Introducing NXT UP Fest: "By Students, for Students"

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Spring semester is winding down and end-of-semester ceremonies are right around the corner. In lieu of the Media Awards this year, the Academy of Art University is hosting NXT UP Fest, a “celebration of excellence in the creation and production of moving images.” 

Organizer and School of Motion Pictures and Television Executive Director Jana Memel said that NXT UP Fest is about honoring student excellence while also keeping them involved in the process.

“It’s by students, for students,” she said. “Excellence is subjective; we want to recognize and honor [those] that are at the top of their game.”

According to NXT UP Fest Director, MPTV Edit Lab Manager and Social Media Coordinator Migdalia Garcia, the idea is to “celebrate merit, not focus on the ‘best.’”

“These events are important because our students work hard and produce excellent work that deserves showcase and recognition,” she said.

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The idea for the event was to empower students. While the preliminary judging is cast by department heads, students and their peers have final say in determining whose work will receive a Certificate of Excellence from the Academy. 

Starting on April 17 through 29, students can vote on the four finalists of each category at These finalists will be honored at NXT UP Fest on May 5 at 491 Post Street.

Submissions were entered throughout March to be judged within one or more of the 20 categories, which included Cinematography, Podcasting, Virtual Reality Experience, Branded Content and more. The selected finalists will show a clip of their work at NXT UP Fest. 

Memel teamed up with Director of the School of Communications and Media Technologies Jan Yanehiro and creative co-op, Young & Hungry to assist with the event rebrand and production. 

When it came to pitching names and ideas, Jim Wojtowicz, Y&H creative director and associate director of art direction and industry development in the School of Advertising, said their brainstorming always came back to shining a light on Academy students.

“What kept coming up is about who’s coming down the pike, showcasing the talent that is going to be the next version of the makers,” he said. “We came to that as a strategy then came up with a name that sounded dynamic.”

In the last few years, the end-of-semester fests have gone through a few transformations. In previous years, the Academy held the Epidemic Film Festival and was exclusive to MPTV and the School of Acting. 

In 2015 and 2016, the Academy took that idea, and opened the event up to include 10 schools and it became the Media Awards. Last year’s awards ceremony was held at the Castro Theatre and featured performances and special industry guests. 

In comparison, the NXT UP organizers chose to honor students by keeping them involved in the process and catering to their interests. Memel shared that they’re working on bringing in a special guest host and will livestream the event for those not in attendance.  

“We strive to make NXT UP all about the students,” Garcia said. “This is their festival, their show.”