J-School grads win three of seven student Oscar nods for documentaries

Grace Oyenubi and Nani Walker stand in front of pickup truck outfitted with a camouflage paint job and canopy top. Behind them is a tall wall adorned with razor wire

Grace Oyenubi (left) and Nani Walker on location in Nigeria. Their documentary film "Forced" was nominated for a Student Academy Award.

Four recent graduates of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism have been selected as finalists for the 2018 Student Academy Awards in documentary film. Three films made by Grace Oyenubi, Lauren Schwartzman, Nani Walker and Alan Toth, for their theses, won three of the seven finalist spots in the category.

The films are:

  • “Dust Rising” by Lauren Schwartzman, which explores the power that dust can have on everything from human health to the planet’s climate.
  • “Forced,” a collaboration by Grace Oyenubi and Nani Walker that tells the stories of Nigerian women who are rebuilding their lives after being abducted, raped and held hostage by Boko Haram cultists.
  • “Mining Phosphorus” by Alan Toth, which tackles Florida’s declining phosphate reserves and the clash between a farmer and local environmentalists.

“Our grad students earned more Student Academy Awards finalist slots this year than any other film school in the country,” says Jon Else, former longtime head of the documentary program at Berkeley who worked with the student filmmakers last fall. “And we’re not even listed as a film school. It’s just remarkable,” Else says.

The J-School produced two documentary nominees last year — Brad Bailey for his film “Hale,” which won gold, and Jason Hanasik for “How to Make a Pearl.” In 2016, two Berkeley students were nominated — Melina Tupa and Daphne Matziaraki — and Matziaraki’s film took home top honors.

“It’s a stunning accomplishment for our tiny program to sweep nearly half the student Oscar nominations nationally for documentary, and it speaks volumes about the skill and dedication of these students and their teachers,” says journalism Dean Ed Wasserman. “We’re very proud and wish them all every success.”

The 45th Student Academy Awards ceremony will take place October 11 in Hollywood.

Learn more about the nominees and their films