A documentary film produced by a team of students from the School of Cinematic Arts was named a 2015 Student Academy Award winner by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Aug. 25.The documentary, Looking at the Stars, follows the story of the dancers at the world’s only ballet school for the blind: the Fernanda Bianchini Association of Ballet and Arts for the Blind in Sao Paulo, Brazil.The film’s director, Alexandre Peralta, a native Brazilian and USC M.F.A. graduate, said that he felt the recognition was an honor and an opportunity.“When I heard [that the film had won], I was really excited,” Peralta said. “I called my whole family because [everyone] had been so involved in the making of the film and all of the stresses that came with it.”Peralta’s documentary is the 32nd USC student film to receive this honor since the Student Academy Awards’ inception in 1972, and the 12th in the documentary category. Previous USC winners include renowned filmmaker Robert Zemeckis, who graduated from the School of Cinematic Arts in 1973.Peralta said that the film school helped make the project possible by providing equipment, instruction, and funding, including a $10,000 grant from the Charles and Lucille King Family Foundation.“My mentor [at USC] has been supporting the project since the beginning,” Peralta said. “Before USC, I had no film experience, so the school definitely helped make Looking at the Stars possible.”A team of 13 students and alumni worked together on Looking at the Stars, includingproducers Alexis Morrell, Sabrina Chammas, Katrelle Kindred and cinematographersAlejandro Ernesto and Guan Xi.The team worked together over a period of three weeks in 2013 to film the ballet dancers at the Fernanda Bianchini Association of Ballet and Arts for the Blind, interviewing both students and instructors as well as filming the dancers’ performances.Throughout the filming process, the team faced many challenges, including the difficulties of being in a new environment and balancing many tasks.“We had a lot of little challenges, but our biggest challenge was that it was my first time [directing],” Peralta said. “I had been an editor before, so I had to get used to wearing a different hat, so to speak.”Furthermore, the language barrier proved to be an obstacle once filming began.“No one [on our team] spoke Portuguese, so I had to serve as translator at times,” Peralta said.The difficulties continued after filming was completed, with financing forming the main obstacle. To fund the initial stages of the project, including filming and travel expenses, the team used crowdfunding website Kickstarter to collect donations and successfully raised $17,090 from 433 backers. Though this helped get the project off the ground, Peralta and the rest of his team are asking for further donations in order to pay for immersive sound design, picture editing, music composing, color correction, transcription and subtitling (in English and Portuguese), screenings and distribution.The film’s portrayal of the ballet school’s talented and determined dancers has been hailed as a “motivational and inspirational documentary” by HBO and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers.NALIP presented Looking at the Stars with the 2013-2014 Documentary Filmmaker Award.The documentary focuses on portraying the girls’ desire to be known and appreciated for their skills in ballet, rather than defined by their disabilities.The Academy granted Student Academy Awards to 14 films in five categories, selected from among 1,686 submissions that included films from 282 U.S. and 93 international schools. Eight of the 14 winners were from California schools, including Chapman University, the California Institute of the Arts, Academy of Art University, Stanford University and the American Film Institute. The winners will spend a week at the Academy in Beverly Hills before a ceremony on Sept. 17, where the levels in each category (bronze, silver and gold) will be announced.Peralta’s film is now automatically eligible to receive an Academy Award in the short film category. The 2016 Academy Awards will take place on Feb. 28 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.This post has been updated to include additional team members’ roles in creating the film.