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Alumnus wins award for PTSD documentary

by Valerie Turpin
David Aristizabal, center, with crew members while filming A Second Chance
David Aristizabal, center, with crew members while filming A Second Chance

For many cinema students, making it to the Academy Awards is a lifelong ambition. One team of students at the USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA) got a head start by qualifying for the Student Academy Awards, a national competition conducted by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences which recognizes outstanding, student-created work before they have finished school.

At this year’s 40th ceremony, David Aristizabal ’12 was awarded first place for his documentary, A Second Chance, which follows service dogs that help support war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“This film combines my adoration for dogs with my profound respect for war veterans,” said Aristizabal, whose own dog, Remedios, had been a constant source of companionship for him and his family. “There is no better cure for a bad day than her franticly waving tail or her clumsy paws crushing my chest at my doorstep.

“Every wounded veteran is a reminder of those who have given up their normal lives for our comfort,” added Aristizabal, who was born and raised in Colombia. “Every time I see a veteran, I feel ashamed of society’s indifference. I detest war, but being against it does not justify ignoring the veterans when they return home. This project is a tribute to the dogs that help wounded veterans get their lives back.”

A Second Chance follows combat medic Blade Anthony, whose shift to life as a civilian was difficult after he was honorably discharged and diagnosed with PTSD. After applying for a support dog, Blade began to acknowledge the emotional scars of war and looked to a rescued companion for a second chance at life. The film was created in a graduate-level production course that focuses on documentary filmmaking.

Drew Diamond ’13, producer of A Second Chance, saw the accolade as a testament to the strength of a dedicated team focusing on tough issues.

“The award reaffirmed that filmmaking is not just a hobby of mine, but a passion which I want to dedicate my life to pursuing,” Diamond said. “I see the award as a challenge to make sincere films which will touch audiences and entertain while making them seriously think about issues. The award demonstrates what great collaborations [produce].

“We had an amazing experience working together as a team of eight and were successful because of the dedication each member of the team had to making this story. Our crew’s genuine effort and care for the subject is what made the film a success,” he added.

“[This project] is a fine example of the power of social advocacy documentary filmmaking which inspires not only the audience but especially the filmmakers themselves,” said SCA Professor and documentarian Amanda Pope.  “We pride ourselves in the documentary program on our encouragement of international students and their story ideas. I think this recognition by the academy inevitably brings more respect and attention within the school to documentary and nonfiction as a genre.”

Aristizabal attributed much of the film’s success to his crew, which included Diamond, co-producer Josh Hsieh, cinematographer Gil Choi, editors Jeff Chanley and Mark Manalo and sound editors Eddie Ng and Mike Hsu.

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