SF State News {University Communications}

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Aspiring filmmaker wins Student Oscar

June 2, 2008 -- When Phoebe Tooke (M.F.A., ’08) thinks of film, she thinks of emotion first. The New Orleans native received a Student Academy Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for "Circles of Confusion," an alternative film about the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina and a filmmaker who committed suicide in the months following the disaster.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes student films which represent excellence in education through form, content and style. The 35th Annual Student Academy Awards is the only student film competition sponsored by the Academy and is the most direct means for students to demonstrate their filmmaking skills to industry professionals. Tooke is one of two recipients in the alternative film category, selected from more than 500 student applications. Tooke is one of 12 student filmmakers who will receive Student Academy Awards at a June 7 ceremony at The Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

Phoebe Tooke filming "Circles of Confusion".

Phoebe Tooke filming "Circles of Confusion" Photo credit: Craig Hermes

"Circles of Confusion" is told as a "meditative experimental documentary," according to Tooke. Comprised of aspects of documentary, narrative and photography, the film acts almost as a silent film, working to convey loss and frustration primarily through text, images and sounds.

"There’s almost no talking," Tooke said. "What I was attempting to do was to express a feeling of what it was like to be back after Katrina aside from the history and facts. A traditional documentary can be very objective."

Tooke used documented and re-created images and quotes from both her own life and that of Stevenson Palfi, who lost his home and possessions to the hurricane before taking his own life. The 53-year old filmmaker was best known for his 1982 documentary, "Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together," which featured three generations of pianists from New Orleans. Tooke did not hesitate to intertwine their stories to create a personal, emotional narrative.

I read his story in the newspaper, and it really struck me. When I was there, I kind of understood his decision," Tooke said. "People felt abandoned, and I definitely understood that. Once I read his story, the rest fell into place. It's almost like the film he would have made."

An abandoned car sits in a near vertical position during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Still from "Circles of Confusion" Photo credit: Phoebe Tooke

Associate Professor of Cinema Jennifer Hammett said "Circles of Confusion" is exemplary of the spirit of the Cinema Department   "It defies categorization," Hammett said. "Tooke works outside of the boundaries of traditional film practice. She conveys not only in the content, but in the form, feelings of confusion, feelings of loss and frustration."

Tooke, who received a "Distinguished Achievement" Award from the Graduate Division at SF State, is the recipient of numerous other awards including SF State’s John Gutman Award and two awards from the Documentary Film Institute: Best Documentary Film and Best Essay on Documentary Film Subject. Having received a Personal Works Grant from the Film Arts Foundation in 2005, Tooke is now filming her latest work "The Irrelevant Architect," a satirical commentary about the decline of architecture in the United States.

Founded amid the political activism and artistic experimentation of the 1960s, SF State's Cinema Department has educated generations of filmmakers including Academy Award winners Steven Zaillian (Best Screenplay, "Schindler's List," 1994), Christopher Boyes (Best Sound, "Titanic," 1998, "Pearl Harbor," 2001, "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," 2004) and Steve Okazaki (Best Short Documentary, "Days of Waiting," 1991). In 2000, Entertainment Weekly named the department one of the nation's top film schools.

-- Student Writer Lisa Rau with Michael Bruntz


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