On Tuesday, Wouter Bouvijn left his home in Belgium for his dream trip to Hollywood.
Wednesday morning, the 25-year-old filmmaker from Deinze, a small municipality in East Flanders, sat in the lobby of the JW Marriott in Los Angeles, jet-lagged but eager, preparing for his weekend of events leading up to the Student Academy Award ceremony on Saturday.
"I'm so excited to see what the students here are doing," Bouvijn said. "It makes me wonder what my work could be like if I had gone to school in the U.S."
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences established the Student Academy Awards in 1972 to "support and encourage excellence in filmmaking at the collegiate level." This year the academy selected 13 applicants from universities in the United States (including Eusong Lee of California Institute of the Arts in Valencia and David Aristizabal and Jonathan Langager of USC) and three from international universities to receive its awards in Hollywood.
The 16 winners were flown to Los Angeles, put up in the JW Marriott and invited to attend meetings with directors, producers and screenwriters in Hollywood prior to the presentation of gold, silver and bronze medals in five categories (narrative, documentary, animation, alternative and foreign film) at a formal ceremony at the academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.
A 2012 winner, David Winstone, representing University of Westminster in the United Kingdom, said the opportunity to share ideas with professional filmmakers and other students was the highlight of his Student Academy Award experience.
"It was really inspiring to get a glimpse of Hollywood, and even more so to feel part of it, even if only for a week," Winstone said.
The roster of past Student Academy Award winners includes filmmakers such as John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Robert Zemeckis, Trey Parker and Spike Lee. Recipients have gone on to receive 46 Academy Award nominations and eight Academy Awards.
This year's host, comedian Bob Saget, was also a Student Academy Award winner.
Winning the gold medal in any category qualifies a film to be submitted to the academy to be considered for a grown-up Oscar. Luke Matheny, a former Student Academy Award winner and one of this year's judges, said his gold medal win as a student was the only reason his short action film "God of Love" went on to win an Oscar in 2011.
An Oscar is beyond Bouvijn's dreams at this point. He hopes to gain some recognition and return to Belgium to work on his next screenplay.
Elmar Imanov, a 2012 winner in the foreign film category representing his university in Cologne, Germany, went on to win awards at festivals all over the world with his film "The Swing of the Coffin Maker." Imanov now owns his own production company, something he said he would not have been able to accomplish without his first win in Hollywood.
"It brings a lot of publicity and prestige," Imanov said. "Everybody knows what the Oscars are, even people who are not affiliated with films."
Bouvijn will find out Saturday which medal his film "Tweesprong" (Crossroads) will take home. The film tells of a young man's struggle to decide whether he should be tested for the genetic disease that killed his father.
Bouvijn said he will be excited no matter which medal he receives. Family and friends at home will be cheering him on too, he said.
"In Belgium it's a small country, so it's not hard to stick your head out and be noticed," Bouvijn said. He added casually: "The president is waiting for a call when we know more and we find out what I won."
The 40th Student Academy Awards ceremony on Saturday is free and open to the public, but advance tickets are required. Tickets are available online at http://www.oscars.org or in person at the academy box office.
Student Academy Award Ceremony
When: Saturday 7:30 p.m.
Where: The Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater, 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills
Admission: Free but advance tickets required
Info: http://www.oscars.org or (310) 247-3600Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun