A Florida mother who turned to filmmaking after giving birth to her third child was one of 10 U.S. students honored for excellence at the 39th Student Academy Awards on Saturday night in Beverly Hills.
Heather Burky, from the Art Institute of Jacksonville (Fla.), took a prize in the documentary section for Lost Country, which looks at three Cuban expatriates who fought Fidel Castro.
Burky was 33 and single when she gave birth to her third child and decided to make a drastic career change from property management. And Oprah Winfrey played a big part.
"I was watching Oprah and she said you have to change your own circumstances. At the time, I was pretty unhappy with my life," says Burky, now 34. "At first I cried, since I was hormonal. And then I decided to go back to school and to study film. People thought I was crazy. I had a newborn.
"Now people tell me this was what I born to do," she says.
Her award marks the first time a student from the Art Institute of Jacksonville has been honored in the annual competition organized by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which administers the annual Academy Awards. The goal of the student awards is to support excellence in filmmaking for the up-and-coming generation.
Past winners have included Pixar's John Lasseter and Pete Docter, director Robert Zemeckis, Spike Lee and South Park's Trey Parker. Recipients have earned 43 Oscar nominations and have won or shared eight Academy Awards. Julian Higgins, who won a gold medal last year, went on to direct an episode of House in the show's final season.
Gold medal winners received cash grants of $5,000; silver, $3,000; and bronze, $2,000. Among the presenters at the event at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater: Laura Dern, Cuba Gooding Jr., Greg Kinnear and Mena Suvari.
Winners of the 39th Student Academy Awards:
Eyrie, David Wolter, California Institute of the Arts (Valencia)
The Jockstrap Raiders,Mark Nelson, University of California-Los Angeles
My Little Friend, Eric Prah, Ringling College of Art and Design (Sarasota, Fla.)
Dying Green, Ellen Tripler, American University (Washington, D.C.)
Hiro: A Story of Japanese Internment, Keiko Wright, New York University
Lost Country, Heather Burky, Art Institute of Jacksonville (Fla.)
Nani, Justin Tipping, American Film Institute (Los Angeles)
Narcocorrido, Ryan Prows, American Film Institute (Los Angeles)
Under, Mark Raso, Columbia University (New York)
The Reality Clock, Amanda Tasse, University of Southern California