Three Stanford alums are national finalists for 2014 Student Academy Awards for their thesis films

Three of the 35 films selected as national finalists in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 41st Student Academy Awards competition are from Stanford students in the MFA in Documentary Film and Video class of 2013.

LESLIE TAI is a finalist in the alternative category for The Private Life of Fenfen, a documentary film experiment in which a feisty young Chinese migrant worker’s tragic love story is broadcast to migrant workers across China. In the documentary category, finalists are HELEN HOOD SCHEER for The Apothecary, about the sole pharmacist in a 4,000 square mile region in the American Southwest and the profound divide between his public and private life, and J. CHRISTIAN JENSEN for White Earth, a winter portrait of North Dakota’s oil boom seen through unexpected eyes.

“These three 2013 thesis films are contributing to a proud tradition,” said JAN KRAWITZ, professor and director of the MFA program in documentary film and video. “The Stanford graduate program has garnered more Student Academy Awards in the documentary category than any other school. In 2011, two MFA thesis films were awarded a bronze and a silver medal. We hope that the documentaries produced by Christian, Helen, and Leslie will achieve the same degree of recognition.”

It was gratifying for Jensen to see his name listed among all the nominees, but he said that moment was made even sweeter when he saw the names of his two good friends Leslie and Helen listed as well. “The MFA documentary program only graduates seven to eight students a year so we become very close. These nominations are definitely a testament to the quality of Stanford’s program that really puts you and your films through the refiner’s fire over the course of two unforgettable years.”

Scheer said, “It’s an honor to be selected as a national finalist, regardless of whether we win or not. It will likely help us get into more film festivals, share our work with broader audiences, and stand out a bit more on the job market. I came to Stanford’s documentary program hoping to gain more fluency in dealing with complex storytelling and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to do so.”

Per the Academy’s press release, the Student Academy Awards were established in 1972 to support and encourage excellence in filmmaking at the collegiate level. Past Student Academy Award® winners have gone on to receive 46 Oscar® nominations and have won or shared eight awards. They include JOHN LASSETER, PETE DOCTER, ROBERT ZEMECKIS, TREY PARKER and SPIKE LEE.

Academy members will now vote to determine up to three winning films in each category. The winners, but not their medal placements, will be announced later this month. The winning students will be brought to Los Angeles for a week of industry activities and social events that will culminate in the awards ceremony on Saturday, June 7, in Hollywood, at which time the gold, silver and bronze medalists will be revealed.

White Earth — [Trailer] from J. Christian Jensen on Vimeo.

The Private Life of Fenfen (Trailer) from Leslie Tai on Vimeo.

— BY ROBIN WANDER