Two Chinese student filmmakers were honored at the 46th Student Academy Awards on Thursday, October 17. Yifan Sun’s “FAMILY²” (pronounced “family squared”) garnered the gold prize for Documentary (International Film School). Hao Zheng's “The Chef” earned silver in the Narrative (Domestic Film Schools) category.
Sun is originally from Hohhot in Inner Mongolia, a northern province in China. After earning a Bachelor’s Degree from the Beijing Film Academy, she moved to Poland, where she currently studies at the Polish National Film, Television and Theatre School in Lodz. The move was inspired by her love of the movies of Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski, best known for directing the “Three Colors” trilogy.
Sun’s documentary “FAMILY²” follows Lola, a Chinese girl who was adopted by a Belgian couple when she was a baby. “FAMILY²” accompanies Lola on her journey to discover her identity and find out more about her birth family, culminating in the meeting of both her families last year.
Zheng is a Chinese-American director, born in Beijing and currently living in Los Angeles. He recently graduated from the American Film Institute. His short film “The Chef” tells the story of a Chinese chef who teaches a robot how to cook. The film tackles the relationship between androids and humans in the context of the growing field of artificial intelligence. In his acceptance speech, Zheng described the movie as “a story about rebuilding human connections despite our differences.”
Another Chinese-American filmmaker also made the shortlist for the awards this year: Chuang Xu for his documentary “Twinkle Dammit!” The documentary follows Margaret Leng Tan, the first woman to earn a Doctorate in Musical Arts from the Juilliard School, and her collaboration with George Crumb as they attempt to write the world’s greatest toy piano virtuoso.
These students join other notable Student Academy Award winners such as John Lasseter, the former chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios; Spike Lee, the prolific director who just won his first Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for “BlacKKKlansmen”; and Robert Zemeckis, the Oscar-winning director of “Forrest Gump.”
The Student Academy Awards were first offered in 1972 to “support and encourage excellence in filmmaking at the collegiate level.” You can check out the full list of winners here. Are you also a student filmmaker interested in winning an Oscar? You can learn how to apply on the Academy’s website.