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2020 Film Festival Grand Prize Winner Discovers The Beauty of Friendship Through Food

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IES Abroad
October 16, 2020

IES Abroad rolled out the virtual red carpet for the Film Festival hosted on YouTube Live last night. In a time when travel and therefore study abroad is almost nearly impossible, this year’s Film Festival reminds us that when the world is ready it’s still worth exploring because experiencing cultures and places different to our own provides perspective that fosters tolerant, empathetic, open global leaders, who we need now more than ever.


It was announced that the Grand Prize Winner of the 2020 Study Abroad Film Festival was If I Could Put Into Words by Kiubon Kokko, a Senior at Claremont McKenna College who studied abroad with IES Abroad in Nantes, France (Fall 2019).

Kiubon’s film was one of three Finalists’ films that were voted on by the public. There was a total of 1,260 votes, of which Kiubon received almost half. Kiubon’s film achieved the most votes crowning him the Grand Prize Winner and recipient of $1,500. The two runners-up received $500 for being Finalists.

Our Runners-Up:

  • Fragments by Lexi Floom (IES Abroad London - Study London, Spring 2020 | Indiana University)
  • 日本の旅行 My Trip to Japan by Michael Sparks (IES Abroad Tokyo-UNC-Chapel Hill Japanese Language Customized Program, Summer 2019 | UNC Chapel Hill)


Kiubon's Words on If I Could Put Into Words

Kiubon developed such a deep connection with his host family and friends that he made studying abroad and dedicated a film completely inspired by them. He said last night: “I think that when I boarded the plane to France and the person that also left France are just two completely different people. There’s a lot of potential in study abroad to be, as cliché as it sounds, a life-changing semester. Be prepared for that and really lean into the people around you because the people around you are really going to grow you.”

In addition to Kiubon’s host family members and friends, food also played a leading role in If I Could Put Into Words. In his film, Kiubon’s says: “I ate a lot of food in France. From the crepe Loïc made me, to the wraps Vianney made for me and my friends. But if there’s one thing I learned while I was in Nantes, France is that it’s not about where you eat, or even what you eat, it’s about who you eat with. The company is always so much more worth it."

Kiubon’s film ends on a touching note: “… So Audrey, Grace Grant, Gabe, Allie, Eliza, and Brian, thank you for eating with me, and most importantly thank you for being my friend. I cherish you more than you know, and I hold you near and dear to my heart. I long for the day where we can all sit down together sharing food and letting our hearts reach out to feel all the beauty in the air that we once felt in Nantes, France.”

Film Festival Jurors' and Founder's Words on Kiubon's Film

“This is a beautifully filmed piece of work with an engaging and inspiring narrative. In this film, Kiubon Kokko has created a touching tribute to his host family, his study abroad friends and his host country, France. Kiubon remembers France for its great cuisine but above all, for the great company he experienced during his time abroad. This message is expertly portrayed throughout the video.”Naomi Seekings (IES Abroad London Faculty - Film Studies)

“Kiubon's short film provides a very touching profile of his host family/brother, the friends he made while abroad, and the lasting impressions he left on them. The film is done quite well visually with dreamlike transitions of light and movement from one friend profile to the next. One of my favorites.”Lee L’Hote (IES Abroad Program Dean, Cinema Professor)

“We live in a completely different world today and we think much differently about travel. In a year where travel went from possible to impossible, these films remind us that when the world is ready, it is still worth exploring. Kiubon’s film is such a beautiful anecdote of what study abroad is all about: the people you meet and the places, food, and culture you experience with them. The film brings tears to my eyes every time not only because it is a well-made film, but because it’s Kiubon’s authentic experience in Nantes, and we’re honored he shared it with us.” — Amy Ruhter McMillan, Senior Associate Vice President of Marketing and Founder of the IES Abroad Study Abroad Film Festival 

Even in seven years, there's a first time for everything...

This is the first year the Film Festival hosted a virtual event, and it was filled with energy and excitement celebrating the three student Finalists, their films, and the power of study abroad. The event featured the Finalists’ films, a Q&A to learn more about the filmmaker’s inspiration and process, and the Grand Prize Winner Announcement. 

More than 50 films overall were submitted by IES Abroad students to this year’s Film Festival. The films were viewed and narrowed down to 10 Semi-Finalists that were then whittled down to three Finalists by a prominent jury of directors, editors, producers, and screenwriters, all of whom are either IES Abroad alumni or film studies faculty from the organization’s international Centers.

An estimated 150 people tuned in last night to watch the films, hear the three Finalists answer questions submitted from the audience, and to learn who won.

In a time when travel and therefore study abroad is almost nearly impossible, this year’s Film Festival reminds us that when the world is ready it’s still worth exploring because experiencing cultures and places different to our own provides perspective that fosters tolerant, empathetic, open global leaders, who we need now more than ever. 

Over a span of seven years, more than 160+ colleges and universities have been represented through 500+ student film submissions, all documenting the various experiences at IES Abroad study abroad and internship programs around the world.

Thank you to all of our 2020 Film Festival jurors, volunteers, alumni, IES Abroad staff, and of course, our student filmmakers. We hope to see all of you next year!

Learn more about our Study Abroad Film Festival, see past year’s winning films, and find out how to be a part of the 2021 Festival! Interested in studying film abroad? Check out all of our Film Studies or Film Production programs and courses around the world.

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