​​WSU film grads gain notice from Academy Short documentary was up for a student award.

Wright State University 2013 film graduates Ashley Brandon and Dennis Hohne received a Student Academy Award nomination this past spring for their short documentary “Punches & Pedicures.”

An intriguing look at the life of former gang member-turned-manicurist/pedicurist Victor Pham of Defiance, Ohio, “Punches & Pedicures” traversed the film festival circuit and also managed multiple regional wins before being named a documentary finalist for the 41st edition of the Student Academy Awards, which were held June 7 at the Directors Guild of America Theater Complex in Los Angeles.

Founded in 1972, the Student Academy Awards brings together over 500 promising collegiate filmmakers from across the country to compete for awards and cash grants. Only three winning films are chosen from each of the competition’s five categories including alternative, animation, narrative and foreign films.

This year’s documentary winners were Helen Hood Scheer’s “The Apothecary” (Stanford University), J. Christian Jensen’s “White Earth” (Stanford University) and Zijian Mu’s “One Child” (New York University).

“This entire journey has been so surprising,” said Brandon, 23. “What surprised us the most is the fact that some documentaries can come across as dry or unexciting, but our film proved to be completely different. Unlike a lot of documentaries that focus on people fighting one particular social issue, ‘Punches & Pedicures’ is more of a portrait of someone’s life. It is a slightly unconventional film.”

Past recipients of the Student Academy Award include such influential artists as Pete Docter, Spike Lee, John Lasseter, Trey Parker and Robert Zemeckis. Brandon acknowledges how grateful she was to have been among this year’s contenders considering the history involved.

“Being a finalist is such an honor,” she said. “When you look at the filmmakers who have been nominated in the past for a Student Academy Award they are a lot of people who are making huge films today and are known all over the world. It has been very motivating. Dennis and I knew we made a good film and that people liked it, but we never dreamed it would be considered an Oscar worthy film. I still can’t believe we made it that far. I’m still pinching myself.”

Along with her dedicated teammate Hohne, a 28-year-old native of Berlin, Germany, now living in Cincinnati, Brandon says “Punches & Pedicures” took nearly a year to film, with another six months devoted to editing. She says it was a demanding, time-consuming shoot, but she also valued being completely immersed in Pham’s unique atmosphere as he coached mixed martial arts fighters in his nail salon, resulting in a story that was more about community empowerment and triumphing over adversity than the sheer curiosity of examining someone’s profession and pastime.

As a Defiance native, Brandon said that she considers the film a reflection of her own self-exploration as a woman unaware of the joys that could be found in her own backyard.

“Growing up in a tiny town like Defiance, I always thought there’s nothing interesting happening there,” she said. “And I feel like a lot of people feel that way about their hometowns. But just through random inquiries, I found out what was happening at Victor’s nail salon. So, this film became a realization to me that people should always explore their surroundings. It’s very true that filmmakers should always explore their roots. Just when you think nothing is there, there is always something amazing happening around you. I advocate for this today, and it’s something that will certainly influence the films I make in the future.”

Contact this contributing writer at rflorence2@gmail.com.

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