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Posted on Fri, May 17, 2013 : 2:48 p.m.

U-M grad Perry Janes wins Student Academy Award for 'Zug'

By Jenn McKee


2012 U-M film and English grad Perry Janes has won a Student Academy Award for the film he wrote/directed, "Zug."

Photo by Connie Huang

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has selected a University of Michigan graduate’s undergrad thesis film (Perry Janes’ “Zug”) as one of 15 winners in this year’s Student Academy Awards competition. This is the first time in the history of the Student Academy Awards (which began in 1972) that a film by a U-M student has won.

With three winners in each category (alternative, animation, documentary, narrative, foreign film), the competition culminates with all the winners convening for a week of industry activities in Los Angeles and an awards ceremony (hosted by Bob Saget) on Saturday, June 8, when each filmmaker will learn whether he/she has earned a gold, silver, or bronze medal in his/her category.

Janes, who grew up in different parts of metro Detroit (most recently Royal Oak), based “Zug” on a short story he’d written about two young men who are dared by classmates to visit mysterious Zug Island.

“That’s the coming of age, narrative, literal story of the film,” Janes said. “The thematic idea of the film is that Detroit is a really polarizing place that people talk about in terms of extremes, when the reality of the place is … that these are regular people just living in the city, living their lives. These are two boys who, by virtue of having one foot in the city, one foot outside of it, get sucked into those mythic narratives. And then Zug becomes an allegory for testing them, and affirming the maybe more comforting reality underneath the way that people talk about (Detroit).”

Janes raised more than $10,000 for the film via Kickstarter, and the overall budget ran to approximately $16,000. There were about 13 days of shooting, but because so many of the artists involved were students, the shooting was spread over the course of the fall and winter of 2011-12.

And although “Zug” may sound and look like a traditionally narrative film, it was declared a winner in the “alternative” division of the Student Academy Awards.

“I think traditionally, historically, the alternative category has leaned more toward experimental films, but in a way, it also serves as a category for any film that deviates from classic narrartive structure,” said Janes. “Our film - we’ve been submitting to film festivals throughout year, and one of the responses we’ve gotten is that the structure of the film has thrown off some screeners. We open and close (the film) with some documentary elements - interviews with local Detroiters. So when it came time to submit the film to the Student Academy Awards, we thought, let’s take a swing at the alternative category. And it seemed to work.”

In 2012, Janes not only graduated from U-M with degrees in English and film, but he also won three Hopwood Awards: the Hopwood Screenplay Award; the Hopwood Undergraduate Poetry Award; and the Kasdan Scholarship in Creative Writing. Janes has since used the money from these awards to give himself a “fellowship year” in Ann Arbor while he focuses on writing a poetry collection and a full-length screenplay.

“I think that in terms of the career moves I make, where I live and where I’m working, I’ll always be particularly focused on film, but I’ll always be writing, too,” said Janes. “I can write poetry anywhere, I can write fiction anywhere, and those are things that, just by doing the work, open up their own doors, whereas film - there are a lot of other moving parts in that world.”

The stars of “Zug” are U-M grads RJ Brown (now appearing on “The Carrie Diaries”) and Jeffrey Freelon, and the film premiered at the 2012 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Janes also recently learned that “Zug” will have its American premiere at the Palm Springs International Shorts Fest in June. So given that, and Janes’ Student Academy Award winner activities in Los Angeles, June is shaping up to be a big month.

But the Student Academy Award might not be happening if Janes hadn’t poked through the film’s email account.

“You go through a regional competition before you’re passed on to nationals, and we’d submitted for regionals and hadn’t heard anything back,” said Janes. “I checked our film email one day, and just on a whim, I decided to check the spam box, and the notice that we had become a finalist and then a winner in the regional competition had gone into the spam folder. And I got lucky. The woman who was the correspondent for the regionals called me, and we were able to get (the national competition officials) the necessary materials in time. It was a little scary.”

Jenn McKee is an entertainment reporter for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.


Jenn McKee

Tue, Jun 11, 2013 : 5:40 p.m.

On Saturday, June 8, 2013, Janes was awarded the silver medal in the Academy's alternative category. Gold went to Occidental College's Rafael Cortina for "Bottled Up," while School of Visual Arts' John Mattiuzi won bronze for "The Compositor."

Jenn McKee

Mon, May 20, 2013 : 6:42 p.m.

I'm hoping that the film will eventually be available for viewing online - very curious to see it - but until then, I'll be keeping tabs on whether the film gets the gold at the awards ceremony on June 8.


Sun, May 19, 2013 : 7:05 p.m.

It's filmed beautifully but the plot itself is cliched and really asks the viewer to accept some stupid things (a character from detroit doesn't recognize the detroit tigers D). It presents stereotypes of Detroit and demonstrates that the director really doesn't understand the city. When it was presented at light works there were two films that better represented detroit, and great filmmaking.


Sat, May 18, 2013 : 6:14 a.m.

Great music


Sat, May 18, 2013 : 5:03 a.m.

Can't wait to see Zug. Had several friends that worked summers at the steel mill while they were in college. The island was pretty bleak and everything was covered with rust colored iron dust. Hopefully in the next few years we will get to see a Perry James feature film.


Sat, May 18, 2013 : 5:04 a.m.

Bad typing, Perry Janes instead of James. Sorry


Sat, May 18, 2013 : 2:57 a.m.

Very cool! Congrats!


Sun, May 19, 2013 : 4:37 a.m.

the elite , queens and kings and powers that be let into it lol

Kai Petainen

Sat, May 18, 2013 : 2:41 a.m.

Zug Island eh? Did you happen to solve the mystery of the Windsor Hum? Some think it comes from Zug Island. "A documentary chronicling the Windsor Hum is in the works." "The prevailing theory is the hum is an airborne sound wave originating from the general vicinity of Zug Island in River Rouge, Mich., across the Detroit River from west Windsor and LaSalle."