University Social Justice Documentary Receives Gold Medal at the Student Academy Awards


Todd Wawrychuk

Presenter Rory Kennedy and Documentary winner Princess Garrett, “Sankofa,” during the 46th Annual Student Academy Awards® on Thursday, October 17, in Beverly Hills.

Emily Cox Co News Editor

On Thursday, Oct. 17 at the 46th annual Student Academy Awards ceremony held in Beverly Hills, California, Villanova University’s student-produced social justice documentary, “Sankofa,” received the gold medal in the Documentary/ Domestic Film Schools Category. The documentary had already been announced as one of 16 Student Academy Award winners for 2019, but after receiving this top prize, it is now eligible to compete for the 2019 Oscars in the Documentary Short Subject category.

This marks the University’s first ever Student Academy Award and the fourth time a documentary from the University has been selected as a finalist in the category. More than 1,600 entries from around the world competed for a prize in the Student Academy Awards. 

The Student Academy Awards is an international student film competition conducted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science and the Academy Foundation. The Academy established the Student Academy Awards in 1972 to support and encourage excellence in filmmaking at the collegiate level. Each year, college and university film students from all over the world compete for awards and cash grants, with films being judged in seven categories.

Columbia University’s documentary, “Something To Say,” was awarded the silver medal in the Documentary/ Domestic Film Schools Category. “All That Remains,” produced by students from the University of California, Berkeley, took home the bronze medal. 

“Thank you to the Academy for this incredible honor,” Princess Garrett, the documentary’s director, said after receiving the award at the ceremony earlier in October. “’Sankofa’ will always be about the art of storytelling, using the art of film to break down cultural barriers, challenging our own pre-conceived notions of the world and sharing this with others. Above all, we always wanted to challenge perspectives and promote dialogue among people so that we can begin and continue to talk about issues rather than hide from them.”

Upon the announcement of the gold medal at the awards ceremony, Garrett mentioned, “It took a village to make this film so can that village come up, Riptide?” While giving her speech, all member of the team present joined Garret on stage while she recounted their experiences in class, in Ghana, in discussions and in planning the ultimate thought-provoking documentary. “’Sankofa’ literally means ‘go back and fetch it,’” Garrett said. “You need to go back to your past to understand the present. African American history did not start with slavery. It interrupted it. Our film addresses the loss of African identity,” Garrett explained before connecting that loss of identity to the parallel disconnect that has been the direct, negative result of colonialism and slavery. 

Created and produced by 21 Villanova students under the name Riptide Pictures, “Sankofa” tells the story of mental slavery and its negative systemic impact on black males across the world. The documentary explores the complexities and parallels between the United States and Ghana to highlight the prevalence of mental slavery around the world. Riptide Pictures shot on location in Ghana and the U.S. during the fall of 2017.

“These students are the first in the history of Villanova University to win a Student Academy Award – which is an amazing honor,” Hezekiah Lewis said, Teaching Professor of Communication. “They have been on a historical journey and I am honored to be on this journey with them. ‘Sankofa’ is a film that will challenge you and it takes a brave group of students to take on such a deep subject matter.”

Riptide Pictures was formed in Professor Lewis’ Social Justice Documentary course. Made possible through the support of Villanova’s Waterhouse Family Institute for the Study of Communication and Society, the course gives students an opportunity to create documentary films that spotlight a contemporary social justice issue.

In addition to the Student Academy Award, ”Sankofa” has been selected to seven film festivals worldwide, receiving first place in the Student category at the 2019 San Francisco Black Film Festival. 

This year’s social justice documentary, operating under the name Glass Rose Films, is currently on site in Tanzania to create a film about the clean water crisis in the country. Filming in communities such as Arusha and Singida, 15 University students are looking to raise awareness about an environmental and social issue affecting the global community.