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Film director Daniel Houghton '04 (right) with animator Smithi Skunnawat '18.5 at the Vermont International Film Festival.

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Animation Studio's "Estrellita" Wins Prize at Film Festival

January 16, 2019

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – A short film produced by students in the Middlebury Animation Studio won the award for Best Animation at the Indie & Foreign Film Festival held in New York City.

The eight-minute film, Estrellita, (or Little Star) tells a piercing story about the constant threat of family separation and deportation for undocumented farmworkers in Vermont. Seen through the eyes of a little girl on a dairy farm, the animation was also an official selection of the Vermont International Film Festival and a finalist for a 2018 BANG Award.

Over the course of 18 months, more than 20 Middlebury students—animators, designers, musicians, and editors—worked on the Estrellita project directed by Daniel Houghton ’04, the College’s animation studio producer and award-winning animated filmmaker.

“The news about deportation and family separation has been really upsetting and heartbreaking,” Houghton said. “I wanted to participate somehow, so I [created] the animation with the hope that it could serve as one more avenue for saying that taking kids away from their parents is wrong.”

Houghton told Seven Days, the weekly newspaper based in Burlington, Vt., that he hopes the film will work as “a lever to humanize what's going on.” Of the Trump administration's “zero tolerance” policy, he said, “It's this intense ratcheting up of the policy, with cruelty and malice seeming to be the strategy. . . . All of this is very real and complex and causing a lot of pain for a lot of people.”

The filmmaker credits Jessica Holmes, a Middlebury professor of economics and honorary consul to Mexico, for suggesting that he consider Vermont’s undocumented population as the subject for an animated short film. The piece he and his students ultimately produced over the course of three semesters makes a powerful statement for how art can generate important conversations about the issues that affect the lives of real people, Houghton said.

Two other animated film projects recently produced by Houghton and the Middlebury Animation Studio have also been highly decorated. His film 11 Paper Place won a PBS People’s Choice Award, was featured in the Atlantic, and was a Vimeo staff pick; and the film The Collinwood Fire, which was coproduced with Professor Michael Newbury, was selected Best Short at both the Cleveland International Film Festival and the Suzanne Animation Festival.

2 Comments

How can we see these films?

by Ashley Cadwell (not verified)

To watch the films, click on the links in this story.

by Stephen Diehl s...

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