Melina Tupa’s neighbors had to check on her when she found out that her film, “The Search,” was up for an Academy Award.
Tupa (’16) said, “When I opened the email I started jumping and screaming like crazy, the neighbors texted to see if everything was all right at my place.”
Things are more than all right for Tupa and fellow J-School documentary graduate Daphne Matziaraki (’16), who are among a bumper crop of Berkeley alums, professors and lecturers nominated for major industry honors this year.
Tupa’s and Matziaraki’s films were chosen as finalists in the documentary category of the Student Academy Awards, in which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences selects the best student films in the country. The Student Oscars will be awarded in Los Angeles in September.
J-School Dean Edward Wasserman gave high praise to the filmmakers and their faculty, from Professors Jon Else and Orlando Bagwell, to the students’ production/technical advisor Christopher O’Dea. “This is such a tremendous honor both for our graduates and for our documentary program, which continues to turn out work of exceptional quality and strong editorial reach. The School couldn’t be prouder of Daphne and Melina, and of their great teachers.”
Both films explore crises unfolding in the filmmakers’ home countries–Argentina for Tupa and Greece for Matziaraki–and examine the human toll exacted from characters caught in the middle of them.
Tupa’s film, “The Search,” focuses on activist Estela de Carlotto’s quest to find her grandchild 37 years after her daughter was kidnapped and murdered during Argentina’s “Dirty War.”
Tupa said the idea came to her in a class at the J-School. “In one of his last videography lectures I remember [documentary professor] Jon Else saying that sometimes you have to reinterpret reality for a new generation or a new audience. I remember thinking, ‘There are so many people who haven’t heard about the darkest chapter of Argentina’s history. Maybe I am the right person to tell this story.’ “
Making that concept a reality was more difficult. Tupa’s central character only agreed to participate after Tupa sent a handwritten letter and called the woman’s secretary every other day for months. “I’m very proud of my determination,” she said.
Tupa will screen “The Search” at the DOCUTAH festival (International Documentary Film Festival), at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, later this month. She is currently working with Mexican filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz as a researcher for his feature documentary about an Argentine forensic anthropology team.
Daphne Matziaraki’s film “4.1 Miles” portrays a day in the life of a Greek coast guard captain on the island of Lesbos, who is caught in the middle of the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
Matziaraki said that even though she felt the media was “over-saturated” in its coverage of the refugee crisis, she wanted to tell a different side of the story. “As a Greek filmmaker I felt there was something missing from the coverage. I wanted to make a film that would capture the strength and determination of the unknown heroes working tirelessly in an impossible situation.”
Matziaraki’s hope is that the nomination will help get her film before a wider audience. “I’m excited by this opportunity because I believe this is one of the most pressing humanitarian crises of our times,” she said.
Like Tupa, Matziaraki credited the J-School with empowering her to take on such an important and difficult film to produce. “I’m very proud to be a member of the J-School family and to have learned and evolved in this exceptional environment.”
Producing films at this level while in graduate school is not an endeavor for the faint of heart, or light of purse. Both of these filmmakers received production funding from Minette Nelson and David Eckles of The Filmmaker Fund, which makes direct grants to students through the Fine Cut Fund at the J-School. Their efforts provide the next generation of high-impact documentary makers and multimedia producers with critical financial backing to defray the hard costs of documentary and multimedia production.
By Matt Beagle (’17)
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