Acad honors student filmmakers

A woman seduces her young landscaper in the hopes that her husband will catch her. A young girl who wishes for bigger breasts gets more than she expected. Two intersexuals cope with decisions made for them by doctors when they were still babies. Those were among the subjects of films that took home gold medals at the 28th annual Student Academy Awards held Sunday night at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

Silver and bronze medals were also handed out to students from universities nationwide in categories including animation, documentary and narrative. While the students knew they would each receive an award, the level of the award was not revealed until the ceremony. Other categories included alternative and honorary foreign film.

"I think it's very surreal to hear the words, 'I'd like to thank the Academy' come from my mouth," said David Kartch of Columbia University, a gold winner in the narrative category for his film "Zen and the Art of Landscaping." "Especially in front of an actual audience."

The gold winner in the animation category was Brooke Keesling of the California Institute of the Arts for her short "Boobie Girl."

"This has been the most fancy pants, Cinderella week I've ever had in my life," a breathless Keesling said. Referring to the past week in which all the student winners met with directors and cinematographers as well as with Academy governors, Keesling added, "I've never met so many people that are doing what they want for a living, and I am bound and determined to do that myself."

Hitting a different note was Laleh Soomekh, who, along with Porter Gale, picked up gold in the documentary category for "XXXY," their honest portrait of two individuals born intersex, or born with ambiguous genitalia.

"I'm so happy to win this award, but it's so complicated a situation to feel happy and have success based on someone else's misfortune," Stanford University's Soomekh said. "The two people in our film are very special and have a very hard life. And if it wasn't their willingness to expose themselves in a really personal and intimate way, to share this story, we certainly wouldn't be here."

Michael Schaerer of the New York's School of Visual Arts received the gold in the alternative category for "Warmth," a fractured tale set in a diner about a couple searching for a new form of intimacy. The honorary foreign film went to Rodrigo Pla of Centro de Capacitacion Cinemtografica in Mexico City for "The Eye of the Nape," in which a young man searches for justice when the law forgives the military regime responsible for his father's disappearance.

The silver medal for animation went to "The Yellow Umbrella" by Victor Robert and Rodney Hom of Pasadena's Art Center College of Design. Sean McBride of University of the Arts in Philadelphia took home the bronze for "That Special Monkey"

In documentary, Laura Dunn of the University of Texas took home the silver for "Green," while USC's Marianna Yarovskaya was awarded the bronze for "Undesirables."

In the narrative category, Carl Pfirman of UCLA grabbed silver for "The Confession," and Florida State University's Greg Marcks received the bronze for "Lector."

Besides the trophies, gold medalists received $5,000, silver medalists received $3,000 and bronze medalists were awarded $2,000. Cinematographer gold winners picked up Spectra 4A digital light meters.

Randy Quaid and Kathy Bates acted as presenters, and Academy president Robert Rehme gave opening and closing remarks.

The Student Academy Awards were established by the Academy in 1972 to support and encourage excellence in filmmaking at the collegiate level. It has since honored 241 student filmmakers -- 29 of those have gone on to garner Oscar nominations.

Borys Kit writes for The Hollywood Reporter