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Columbia Filmmakers Win Student Academy Awards, Three Directors Guild of America Awards

By Kristin Sterling

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Governor Ed Begley Jr. presents gold medal to Patricia Riggen.

As finalists for the 30th annual Student Academy Awards competition, last month Patricia Riggen, SOA'03, and Dennis Lee, SOA'04, spent a week in Los Angeles meeting with managers, agents, production companies, members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and former Student Academy Award winners. At the end of the week came the big news -- Riggen won the gold medal, and Lee the silver, both in the narrative category. On the heels of winning these awards, Riggen and Lee, along with Randall Dottin, SOA'03, went on to win three of the four Director's Guild of America (DGA) East Coast Student Filmmakers Awards.

Riggen won the Student Academy Award gold medal in the narrative category for her Spanish-language film, "La Milpa" (The Cornfield), and was named Best Latino Student Filmmaker by the DGA. "La Milpa" has screened in 30 film festivals around the world, including Sao Paulo and Palm Springs, and has won 19 awards, including a Mexican Academy Award. Set in her native Mexico, the film portrays an elderly grandmother recounting with her granddaughter a love affair during the days of Pancho Villa.

"The Student Academy Award is a key to open doors in the industry," says Riggen. "It won't necessarily get you a project, but it gives you the opportunity to show your work."

Lee won the silver medal at the Student Academy Awards for "Jesus Henry Christ" and was named Best Asian-American Student Filmmaker by the DGA. The film tells the story of a free-thinking 10 year-old named Henry who is punished for expressing his beliefs in the classroom. Through his suffering, Henry saves his classmates from the tyrannical new headmaster.

"We just completed work on the film before the Columbia University Film Festival and are now starting the festival run," says Lee. "To have these awards come so early in the festival process is shocking. I am very grateful and completely honored."

Academy Governor Ed Begley Jr. presents the silver medal to Dennis Lee. (Photos courtesy of A.M.P.A.S.)

The DGA also honored Dottin, naming him Best African-American Student Filmmaker for "A-Alike." Dottin also took second place in the National Board of Review for Motion Pictures Award and was a finalist in the HBO Short Film Competition at the American Black Film Festival. In the coming months "A-Alike" will screen at the Martha's Vineyard African American Film Festival and the Roxbury Film Festival. The film depicts two brothers from opposite sides of the social spectrum who struggle to reconcile their estrangement in order to save their family and themselves.

"I definitely feel blessed and grateful to have won this award," says Dottin. "This award is for my family and for the 'A-Alike' cast and crew as much as it is for me. It's also an honor to be paired with two of my Columbia colleagues, Dennis Lee and Patricia Riggen."

Dottin continues, "I think it's crucial that an organization like the DGA honors women, people of color and the stories that we create because traditionally, we don't regularly have the opportunity or the resources to get our films done and showcased on a broad level. Like any group of people, we have a large number of stories to tell, so the fact that the DGA can honor our hustle and hard work is a great way to encourage young filmmakers who will clearly be producing great films for a long time."

With the 2003 awards, Columbia filmmakers have won six gold medals at the Student Academy Awards in the last seven years, and the University has become the first to win both the gold and silver medals in the narrative category. Additionally, Columbia film students have taken home at least half of the DGA East Coast Student Filmmakers Awards in six of the eight years the awards have been offered, sweeping all the categories in 1996 and 1998. This year's DGA Awards will be presented at a ceremony in New York on October 14.

"I am particularly proud of these students who have not only captured Student Academy Awards and DGA awards but have proven that our approach to training filmmakers is the most successful one in the United States," says Dean Bruce W. Ferguson.

Reflecting on his week in Los Angeles Lee appreciated advice offered by the American Society of Cinematographers and others: in order to get to the next level, they urged filmmakers to get out there and make their first feature films. Lee is heeding their advice. Before heading to LA he had a couple feature-length scripts in development. As a result of his meetings, a manager signed Lee and his partners Joe Turner Lin, SOA'04, Joe Francisco, SOA'04, and Milton Liu, and Lee says that they now have their first feature in the works and the team assembled to make it happen.

"I truly appreciate everything I have learned at Columbia. I didn't come in with experience or a background in film," says Lee, a former middle school teacher. "I learned everything I know about filmmaking from Columbia's talented faculty and my peer group, and I am grateful to them all."

As for Riggen, HBO recently bought "La Milpa" and will air the short film on HBO Latino in October and November. The film was also purchased by Vista Higher Learning, in Boston, and will be used teach Spanish to adults. In conjunction with the film, the company is editing a book that includes pictures, dialogue and exercises related to the story.

"It is very exciting for me to see how they are giving the short film a totally different use -- one I never planned or imagined it could have," says Riggen. "It makes me realize that the spectrum for distribution of our films can be wider than we think."

She is also working on a documentary, shot while she was a student at Columbia, and three feature film projects. She is collaborating with SOA alumnus Craig Rosen, SOA'90, on one of the features. The pair did not attend SOA together, but met last year at the Columbia Film Festival in Los Angeles, where Rosen talked to Riggen about his script. They are currently working on the screenplay. For another of her projects, Riggen is working with SOA colleague Ben Odell, SOA'04.

"One of the great things about Columbia is that it gives you the opportunity to meet other filmmakers with whom you can establish work collaborations," says Riggen. "In this sense you don't start your professional career out there alone. You start it with your friends around you. Through these experiences I feel very much a part of both the Columbia film community as well as the Mexican film community."

Published: Jul 21, 2003
Last modified: Jul 18, 2003

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