FSU Film School wins top student awards for Latino, women filmmakers

The Directors Guild of America has announced its 2005 Student Filmmakers Awards for African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos and women—and Florida State University’s College of Motion Picture, Television and Recording Arts will take home half of them.

Chosen from among emerging filmmakers at select universities nationwide, two recent FSU graduates and one current undergraduate of what is best known as the Film School will collect prizes and see their films screened Nov. 15 during the award festivities at DGA’s Sunset Boulevard headquarters in Hollywood.

The Film School will earn double honors in the "Best Woman Student Filmmaker" category: August 2005 Master of Fine Arts recipient Jennifer Arzt will take first place for "Cake," while fellow MFA graduate Susan Bell collects an Honorable Mention for "The Resurrectionist." First place for "Best Latino Student Filmmaker" will go to senior Bachelor of Fine Arts candidate Cristina Paez for her documentary film "Mi Jaula de Oro" (My Golden Cage).

"It’s highly unusual for three filmmakers from one school to receive awards at this prestigious competition, but these are three unusually talented filmmakers," said FSU Film School Dean Frank Patterson.

As first place winners, Paez and Arzt each receive $2,500 from the DGA and a product grant valued at $1,000 provided by Kodak’s Worldwide Student Film Program. Bell’s Honorable Mention will net a $500 product grant.

In the announcement, DGA President Michael Apted lauded the winners as representative of the best in student filmmaking today. He described the 11th annual Student Filmmaker Awards as an opportunity to showcase emerging director talent while encouraging diversity of race, gender and spirit in the filmmaking community.

"Best Latino Student Filmmaker" Paez wrote and directed "Mi Juala de Oro"as an exploration of the experience she and others faced as Colombian immigrants in the United States. "Here, I found myself alone, my language and culture torn from me," she said. "I faced two choices: compromise my identity or discover the Colombia within my heart. From this realization, my documentary was born."

In "Cake," winning woman filmmaker Arzt tells the story of Katie, a precocious 11-year-old at the Oxford Orphanage whose flights of fancy are the best parts of her world. Believing she’s about to lose her best friend Roger to adoption, Katie sets out to make him too dirty and ugly for consideration—but everyone’s in for a surprise ending. "I am ecstatic," said Arzt. "I feel tremendously honored to be recognized by the DGA. It feels like a big, welcoming handshake from the film industry."

Runner-up Bell describes her "Resurrectionist" filmmaking experience as "the most difficult and technically demanding project I have ever attempted in my career." The chilling Deep South ghost story set in 1847 tells of lowly gravedigger Fredrick’s travails as he struggles to feed his family by selling a stolen corpse to the local medical college. As it turns out, the vengeful dead man has other plans.

"Jennifer, Cristina and Susan possess unique voices that, when combined with their remarkable skills and training, produce fine filmmakers and impressive films. Naturally, we’re very proud of them," said Patterson.

This isn’t the first time the Directors Guild of America has made a fuss over FSU. Last year, the Film School was recognized by the DGA for its distinguished contribution to American culture through film and television, joining fellow honorees Robert De Niro, Jonathan Demme and other entertainment luminaries.

Meanwhile, it’s been a banner month for several other FSU Film School alumni. The number one movie at the American box-office during November’s first weekend—Walt Disney’s "Chicken Little"—was co-written by alumnus Ron Friedman (MFA ’95); his agent and fellow 1995 alumnus Ryan Saul brokered the deal.

The latest round of student prizes and alumni achievement joins an ever-growing collection of kudos for FSU’s Film School, one of the largest and best-equipped facilities devoted wholly to film education. A mere sampling includes a pair of 2004 Student Academy Awards and a total of five 2004 "College Television Awards" from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences—the most ever for a single film school.