From left to right: Victoria Rivera '20, Zoe Ramushu (JRN), Sarah Collins '20 (JRN), and David Peter Hansen '21 (JRN)

Columbia Students and Alumni Named Finalists for the 2021 Student Academy Awards

BY Nicole Saldarriaga, August 13, 2021

On Wednesday, the Student Academy Awards announced their finalists for the 2021 competition, naming Film alumna Victoria Rivera '20 among them. Three other students and alumni from the Columbia community were also named: Journalism student Zoe Ramushu, and alumni Sarah Collins (JRN '20) and David Peter Hansen (JRN '21) are all in the running for this prestigious film award. 


Established in 1972, the Student Academy Awards is an international competition open to college and university film students. Awards are given in the categories of Animation, Documentary, Live Action Narrative, and Alternative/Experimental. Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals are awarded, each of which carries a cash grant ($5000, $3000, and $2000 respectively). 


According to the SAA, awards recognize and honor "student filmmakers who demonstrate excellence in the creation of motion pictures. By awarding these outstanding achievements, the Academy strives to support and inspire emerging filmmakers and to foster growth and education in the art and science of motion pictures." 


The awards ceremony will take place in October of 2021. Read below to learn more about the finalists and their films. 



Written and Directed by Victoria Rivera '20, Produced by Barbara Twist '20 

Nominated for the award in Domestic Narrative Film


This film follows seven-year-old misfit, Lucia, as she waits for a family to pick her up out of a foster home run by kids with no adult supervision. When her pick-up never comes, Lucia must redefine the meaning of home. 


Victoria Rivera is a New York-based Colombian writer/director. In 2020, she graduated from Columbia University’s Film MFA program and was named one of "25 New Faces of Independent Film" by Filmmaker magazine. She’s currently developing her first feature, Malpelo, with a screenwriting grant by the Sloan Foundation and support from organizations such as Film Independent, Sundance Institute and IFP.


It Takes a Circus

Co-directed by student Zoe Ramushu (JRN) and Sarah Collins (JRN '20)

Nominated for the award in Domestic Documentary


According to Collins and Ramushu—who would be the first Black, and the youngest, Zimbabwean to win a Student Academy Award—"The skills and courage it takes to be a circus performer is the perfect analogy for what Aaliyah and Bre, two resilient and blossoming young women in the Trenton Circus Squad, must overcome in their chaotic and often tragedy-filled lives. But just as a circus is filled with feats of daring, it is also a thing of grace, beauty, and fun surprises. It Takes A Circus follows the teens as they find their voices in the BLM movement and twirl toward their dreams."


Upon being named a finalist for the award, Collins shared "As the daughter of film industry folks and the granddaughter of a late-Academy member, I've dreamed of a moment like this my entire life. But it is all the more meaningful that The Academy has recognized It Takes A Circus, a documentary that my co-director and I spent countless hours on and that covers some of the most important issues of our time. My biggest hope is that, through this recognition, the characters of our film realize how powerful they are."


Ramushu added, "As a Black female filmmaker telling a story about two young Black girls, I'm so honoured that the Academy would acknowledge our work. What a time to be alive! I'm proud that Bre and Aaliyah's voices are being heard and amplified, and that the issues raised in the film will continue to be spotlighted. So much gratitude."


Zoe Ramushu is a filmmaker, producer and multimedia journalist currently producing two feature films in South Africa, one is in development and the other in pre-production. She has two New York based documentaries which are currently on the festival circuit; It Takes a Circus and To The Plate, which is shortlisted for a Student BAFTA. She studied Law & English and holds an MA and MS from Wits University and Columbia University in New York respectively.


Sarah  D. Collins is a journalist and documentary filmmaker currently working as an Associate Video Producer at theSkimm. She is a Brown Institute Magic Grant recipient and has worked for Axios on HBO, 100 Foot Wave on HBO, Insider, HealthDay, and more. Collins earned her MS from the Columbia Journalism School and degrees in political science and broadcast journalism from USC Annenberg. 


The Militiaman 

Directed by David Peter Hansen (JRN '21)

Nominated for the award in Domestic Documentary 


This film follows the leader of a local militia who "must prepare his men for the turbulent political landscape of 2020 while at war with his own conscience. For over ten years, 48-year-old Iraqi War Veteran and machinist Christian Yingling has commanded a troop of private militiamen and women concerned with the government’s infringement on their constitutional rights...Now that a worldwide pandemic has hit, followed by a summer of racial injustice protests and a Presidential election like no other, Christian—out of work and nearly out of money—must confront his allegiance and choose to act or not.


David Peter Hansen is a first-time documentary filmmaker from Denmark, currently based in New York. He has worked and has lived in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. David Peter holds an MS in Journalism (Documentary Specialization) from Columbia Journalism School and an MA in Conflict, Security, and Development from the University of Bradford.