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Pia Clemente
On the morning after the Academy Awards comes the story of an Ivy League women's tennis player -- Columbia's Pia Clemente -- who was the first Filipina-American woman to be nominated for an Oscar.

There's a history between Columbia athletes and the Academy Awards.

Paul Gallico, who later wrote "The Poseidon Adventure" and rowed from 1918-21, was an Academy Award nominee in 1942 for writing the screenplay for the iconic "The Pride of the Yankees," the movie biography of fellow Columbian Lou Gehrig.

Joseph Mankiewicz, who played freshman baseball in 1925, received nine nominations and won four times, for writing and directing "A Letter to Three Wives" and "All About Eve," respectively.

More recent Columbia movie stars, football letterwinners Matthew Fox and Brian Dennehy, have starred in a number of movies but have not yet received an Oscar nomination.

In 2006 Pia Clemente, who was named Academic All-Ivy playing tennis for Columbia, joined this exclusive group, nominated with Rob Pearlstein for producing the short film (Live Action) "Our Time Is Up." Getting nominated was "a shock -- it wasn't expected," she remembers. Clemente, who was born in Manila and moved to the United States when she was three years old, became the first Filipina-American woman to be nominated for an Oscar. "I felt like I was championing Filipino culture," she says.

"I took both my parents to the award ceremony," says Clemente, "and when my name was announced I was shocked." She didn't win, but "afterwards, when the limo arrived, all my friends were inside celebrating as if I won." Four months later she was elected to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, again as the first Filipina-American woman, along with such stars as Keira Knightley and Columbia alum Jake Gyllenhaal.

Clemente transferred from Lehigh to Barnard College in 1990, and "was really excited that I was able to start [on the tennis team] right away. The team was really strong and very competitive." It was challenging balancing athletics and academics. "I don't know if I ever really balanced it," she says. "I just remember always trying to keep up. It was amazing! The workload. Very impressive and very challenging." She became interested in filmmaking while at Barnard, producing "Christmas in New York," a short film that won the prestigious Academy Award for Dramatic Short Student Film in 1997.

An English major with a minor in theater and creative writing, Clemente graduated in 1993 and worked in theatre for two years. "I worked backstage, running sound - in one play I was in charge of all the blood where there was a dinner party and everyone is killed," she remembers. She moved on to a production assistant position for the renowned documentary filmmaker Maysles Films, and was a receptionist for a commercial production company.

But "what I wanted was to learn more - I'm foundation oriented," Clemente says. She was accepted to the American Film Institute's Master of Fine Arts program, but almost didn't go. "I had just gotten a promotion at work and declined. But my father called them and asked ?please give her a couple of days - I think this is her dream,'" and she decided to go. "I went out there with a computer and a suitcase," she says.

The program "provided great mentors" and a network of "alums, people I went to school with" to rely on as she made her way in Hollywood. After graduation she worked as a line producer on "The Debut," an independent Filipino American film. "It was amazingly hard work," Clemente recalls. "I learned so many lessons."

A mutual friend introduced Clemente to Rob Pearlstein, her "Our Time Is Up" director and co-producer. "I never thought [Our Time is Up] would be so successful," she says. Indeed at the time the nominations were announced she was thinking of leaving the business and "moving to Atlanta" to be near a brother and his family, and "having a quieter, smaller life."

The nomination "reinvigorated my career and passion for filmmaking," says Clemente. "I realized that I had this path in front of me and I had nothing to lose by walking down it. I'm still trying to figure out my way," but she's learned that "in addition talent you need perseverance." For young filmmakers "it's okay to be discouraged. It's a tough business. Just keep trying. With regard to the future, I'm fortunate to do what I do but no matter what's happens," says Clemente, "I'll keep walking."

— Stephen Eschenbach

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