March 1, 2007

Oscar Gold

Three Alums Win Academy Awards

By Allison Engel

The 79th Annual Academy Awards on Feb. 25 were kind to three USC alums, who netted golden statuettes for best actor (Forest Whitaker, USC School of Theatre ’82), best live action short film (Ari Sandel, USC School of Cinematic Arts ’05) and best achievement in visual effects (John Knoll, USC School of Cinematic Arts ’84).

Sandel's musical West Bank Story was named best live action short.

Photos: AMPAS
Whitaker won for his extraordinary portrayal of Ugandan despot Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. Sandel won for his 21-minute USC School of Cinematic Arts thesis film, West Bank Story, a finger-snapping musical modeled on West Side Story that involves competing Israeli and Palestinian falafel stands. Knoll was one of four visual effects artists who won for their work on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.
Academy Award winners for Achievement in Visual Effects John Knoll (left), Hal Hickel (left center), Charles Gibson (right enter), and Allen Hall.

Sandel gave an unusually eloquent acceptance speech, noted the Los Angeles Times. “To be able to get this award just goes to show that there are so many people out there that support the notion that when it comes to the situation between Israelis and Palestinians, hope is not hopeless,” Sandel said as he addressed the glamorous audience at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.

Whitaker also gave a memorable speech. In part, he said: “When I first started acting, it was because of my desire to connect to everyone. To that thing inside each of us. That light that I believe exists in all of us. Because acting for me is about believing in that connection, and it’s a connection so strong, it’s a connection so deep, that we feel it. And through our combined belief, we can create a new reality.”