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February 23, 2018

Directors Guild of America Honors Alumni at the 23rd Annual Student Film Awards

By Sabrina Malekzadah

Each year the Directors Guild of America (DGA) holds its annual Student Film Awards for African-American, Asian-American, Latino, and women filmmakers. The awards, which bring the winners prizes of $2,500 from the DGA, are designed to honor and bring attention to outstanding aspiring minority and women filmmakers.

This year three USC SCA alum won awards in three different categories: Gisele Tong (MFA ’14) for her film Spring Flower for best woman filmmaker, Sanford Jenkins Jr. (MFA ’17) for his film The Craftsman for best African-American filmmaker, and Mei Li Ying (MFA’17) for her film Cocoon for best Asian-American filmmaker. 

Jenkins explained that, “There’s a wealth of talented black artists exploring the formal qualities of cinema in expanding ways, and here’s an opportunity to further lay this foundation, with respect to the canon of work laid before me.” These awards provide filmmakers the opportunity to express themselves while also pursuing their passion for film. As Ying explains, they have a reputation of, “discovering and cultivating emerging filmmakers, especially women and minorities.” These USC alumni are part of Hollywood’s next generation of emerging filmmakers, and we can’t wait to see what they accomplish next.

Sanford Jenkins Jr. and Mei Li Ying took some time to answer questions about their projects and careers.

Sanford Jenkins Jr.

Q: Tell us about A Craftsman

Jenkins: A Craftsman is the story of a rural woodworker processing the loss of his wife through the building of his own coffin, his attempted suicide, and the small community created and bound as a result of this period. It’s a simple, observation of connection and healing. The story was developed through USC’s 546 production course, written by Joel David Santner, and produced by Elise Brown and Cydney Fisher. Something we could all feel, in a way.

Q: What have you been doing since graduation?

Jenkins: I’ve been writing new stories, traveling with A Craftsman, and rebalancing my life, which includes prioritizing my health and engaging in things that make me feel alive. Very necessary.

Q: What is one regular practice you’ve adopted to help your career?

Jenkins: Refining my music playlists. Keep sounds interesting, and allow new ideas in flow from them. Write free-form and rearrange, or select the ideas that really speak to you, later.

Q: What project(s) are you working on that you’re most excited about?

Jenkins: There’s a series of slices of life, conversations and moments I find fascinating, that I’m arranging into something tangible. And a long gestating story about my hometown that’s taken the shape of a feature narrative. We’ll see what happens at 3am tonight.

Mei Li Ying Cocoon

Q: Tell us about Cocoon

Ying: Cocoon shows how 1997 China was a place of transitions. Control of Hong Kong has just returned to the mainland. Western values are beginning to impact traditional Chinese values. At this time, 11-year-old Qingqing is also in a place of transition. On the cusp of adolescence, she lives with her mom in the peaceful city of Wuhan. Her father, who works in Shenzhen (China’s first special economic zone) comes home only once a month. Qingqing and her friends are beginning to discover the opposite sex, and each other. When Qingqing finds out her mom’s oddly close relationship with a female friend, she starts stalking them, only to discover a secret that will unravel her peaceful family life. 

Q: What have you been doing since graduation?

Ying: I have been writing my feature-length script for Cocoon. Also, I co-wrote and created a short film called Luna for Warner Brothers Emerging Film Directors Workshop. Luna is about an upscale brothel in 1932 Shanghai. A famous prostitute offers to play dangerous gambling game with an unexpected guest. A cat and mouse political game begins as their sexual attention builds.

Q: What is one regular practice you’ve adopted to help your career? 

Ying: I always have a plain notebook with me so I can write down my random thoughts or draw things that I see or imagine. Some of the ideas eventually made into my scripts. 

Q: What project(s) are you working on that you’re most excited about?

Ying: I’m very excited about the feature version of COCOON since I have always wanted to make it into a feature, even before I shot the short film.