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Young German filmmakers win Student Oscars in Hollywood

October 12, 2017

The Motion Picture Academy will honor Johannes Preuss and Katja Benrath amid a competitive international field of student directors. Preuss' documentary examined Ghana's gold trade while Benrath's focused on terrorism.

Studenten-Oscar 2017: «Galamsey» von Johannes Preuss
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

German film students Johannes Preuss and Katja Benrath will each take home an Oscar medallion on Thursday evening as winners of the 44th Student Academy Awards, which honors and encourages talented emerging filmmakers from the United States and abroad.

In a star-studded event at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in the heart of Hollywood, Los Angeles, Preuss will be honored for best international documentary while Benrath will receive an award — either gold, silver or bronze — in the category of international narrative.

Read more: Germany sets Oscar hopes on neo-Nazi film starring Diane Kruger

Films in Ghana and Kenya

Johannes Preuss
Preuss filmed in Ghana, where he had previously worked in the development aid sectorImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Filmakademie BW

Preuss, a student at the Baden-Württemberg Film Academy in Ludwigsburg, was the sole nomination in his category. His film "Galamsey" investigates the lives of illegal gold diggers in Ghana. The documentary grew out of his previous experience as a development worker in the West African nation, during which time he witnessed first hand the problems surrounding illegal gold extraction, such as corruption, exploitation and environmental degradation.

"[The film] was definitely not an easy project," Preuss told German news agency dpa ahead of the award ceremony, adding that, "The Oscar is a huge recognition."

Benrath was nominated in her category alongside students from the Netherlands and Switzerland. "They are all incredible films and everyone more or less wins, meaning first place doesn't play such a big role," the Hamburg Media School student told dpa.

Katja Benrath
Benrath's film is based on a true storyImage: picture-alliance/dpa/C.Gateau

Her roughly half-hour long film "Watu Wote/All of Us" presents the true story of a December 2015 terror attack on a bus in Kenya, which took place amid a growing climate of fear and mistrust between the country's Muslims and Christian due to attacks by the Somali jihadi group Al-Shabab. Yet, the attack also showed how human solidarity trumped religious differences in the face of death, as a group of Muslims on the bus protected their Christian fellow passengers.

Benrath said the humanity of those affected in the attack greatly moved her.

German fashion designer Jette Joop was also moved by the film and offered to make Benrath's dress for the award ceremony. The designer used fabric that the filmmaker had bought in Nairobi, echoing the location of Benrath's film.

Read more: Kenyan army battles al-Shabab militants in Somalia

Student Oscar winners, future Oscar winners?

The Academy launched the Student Academy Awards in 1972 with a goal "to support and encourage excellence in filmmaking at the collegiate level." Alongside the gilded trophies, winners receive cash grants and see their films circulated to educational and non-profit organizations. The award ceremony is part of a week-long stay in Beverly Hills to network within the film industry and meet other young filmmaking talents.

A total of 1,587 student entries from 267 American film schools and 89 international ones were submitted to Academy members, who then selected a total of 17 finalists, Preuss and Benrath among them.

Past winners of the Student Academy Awards include Spike Lee, Trey Parker, Bob Saget, Patrician Riggin and later Academy Award winners Robert Zemeckis and John Lasseter.

Around 20 young German filmmakers have won a Student Oscar in past years, with Alex Schaad taking gold last year with "Invention of Trust" for best international narrative and Felix Ahrens nabbing silver in the same category for "Where the Woods End."

cmb/eg (with dpa)