Impact in Profile: Cecilia De Jesus

Impact in Profile: Cecilia De Jesus

Cecilia De Jesus, MFA ’13, chose one of the most unlikely filmmaking materials to tell the story of Holocaust survivor Vera Gissing. But the risk paid off in a big way when her film Where Is My Home? won the 2013 Student Voices Short Film Contest.

The eight-minute film uses sand animation to accompany Gissing’s heart-wrenching testimony of being separated from her beloved parents forever when she and her sister escaped Czechoslovakia on the Kindertransport before the outbreak of World War II. The Student Voices Short Film Contest invites USC students to create short films that incorporate testimony of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides from USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive.

De Jesus, who was in her final year of the Animation and Digital Arts master’s program at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts when she entered the Student Voices competition, said Student Voices interested her because of its use of testimonies, and Gissing’s testimony was especially inspiring.

“When I first listened to her story, I couldn't keep from crying. She had this warmth and generosity of spirit that I was so drawn to,” De Jesus said. “I listened through several different testimonies during my search [of the Visual History Archive], but when I listened to Vera's story I knew it was the right one for me.”

De Jesus was inspired by non-traditional documentary films such as Mannus Franken and Joris Ivens’ Regen (1929) and Stan Brakhage’s Wonder Ring (1955) to represent Gissing’s story in a more abstract manner.  Through sand animation, which is created using an under-lit tray of sand, she tried to match images to the flow of Gissing’s story in order to help the audience experience the feeling behind the intense, emotional testimony.

The most rewarding part of winning Student Voices was seeing her film screened in a theater and hearing people’s responses to her work, “but the experience of making the film is what really moved me,” De Jesus said.

Where is My Home? was accepted into the Starz Denver Film Festival and the United Nations Film Festival in Palo Alto, Calif. De Jesus has several other films in the works, including a short animation for Picture Alternatives, a nonprofit organization that promotes non-violence through media, and is currently a designer at Picture Mill studio in Hollywood.