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in an article about NXTUP, a movie seat in a movie theater

The gathering gave countless young people the opportunity to show the products of their hard work and creativity.

On May 7, 2021, Academy of Art University hosted its annual NXTUP Film Festival, providing a year-end showcase for the many students in the Schools of Motion Pictures & Television, Acting, and Writing for Film, Television & Digital Media.

This annual festival once again featured the artistic products of collaboration and hands-on learning within a creative production environment. These are crucial skills for those seeking to enter the film industry, television and many other visual art mediums.

A Festival (and Year) Unlike Any Other

Like the festivals from years past, the 2021 NXTUP Film Festival at Academy of Art University showcased the tremendous work of many students before a panel of judges with significant industry experience. But unlike previous festivals, this year’s event featured films produced with an unprecedented amount of long-distance collaboration, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because of in-person restrictions and the many adjustments required in higher education, this year’s festival participants faced unique challenges. Jana Sue Memel, executive director of the festival, said this at the outset:

“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.”

An Outworking of the Curriculum

While the NXTUP Film Festival is a major milestone for students whose work is showcased among the screened films, the festival is not an outlier. Instead, it is an outworking of the various program curricula at Academy of Art University.

Each program at the Academy is designed to provide students the hands-on learning experience they need so that they can be armed with the skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in their chosen field. In this way, the faculty at the Academy seeks to prepare each student to become a viable and valuable hire in the professional creative marketplace.

In the NXTUP Film Festival, students collaborated across departments, working with other students in the Schools of Motion Pictures & Television, Acting, and Writing for Film, Television & Digital Media to create cohesive film works spanning multiple disciplines. Each student had the opportunity to deepen their craft. But beyond that, they made connections and learned valuable insights into related fields.

The Academy offers a hands-on learning experience through each student program, mirroring the real-world environment of a student’s chosen field and industry, preparing students for a job-ready future in their field. And NXTUP is an integral part of that hands-on experience.

A Distinguished Panel of Judges

The NXTUP Film Festival could not succeed without the talented faculty of Academy of Art University. But this year the festival also welcomed several external judges from the industry, lending even more impact to the results.

Cari-Esta Albert is a studio production executive with credits that include “Heart and Souls,” “The Truth About Cats and Dogs” and more who joined the judges’ panel this year. Susie Alegria brought her background as an art director on everything from commercials to “Ant-Man.” Sheldon Bull, best known as a writer and director for TV shows like “Coach” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” also lent his skills as a judge.

Last but certainly not least was Albie Hecht, an Academy Award- and Emmy Award-winning producer and president of Nickelodeon Entertainment. These judges bridged the gap between academia and industry, offering insights that produced tremendous value for AAU students.

A Survey of the Winners

Awards were given in 22 categories this year. Two films in particular distinguished themselves with multiple awards. “Burner” landed two: Best Directing went to Donald Bianchi and Best Performance – Actress in a Film went to Lara Noel Pflicke. “First to Respond” also garnered two awards: Best Documentary (Nanako Fukui) and Best Editing (Edwin Caminho).

Other notable winners include:

  • Best Cinematography: TIE between “The Drummer” (Simon Riley, Sunseray Morson) and “Confession” (Tianchu Xu)
  • Best Performance Remote: “Remembering You” (Shad Elkhier)
  • Best Sound Design: “Abiogenesis” (Alston Hsu)
  • Best 234: “The Blind Date” (Meiyu Jing, Grishma Kalote, Eli Frances Abad)

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