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Big Town Big Dreams

'If I wrote a book, it would be called 'Art Saved My Life' '

Wednesday, July 2nd 2008, 2:59 PM

Big Town Big Dreams

Growing up in Santo Domingo, Robert Castillo was the richest child on the block. His parents sent him toys and clothes from New York, and local kids called him "gringo."

But when he and his family later moved to Chelsea, a small town near Boston, neighbors threw garbage at them and teenagers called him "spic."

"I didn't go to the prom because I couldn't get a date," says Castillo, 38, wearing a goatee, diamond earring and cap. "We had hand-me-down clothes, we were poor. Me and my brothers were outcasts."

Those who called Castillo and his brothers "spics" told them it was an acronym for "Special Person in Chelsea." After a while, he realized what it meant and numerous fights followed.

"I come from one world where I don't fit, because people say I'm American. Then I come to America and I don't fit, either. It's the story of my life."

Now an illustrator and storyboard artist living in Jersey City, Castillo turned his trials and tribulations into a movie: "S.P.I.C. The storyboard of my life," a 20-minute short experimental animation that won the Student Academy Award's Gold Medal in 2004 and was screened in festivals around the country, from Tribeca to San Diego.

During difficult times, Castillo always came back to drawing. At 5 in the Dominican Republic, he would get in trouble for doodling cowboys and Indians on his grandmother's walls and furniture.

When he moved to the states at 7 and didn't understand a word of English, he communicated and made friends through his drawings. As a teenager, he earned the nickname "sketch," because of his clever caricatures of teachers and principals.

"If I wrote a book, it would be called ‘Art Saved My Life,'" Castillo says. "All the time, I was drawing. I didn't want to do drugs, fight or join a gang. I was too busy drawing my little world."

So when Castillo was looking for thesis ideas at Manhattan's School of Visual Arts in 2004, he started looking into his past for inspiration.

At 34, he was older than most of his classmates, had little money and was frustrated with 3D computer animation. While many students designed monsters and robots, Castillo chose to go back to the basics: "I said: you know what? I am just going to talk about my life."

He grabbed a pen, filmed himself sketching scenes from his childhood, accelerated the footage and recorded his voice over the images.

"I did the drawings in my living room in Jamaica, Queens. Those were very stressful times. We had no money, roaches in the apartment. My wife was stressing," says Castillo.

Press for S.P.I.C. "The Storyboard of my Life !

June 14, 2004
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Leslie Unger - (310) 247-3000
lunger@oscars.org

2004 Student Academy Award Winners Honored at Academy Ceremony

Beverly Hills , CA — Three students from New York and one from Northern California took home gold medals last night (Sunday, June 13) in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 31st annual Student Academy Awards competition. In all, 13 students from the United States and one from Denmark received awards.

The winners are:

Alternative
Gold Medal: "S.P.I.C.: The Storyboard of My Life," Robert Castillo, School of Visual Arts, New York
Silver Medal: "Focus," Bill Ridlehoover and Nilanjan Lahiri, Savannah College of Art and Design , Georgia
No Bronze Medal was awarded in this category.

Animation
Gold Medal: "Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher," Alexander Woo, New York University
Silver Medal: "Rock the World," Sukwon Shin, School of Visual Arts, New York
Bronze Medal: "Lemmings," Craig Van Dyke, Brigham Young University

Documentary
Gold Medal: "Cheerleader," Kimberlee Bassford, University of California , Berkeley
Silver Medal: "When the Storm Came," Shilpi Gupta, University of California , Berkeley
Bronze Medal: " Cuba : Illogical Temple ," David Pittock and Lindsey Kealy, University of Nebraska

Narrative
Gold Medal: "A-Alike," Randall Dottin, Columbia University
Siler Medal: "Zeke," Dana Buning, Florida State University
Bronze Medal: "The Plunge," Todd Schulman, Florida State University

Honorary Foreign Student Film Award
"Between Us," Laurits Munch-Petersen, National Film School of Denmark

While the U.S. students knew they would each receive an award, the level of that award – gold, silver or bronze – was not known until ceremony. Besides trophies, gold medalists received $5,000, silver medalists were awarded $3,000 and bronze medal recipients were presented with $2,000.

Three-time Academy Award-nominee Pete Docter served as presenter at the ceremony for the alternative and animation categories. Docter, also a past Student Academy Award winner, earned his first nomination in 1995 as one of the writers of "Toy Story." His additional nominations were in the animated feature category for "Monsters, Inc." (2001) and in the animated short category for "Mike's New Car" (2002). Cinematographer Owen Roizman, who has earned five Oscar nominations in his career ("The French Connection," "The Exorcist," "Network," "Tootsie" and "Wyatt Earp"), presented the awards in the narrative category. Arthur Dong, nominated in 1983 for his documentary short "Sewing Woman," served as presenter in the documentary category. Roizman and Dong also are current Academy Governors. Academy President Frank Pierson hosted the evening and presented the Honorary Foreign Student Award.

The American students first competed in one of three regional competitions. Each of those regions was permitted to send to the Academy as many as three films in each of the four categories as finalists. Academy members then screened the films and voted to select the winners.

The Honorary Foreign Film winner was selected from an original pool of 39 submissions – a record – from 23 countries. This is the fourth time that a student film from Denmark has won this particular award.

The Student Academy Awards were established by the Academy in 1972 to support and encourage excellence in filmmaking at the collegiate level.

Editors: Please note that downloadable photos of this year's Student Academy Award winners are available at http://photos.oscars.org.

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