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Art, not awards, drives cinema students

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Tompkins Cortland Community College digital cinema student Matthew Burgher works with video editing software on Friday while attending the first day of a portfolio building class.

To some, the Academy Awards is just a time to see their favorite celebrities win an award or watch what jokes the host will make.

But to Tompkins Cortland Community College film students, the awards ceremony is personal. It’s inspirational. It shows the beauty and emotional power they attempt to put in their work means something.

When the Academy Award nominations were announced Jan. 23, there were several historic nominations to inspire a new generation of filmmakers.

To Matt Burgher, a digital cinema major at Tompkins Cortland Community College and aspiring director and screen writer, it is inspiring to see the art he loves and aspires to create is recognized with such high honors.

The emotional power movies can provoke are what got Burgher interested in them to begin with. He said growing up he suffered from depression and anxiety. It was hard for him to be around people and make friends.

Movies helped him cope with that. From “The Breakfast Club” to “Forrest Gump” and particularly 1978s “Superman,” each had characters he could relate to. The dark situations always got better.

“The stories, the personal ones, really helped me get over issues I had growing up,” Burgher said. “They helped me and I want to give that back. I have the ability to inspire other people.”

His dream is to create his own superhero films one day. So he was really inspired to see the superhero movie “Logan” became the first movie based off a superhero comic book to be nominated for an Academy Award in the screenplay category.

Also his favorite director, Christopher Nolan, got his first Academy Award nomination for best director this year, and his film “Dunkirk” was nominated in the best picture category.

For Burgher, not only is it exciting to see the pieces of work he loves be nominated, but inspiring to see the kind of work and art he wants to create can affect many people. It makes him strive harder.

Rhianna Mosher, a digital cinema student at TC3, will watch to see how Greta Gerwig, the first woman nominated for best director since 2010, does. And she’ll be anxious to see how Rachel Morrison does, the first woman nominated for best cinematographer.

To Mosher, that means a lot. She wants to be a director, and knows it is hard to break into an industry dominated by men. So it is inspiring to her to see women in the film industry be recognized for their work.

“I want to one day be able to inspire women to do what they think only men can do,” Mosher said.

She doesn’t just watch the Academy Awards to see who wins, she likes to hear what the winners have to say. Some give a brief synopsis of how they got to that point, while others may give deep philosophical short lectures to inspire young talent.

Logan Patrick, a television broadcast major at TC3, added that hearing many of the winners talk about how they come from small towns is inspiring because you feel like you can make it to the stage no matter where you’re from.

Unlike Burgher and Mosher, Patrick is more interested in working behind the scenes, whether it is with the camera or operating systems. He could even see himself doing the live broadcast of the Academy Awards one day.

While categories like best picture, best actor and best director dominate the headlines, Chris Xaver, chairwoman of the communications and media arts department at TC3, tells her students there is more to the Academy Awards than what is broadcast.

Many behind-the-scenes jobs and positions get Academy Awards, too, though it may not be shown on television. Xaver will share those nominations and winners with her students, so they know they don’t have to just be an actor or director to win.

The Academy Awards give students something to aspire to, Xaver said, but that is not what drives them to work in the film industry. Their passion to create something with emotional power is.

“Ask any filmmaker that has a story and a vision, the award is a bonus,” Xaver said. “They’re not doing it for the award.”
The Academy Award ceremony will take place March 4.

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