Monika Moreno

Monika Moreno with 2001 Angelus
Award winners Shane Savanapridi (left) and Greg Marcks (right).

With hundreds of film festivals to choose from and
more springing up each year, students with a completed project-and
desire to have it screened by an audience of industry professionals-have
a lot of work ahead of them. Figuring out the best place to show
your film can be a long and arduous process; the existence of The
Angelus Awards Student Film Festival makes the decision a bit easier.

With a students-only policy, tremendous track record,
and tens of thousands of dollars up for grabs, the Angelus Awards
is a great first step in the door to Hollywood. Recently MM spoke
with Angelus Awards Director Monika Moreno about why students make
better moviemakers and the triumph of the human spirit.

Jennifer Wood (MM): How did the idea for
The Angelus Awards first originate?

Monika Moreno (MORENO): Leaders in the entertainment
industry and Family Theater Productions tossed around the concept
for the Angelus Awards for a while. They were concerned that a forum
did not exist for young filmmakers to showcase works that dealt
with the human journey and the triumph of the human spirit. How
could we recognize and encourage talented young filmmakers brought
up in a post-Tarantino and Ezsterhaus world?  So we created a film
competition that would focus on college-level filmmakers-filmmakers
that weren’t necessarily as interested in making the next Dumb
and Dumber
as they were in creating something that would speak
to the soul.

MM: Your mission statement says that “The
Angelus Awards recognize and showcase student films which explore
the complexity of the human condition with creativity and respect.”
Specifically, what kinds of films are you looking for? What moves
you and the rest of the Angelus staff?

MORENO: It’s always amazing to see the wide
variety in genre and subject matter among the entries, whether they
are live action, documentary or animation.  We leave the interpretation
up to the filmmakers and are always blown away by the results. To
give you an idea of what has excited the judges in the past: our
top prize, the Patrick Peyton Award, has gone to a film about three
black soldiers returning from WWII as heroes only to be treated
as sub-human at home in the South. The same award went to a coming-of-age
film about a 12-year old girl dealing with freckles-and the following
year to a film about the last “lector,” who read stories to Cuban
cigar rollers before radio retired him.

Our documentary category often finds personal family
portraits pitted against equally stirring but hard-hitting cultural
or political issue-oriented fare. Other awards have gone to heartwarming
comedies, holocaust dramas and computer animation. Basically, if
the film/documentary/animation is well made and tells a story that
stirs hearts and provokes thoughts-without relying on senseless
violence, sex or profanity-we want to see it.

MM: The Patrick Peyton Excellence in Filmmaking
Award winner receives a very generous $10,000. What do you hope
the selected moviemaker will achieve with this prize?

MORENO: We look at our grand prize as an investment-an
investment in the filmmaker that we are certain will make a positive
mark in the industry. Our inaugural year, Loyola Marymount University
student Tony Bui won the Production Design award for Yellow Lotus.
His award money went toward the completion of his phenomenal effort, Three Seasons, which went on to capture the Sundance Jury
Prize. We were thrilled to help out in, albeit a small, but mighty
way.  We also want everyone to know how committed and serious we
are to the fledgling filmmaker, and are willing to put action to
our words.

MM: What are some of your other success

MORENO: In our inaugural year, the first Patrick
Peyton Award winner, Patricia Cardoso for The Water Carrier, was the celebrated 2002 Sundance Audience Award winner for Real
Women Have Curves
. Last year’s Angelus Audience Impact Award
winner, Sabrina Dhawan (Saanjh, As Night Falls) went on to
pen the acclaimed Monsoon Wedding. Last year’s Patrick Peyton
winner, Greg Marcks, is now slated to begin production on 11:14 with Hilary Swank.

MM: As students are your targeted source
of film material, in what ways do you work with educational institutions
to let people know about your event?

MORENO: Each spring, we launch a small mailing
campaign to around 100 film schools in the nation, as well as Canada.
We supply the schools with posters, call for entries and our Website
info.  We make an effort to reach the film schools personally, but
must also rely on the Web and any student portal we can find to
spread the word.  We personally contact and invite the deans and
directors of the “honored” schools to all our events, and work with
them to publicize the success. Ultimately, I like to devote as much
energy to that small film program in Hoboken as we would to one
of the majors.

MM: New film education programs are opening
up across the country, making students often at a loss in determining
which schools offer the best programs. What are some of the lesser-known
schools you’ve seen emerging that are worth investigating?

MORENO: Over the years, we’ve found that stellar
work comes from just about anywhere. We’ve awarded international
and national winners alike, and although a preponderance of films
do come from LA and New York, we have seen star-caliber work emerge
from smaller, lesser-known programs nationwide. Also, we’ve seen
an increase in Canadian entries-from Vancouver to Toronto-and there’s
much talent to be had.  Here in the US, Florida State, North Carolina
School of the Arts and schools in Texas, Virginia, Utah, etc. have
all been in the top 10 recently.

MM: Just as important as the moviemakers
who showcase their work at a festival are the sponsors who make
it all happen. Who are some of your sponsors and how have they helped
your efforts?

MORENO: From the beginning, Mole-Richardson
Lighting Company sponsored the Production Design Award ($1,500)
and is always faithful in providing the winners and finalists with
cinematic lighting needs, gift certificates, etc. Final Draft provides
our winners with screenwriting software and there’s a slew of industry
sponsors that love what we are doing and have offered prizes.

This year, two new significant sponsors came on board:
FujiFilm will sponsor the Audience Impact Award ($2,800 plus film
stock) and a new production company, Priddy Good Productions, helmed
by Edward Priddy, has agreed to create the Angelus Triumph Award 
($5,000), which will honor the student film that reflects the most
outstanding “redemptive” theme.  Production and industry-affiliated
companies such as these are really the backbone of Angelus. It is
mutually encouraging to us and to the students to find them.

MM: How are the Angelus Awards different
from a traditional film festival?

MORENO: Our theme sets us apart: awarding films
that might reflect spirituality, dignity, redemption, tolerance
or equality. That is our emphasis-and Hollywood seems to get it.
From our honorary Chairs (Jim Caviezel, Lynn Redgrave, Martin Sheen)
to our Honorary Committee (Penny Marshall, Anjelica Huston, Christopher
Reeve, Lawrence Kasdan, Ivan Reitman), we aren’t just interested
in excellence in filmmaking-we’re interested in compelling stories
of our common human journey that also exemplify excellence in filmmaking.

MM: I know the deadline for this year’s
event has passed, but how can people learn more about your event?

MORENO: Visit or email us with an address and we will send a 2003 call for entry
form when they are available. Email: [email protected].
Potential sponsors can reach me at [email protected].