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Two Villanova Social Justice Documentaries Selected as Student Academy Awards Finalists

The student documentaries “Rise and Shine” and “In Transition: Tony Chennault” are among seven documentary finalists named by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Student Academy Awards

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Student filmmakers in Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences are proving that Hollywood isn’t the only place that produces high-quality films.

Two documentaries produced through the University’s social justice documentary have been selected as finalists in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 42nd Student Academy Award competition. The Villanova finalists are “Rise and Shine,” a film that tackles the issue of educational disparity, and “In Transition: Tony Chennault,” the story of a former Villanova basketball player who rose above tragedy to find a new purpose in life.

The films are two of only seven to advance in the Documentary category, and among an elite group of 33 films remaining out of the original field of 1,686. More than 500 colleges and universities in the U.S. and internationally entered the competition. Three films from the Documentary category will be selected to receive one of three medals – gold, silver or bronze. The winners, but not their medal placements, will be announced later this month. Student directors from each of the award-winning films will be sent to Los Angeles for “Student Academy Awards Week,” which features a full slate of industry activities and social events, culminating in an awards ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 17.

“Rise and Shine” tackles the challenges faced by educational systems worldwide by paralleling the lives of two students from opposite sides of the globe – Philadelphia and Ghana.  The film follows the students as they overcome a series of staggering obstacles to claim their right to a good education. Their opposite, yet similar experiences shine a light on the glaring disparity in equal access to quality education worldwide.

“It is an honor to be recognized in such a public and prestigious way,” said Hezekiah Lewis, an assistant professor of communication and faculty advisor for “Rise and Shine.” “This is an amazing accomplishment for Villanova University, our program and our students.”

“Thank you to the courageous participants in both films for allowing our students into your worlds and teaching them the importance of full engagement,” added Lewis. “The participants made the stories; we framed the stories. Seeing the collaborative process was magical.”

“As any filmmaker knows, it’s never a single-handed job,” said Dan Kerrigan, student director of “Rise and Shine.” “I was so lucky to be part of an amazing team, all of whom poured themselves into this project. Looking back, this commitment and collaboration is what really made this film great.”

“In Transition: Tony Chennault” follows former Villanova basketball player Tony Chennault’s evolution from a basketball prodigy living in the Olney section of Philadelphia, who appears destined for a career in professional basketball, to a budding filmmaker determined to inspire young athletes to widen their horizons.

“It's a great honor to be a finalist for the Student Academy Awards,” said John O’Leary, PhD, assistant professor of communication and faculty advisor for “In Transition.” “It shows that Villanova students can compete with students at any university.”

“I'm very grateful to Tony Chennault for trusting us to tell his story,” said Stephen McWilliams, a faculty advisor for the film. “It's important for us to keep in mind that filmmakers can't be filmmakers without courageous and open people like Tony.”

He added, “The students never fail to deliver in our classes in terms of dedication and commitment to the ideals of the class, which are always to focus on people and organizations working to make a positive difference in our communities.”

“Villanova's presence in the finals is an incredible honor for both the University, and the Philadelphia community as a whole,” said Elinore Wright ’16 CLAS, the film’s student director.

“The most amazing part for me is that 10 20-year-old kids with no film experience, but with a lot of collective heart and passion for storytelling, were able to pull off what we did in only 15 weeks and advance as far as we have,” added Wright. “I think that's a testament to the type of student that epitomizes Villanova -- one with unimaginable heart and a desire to help others.”

This is the second consecutive year a Villanova social justice documentary has been selected as finalist for the Student Academy Awards. Last year’s finalist was “Heel’d,” a short documentary film that told the story of Hand2Paw, a Philadelphia nonprofit with a mission to bring together homeless youth and homeless animals.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences established the Student Academy Awards in 1972 to support and encourage excellence in filmmaking at the collegiate level. Past Student Academy Award® winners have gone on to receive 46 Oscar® nominations and have won or shared eight awards. They include John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Robert Zemeckis, Trey Parker and Spike Lee.

The 2015 Student Academy Awards ceremony on Sept. 17 is free and open to the public, but advance tickets are required. Visit for ticketing information and more.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit