If Thursday’s Student Academy Awards at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater are any indication of the direction Hollywood is headed, it’s whole new kind of tinsel.

Honest, raw and visually stunning, winners in the various categories which included animation, documentary and narrative came from as far as Prague, China and Norway to accept their prestigious awards. The all-inclusive subjects ranged from a transwoman mechanic running her family’s auto shop during the day and expressing her femininity at night in Miller & Son, to a seasoned Chinese chef forced into training a robot to cook in The Chef.

“The Chef” director Hao Zheng and  crew member Erik Glode (Michele Stueven)

This year, the Student Academy Awards competition received a total of 1,615 entries from 255 domestic and 105 international colleges and universities with 16 winners.  Presenters for the event included documentarian Rory Kennedy and El Norte director Gregory Nava who handed out awards in the narrative category which all came from American Film Institute students like The Chef‘s director, Hao Zheng.

The film, which was shot on location at Dong Lai Sun in San Gabriel, takes place in the near future when all laborers are being replaced by humanoids. A Chinese chef is ordered to pass on his cooking skills to a robot. Designed to satisfy his owner, the humanoid tries to follow every instruction, but his robotic demand for precision and perfection contradicts the very concept of Chinese cooking.

Dong Lai Shun in San Gabriel (Michele Stueven)

“We wanted to make a short about immigration,  culture and human relationships,” Zheng who came to the U.S.  from China when he was 15 years old told L.A. Weekly.

“During the time we were brainstorming, I had this experience in Koreatown where I live. Outside of my apartment is a hotel and during that time every morning when I passed by the hotel I would see this annoying little robot who would move a little bit and just  repeat ‘welcome, welcome, welcome’ over and over again. One day, I saw this little old man sitting next to the robot on a bench, playing with his  transistor radio. Every time he changed the channel, the robot would move slightly. He became so joyful when he thought he was controlling the robot. But after a week or so of having made this connection the robot was gone and so was the old man. To me that was such a moving story. We always blame technology for separating human relationships — but is that really what is happening or just an excuse? Our film embraces the theme that we can build human relationships despite differences and used food because it’s such a physical human touch.”

“The Chef” (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

Here’s a list of all the winners.

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