Film student receives prestigious grant
An SF State cinema student has received a prestigious grant from the Princess Grace Foundation-USA to support his thesis film, which documents a government-sponsored massacre in his home country of Guatemala.
Javier Briones, a master's in fine arts student, was one of three recipients nationwide of the Foundation's JustFilms Documentary Award and one of 24 overall who received awards for theatre, dance and film. The awards are named after Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco in honor or her support of emerging artists during her lifetime.
Briones will be honored at the Foundation's annual Awards Gala in New York City on Oct. 30. His scholarship will go toward post-production expenses for his film "The Earth Did Not Speak," which he anticipates releasing in May. The JustFilm grants are given to support documentary film projects in social justice. Natalie Y. Tsui, another SF State graduate cinema student, received an honorarium for film from the Foundation to support her thesis film.
"When I first heard that I had received a Princess Grace award, I was incredibly surprised," Briones said. "It was very motivating to know that the Foundation had taken an interest in my work and wanted to support it."
"The Earth Did Not Speak" details the 1982 government-supported military massacre of 440 people in Rio Negro, Guatemala who resisted forced relocation for the construction of a dam. The film tells the stories of the survivors who hid in the mountains and watched as their ancestral homeland was flooded. In addition to interviews with survivors, Briones also uses sound and visuals of Rio Negro's natural surroundings to illustrate the devastating emotional and environmental impacts of the massacre.
The topic is personal for Briones. Born in Guatemala, his parents fled to the United States when he was 11 to escape persecution for their democratic activism. As a result, he was drawn to social justice issues at a young age and found filmmaking as an avenue for giving voice to the powerless.
"I knew my family was lucky to get away, but there were many people who were not as lucky, who suffered at the hands of the government," he said. "I wanted to try to do something for Guatemala, to restore justice or tell the stories that have been buried deep in Guatemala's history and have never seen the light of day."
Briones filmed on location, traveling by plane, bus, car and boat to the remote village where the survivors now live. Speaking with them was emotional, he admitted, but also inspiring in light of their determination to rebuild their lives and community following the tragedy.
The project fits in well with the SF State Cinema Department's commitment to teaching students not just how to be highly skilled filmmakers, but also critical thinkers who engage the community with their work.
"Javier's film takes on the challenge of telling an emotionally charged story, including brutal and horrifying details, while maintaining a viewer's willingness to remain engaged. This kind of filmmaking entails risk-taking many filmmakers at this stage in their careers might find daunting, but Javier was undeterred, " said Associate Professor of Cinema Pat Jackson, who recommended Briones for the award. "I am delighted the Princess Grace Foundation has supported this important project."
Briones, who received his undergraduate degree in cultural studies and cinema from Antioch College in Ohio, was attracted to SF State's cinema program because of its willingness to let students experiment and discover what kind of filmmakers they want to be.
"SF State has given me a chance to pursue the projects I want to make," he said. "I've been able to meet amazing collaborators and have had the opportunity to work with faculty members who really care and believe in my work. That is something I can't be grateful enough for."
Briones will graduate this May and hopes to continue making films through a production company he recently founded with a classmate.
The Princess Grace Foundation-USA was formed after Princess Grace's death in 1982 to provide scholarships, apprenticeships and fellowships to artists at the beginning of their careers. Since the Foundation's inception, it has given more than 800 awards totaling more than $10 million.