The festival also paid tribute in memoriam to Alf Pollard, former faculty member and administrator, who was also responsible for building the sound stages now being used by Academy staff and students. 

Producing films remotely, using various creative means and ways, is nothing particularly new to Academy students. Because of an already well-established online education program, continuing the school year simply meant logging in to online classes. 

Those that need production work, such as the Schools of Entertainment, however, had to be a tad more resourceful in completing their requirements. Although filmmaking during the pandemic presented many challenges and obstacles, Academy of Art students were able to come through and be the creative problem-solvers they are molded to be. 

This festival is a culmination of everything Academy of Art University stands for. Below are some of the NXTUP Film Festival 2021 winners (some of which can be viewed at the Spring Show site):

  • Best Performance Remote – Remembering You (Shad Elkhier)
  • Best 234 – The Blind Date (Meiyu Jing, Grishma Kalote, Eli Frances Abad)
  • Best Documentary – First to Respond (Nanako Fukui)
  • Best Sound Design – Abiogenesis (Alston Hsu)
  • Best Editing – First to Respond (Edwin Caminho)
  • Best Cinematography – The Drummer (Simon Riley, Sunseray Morson) TIED WITH Confession (Tianchu Xu)
  • Best Performance-Actor in a Film – Michael Houston (Crossroads)
  • Best Performance-Actress in a Film – Lara Noel Pflicke (Burner)
  • Best Directing – Donald Bianchi (Burner)
The Drummer – Best Cinematography (Simon Riley, Sunseray Morson) in a tie

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