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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – After a week of studio visits, fancy dinners and Hollywood meetings, the winners of the 42nd Student Academy Awards finally got their chance to thank the academy.
Fifteen young filmmakers spent a week in Los Angeles as the film academy's guests before receiving their awards at a ceremony Thursday night.
"Of course, I would like to thank the academy. I've always wanted to say that," Chapman University student Daniel Drummond said as he accepted his prize. "I could be up here all night and still wouldn't be able to convey how much this means to me."
Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chose the 14 winning student films from 1,686 submissions — triple last year's entries, said academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs. Winners were recognized with gold, silver or bronze medals in five categories: animation, documentary, narrative, foreign and alternative.
"The whole week's been amazing," said Jeremy Cloe, 28, competing in the narrative category. "But being here tonight is the big event and the most exciting."
Spending a week as Student Academy Award winner has been "surreal," said documentarian Emily Kassie, 22.
"One of the most exciting parts is getting to meet our peers and being among this very high caliber talented group of filmmakers," the Brown University student said. "I think we were all blown away when we saw each other's films."
Besides providing professional community, winning a Student Academy Award bodes well for a filmmaker's future. Past winners — a list that includes Spike Lee, Trey Parker, Robert Zemeckis and John Lasseter — have gone on to receive 47 Oscar nominations and eight statuettes.
Lasseter said winning the student awards in 1979 and '80 while studying at California Institute of the Arts was validating and inspiring.
"(It) really meant so much to me because it was the first time that I had the experience of seeing my film with a real audience, to see that laughter, that entertainment," he said. "It really started in me what drives me even to this day: wanting to entertain people. But it really was the Student Academy Award for the very first time I got to experience that."
Lasseter served as a presenter at Thursday's ceremony, where his 26-year-old son, Bennett, was among the winners.
"I'm still the only two-time winner of the Student Academy Award," Lasseter said, "but it pales in comparison to seeing my son win a Student Academy Award, especially in the narrative category where they had 920 entries."
Bennett Lasseter, a student at American Film Institute, took home the bronze medal for his film about a transgender girl coming to terms with her identity.
Even more important than winning awards, though, is continuing to create, said Dustin Loose of Berlin, who took silver in the foreign film category.
"It's an exceptional thing being here and getting to know all these people," he said, "but in the end it counts that we have the chance and the shot to make our next film."
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen at www.twitter.com/APSandy .