4 UC Berkeley journalism school alumni place as finalists in Student Academy Awards

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Four alumni from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, or J-School, placed in three of the seven finalist spots in the documentary category at the Student Academy Awards — earning the J-School more finalist spots than any other film school in the country.

The results, released Aug. 12, listed the thesis films of Grace Oyenubi, Lauren Schwartzman, Alan Toth and Nani Sahra Walker as finalists in the documentary category. Oyenubi and Walker collaborated on the film “Forced”; Schwartzman produced “Dust Rising”; and Toth produced “Mining Phosphorus.”

“The nominations this year are an extraordinary achievement, and speak not only to the quality of the J-School and the documentary program, but also to the caliber of our students,” said Carrie Lozano, lecturer at the J-School, in an email.

Toth’s film, “Mining Phosphorus,” focuses on central Florida’s phosphate mining industry, which is integral to providing phosphate for fertilizer, and particularly on the conflict between a mining farmer and his neighbors. Toth said he sought to ask viewers the question of whether one man’s property rights was more important than public health safety.

In her film “Dust Rising,” Schwartzman displays the effects of dust on people and environments in places such as the southwestern United States, even consulting government scientists for input. Schwartzman said she felt honored and grateful to those who contributed their time and stories to her film.

“I hope to open the eyes of the audience to how amazing dust is. Even though we don’t really think about it, it’s actually really incredible in both positive and negative ways,” Schwartzman said.

In “Forced,” Oyenubi and Walker highlighted the stories of three Nigerian women rebuilding their lives after fleeing from the 2014 Boku Haram insurgency. According to Oyenubi, the crisis has displaced more than 2 million people, disrupted the education system and killed thousands of people.

Walker said they were thrilled about the nomination, which would share their story with a wider audience.

“We wanted … to raise awareness about sexual violence in war and conflict, give viewers a deeper scope on global crisis through the lens of these women who have survived this trauma,” Oyenubi said.

The 45th Student Academy Awards will be presented Oct. 11 in Beverly Hills, according to a press release. Oyenubi said she believes the Student Academy Awards is a great platform for filmmakers to make the general public aware of issues plaguing the world today.

The documentary program at the J-School emphasizes visual storytelling in a variety of styles, Lozano said.

“This recognition will be a huge motivation and inspiration for documentary students in the years to come,” Lozano said in an email. “We expect that the nominated films will have successful lives in the documentary field, garnering even more accolades and international audiences, and helping to launch the careers for our recent documentary alumni.”

Contact Andreana Chou at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AndreanaChou.