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Two cinema students graced with scholarship

December 3, 2003

Photo of graduate student John LightfootCinema Department students John Lightfoot and Natalija Vekic received coveted Princess Grace Foundation Awards this year, beating other applicants from prominent film schools such as New York University and UCLA. This is the second consecutive year that an SFSU student has won the award.

The Princess Grace Foundation-USA gives grants annually to outstanding, emerging American artists in dance, theater and film. A total of six film awards were made, with SFSU capturing one-third of the category's prizes. The grants range from $5,000 to $15,000 and go toward filmmaking costs. The Foundation was established in 1982 by H.S.H. Prince Rainier III of Monaco as a tribute to his wife Grace, a former American actress who in her lifetime helped many aspiring artists pursue their career goals.

John Lightfoot, a third-year graduate student, won the Cary Grant Award and a graduate film scholarship. An independent filmmaker based in Berkeley, Lightfoot submitted two work samples -- "A Rare and Desolate Beauty" and "The Minneapolis Wrestling Club" -- as well as a proposal for his thesis film, "Obituary." All three submissions are documentaries. In "A Rare and Desolate Beauty," Lightfoot cuts and splices new material with existing footage from a 100-year span to create a film about a former mining town in Montana. In "The Minneapolis Wrestling Club," Lightfoot explores the early days of professional wrestling in the Midwest; the film had a three-month run of screenings at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. "Obituary" is a biography told in the form of an obituary, about an inventor who designed an early automatic weapon.

"John's proposal … ["Obituary"] …is active on many levels -- aesthetic, intellectual, emotional and historical. He takes his nonfiction films beyond merely the subject matter, and uses the language of cinema to evoke a richer experience for audiences," said Greta Snider, assistant professor of cinema.

Lightfoot credits Snider and cinema Professor Pat Ferrero for their support.

Although Lightfoot has had six years of experience producing, directing and editing documentaries for PBS, he believes that his experience at SFSU has provided him with excellent learning opportunities. "I wanted to go back to school in some ways to unlearn what I already knew. So school has been great in letting me try new things and explore other ways of making creative nonfiction films."

Besides teaching video and documentary production at UC Berkeley's Art Studio, Lightfoot is shooting a documentary on Bay Area blues musician James McCracklin.

Photo of cinema undergrad Natalija VekicNatalija Vekic, a San Francisco native, received an undergraduate film scholarship worth $6,900 from the foundation. Vekic submitted "The Girl with the Pearl Suspended," "Diggins" and a screenplay, "Lost and Found." Vekic's "The Girl with the Pearl Suspended" is the second film in her trilogy of stop-motion fairy tales based on the themes of love, myth and magic. The film has screened at festivals throughout the country and received an award for Best Art Direction from the Humboldt International Short Film Festival. "Diggins" is a Super-8 film collaboration with Christian Bruno, featured on the Super Super-8 World Tour. The screenplay, "Lost and Found" is a narrative about a little girl named Lolly, who finds a lost letter and attempts to return it to the rightful owner.

"Natalija's work is beautiful and whimsical. Her stories on film are lyrical and entrancing, but not without a certain ideological edge. Like John, she is pursuing a vision that is all her own, pairing jaw-dropping visual design with fairy tales for adults," Snider said.

Vekic's ideological edge is evident in her work. Vekic collaborated with 13 independent video activists to produce "We Interrupt This Empire," a video that documents the shutdown of San Francisco's Financial District in the weeks following the United States' invasion of Iraq.

Vekic credits Snider, and other cinema faculty members including Karen Holmes, Toney Merritt and Jorge Oliver as well as the Film Arts Foundation -- all have been instrumental in her creative process and education.

A senior at SFSU, Vekic works as associate director of education at the Film Arts Foundation, a nonprofit that supports independent filmmakers. She will use the grant to fund her next film.

"They are two of the hardest working filmmakers I know, consistently producing quality films, teaching and being part of the San Francisco film scene by curating. In this way, they are giving much more than just their films to the greater community," said Snider.

"One of the nation's top film schools" according to Entertainment Weekly, the SFSU Cinema Department has produced leading filmmakers, including Academy Award winners Steven Zaillian (Best Screenplay, "Schindler's List," 1994), Christopher Boyes (Best Sound Effects Editing, "Pearl Harbor," 2002; "Titanic," 1998), Ethan Van Der Ryn (Best Sound Editing, "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” 2003), and Steve Okazaki (Best Documentary, "Days of Waiting," 1991).

-- Public Affairs Student Writer Audrey Tang with Matt Itelson



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