When he first read the email last week, Rafael “Raffy” Cortina ’09 thought it was a prank. He had submitted his senior project, a short film entitled “Bottled Up,” to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but wasn’t expecting to hear back so quickly.
“The announcement came a week early and caught me off guard,” Mr. Cortina said.
What the email announced was that Mr. Cortina’s senior project for Occidental College, a short film called “Bottled Up,” had won a 2013 Student Academy Award—the first such prize for either an Occidental student or Williston Northampton alumnus.
Mr. Cortina was among 16 student winners in five different categories. The filmmakers will find out how they placed during a ceremony at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills on June 8, when they will be awarded gold, silver, or bronze medals.
Created for his senior comprehensive project, Mr. Cortina’s film had a $3,000 budget, a 14-minute running time, and 15 shots that involved green screens. Despite his financial limitations and a tight, two-day shooting schedule, Mr. Cortina said the whole production went “relatively smoothly.”
The only hitch, he said, was in finding a location to match what he had in his head—a problem he explained in his “Behind the Scenes” video.
“I couldn’t find anything close to it,” he said of the ideal set, which involved an alleyway and two facing storefronts. “So we used the same location for both sets.”
In the fantasy world of “Bottled Up,” inhabitants bottle up their wishes and send them down a red river in the hope that they will be answered. Mr. Cortina said he wanted to use the film to tackle questions about religion, and how relying exclusively on prayers or wishes can be stifling to personal growth.
“I wanted to tackle observations I’ve made,” he said. “Observations on how religion can be oppressive in some manner if taken the wrong way.”
Mr. Cortina, who came to Williston as a sophomore, first started making films as a way to publicize student activities. Together with the school’s film club, and fine and performing arts teacher Edward Hing, Mr. Cortina created Williston One News, which he described as a “comedic news program,” for school assemblies.
“Williston was where I first discovered my passion for filmmaking,” Mr. Cortina wrote in an email about the Student Academy Awards. “Under the tutelage of Edward Hing, I started to craft my visual storytelling abilities.”
During his junior year, Mr. Cortina started the school’s annual film festival and a small production company called Reel Deal Pictures (now Flavor Films). His short, environmental film, Saw GT, which was created for Williston’s Green Team, won the first annual Youth Film Showcase: Cultures of Peace at Amherst Cinema.
Mr. Cortina, who hopes to continue producing and directing films, said his experiences both at Williston and at Occidental College made him interested in creating work that highlighted many different perspectives.
“Everyone has a story to tell,” he said. “I realized I wanted to tell my own story.”