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And the Oscar Goes To....

Xiaoli Zhou on horseback in China.

Xiaoli Zhou makes the seven-hour trek on horseback to reach a remote Mosuo village.

We are delighted to report that one of our FRONTLINE/World Fellows, Xiaoli Zhou, has won a Student Academy Award for her documentary, "The Women's Kingdom," which we debuted on this Web site last year. To notify Xiaoli, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had to track her down in China, where she and her husband Brent Huffman are working these days, making films about China's remote, wilderness areas.

Now the Academy is making arrangements to fly Xiaoli to Hollywood for the June 10 award ceremony where she will find out if she has won a gold, silver or bronze trophy. Xiaoli is competing for top honors with classmate Carrie Lozano, whose film "Reporter Zero" was also nominated for best documentary. Lozano also graduated last year from Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, where FRONTLINE/World is based.

The student Oscars have been around since 1972 and past winners include Spike Lee and Robert Zemeckis. Last year, yet another Berkeley journalism student, Dan Krauss, won for his documentary about a South African photographer, "The Death of Kevin Carter: Casualty of the Bang Bang Club," and then went on to have that engrossing film nominated this year for a regular Oscar. Dan was the cinematographer for our "Rough Cut" video on Namibia, "This Land Is Ours."

We are very proud of Xiaoli, Brent and Sachi Cunningham, all 2005 U.C. Berkeley J-school graduates who filmed and helped edit "The Women's Kingdom." This story has been one of the most popular Fellows and Rough Cut videos we have ever presented. If you haven't seen it yet, by all means take a look at the streaming video and read through all the reacts from around the world.

Woman rowing on lake.

Cha Cuo, the memorable central character in Xiaoli's film, on the beautiful Lugu Lake, in the southwest corner of China.

A Shanghai native, Xiaoli Zhou traveled to a remote southwest corner of China to bring back her beautifully shot story. She takes us into the world of the Mosuo, a mostly Buddhist minority group, whose matriarchy dates back a thousand years.

"I enjoy being a girl," beams a 16-year-old Mosuo. "Girls can do anything. Isn't that great?"

The Chinese are now marketing the Mosuo region -- particularly the beautiful Lugu Lake -- as a tourist destination, attracting tourists with tales of "free love" because Mosuo women refuse to accept traditional marriages. Xiaoli's film introduces us to a memorable Mosuo woman, Cha Cuo, full of life and song and strong convictions, but whose world is now complicated by the arrival of tourists and all that they bring with them.

Our FRONTLINE/World Fellows program, which supports overseas reporting by select grad students of journalism like Xiaoli, is generously underwritten by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Launched in February 2003, our program has awarded 17 travel grants and provided mentoring to students who have roamed the globe, reporting from more than 20 countries.

We recently selected another group of four Fellows from U.C. Berkeley who will receive travel grants of $2,500 each to help finance their reporting in Liberia, the Russian Far East, on China's "new wave" filmmakers, and in France on the national debate over the future of work. And soon we will announce four additional Graduate School of Journalism grant recipients, two from Columbia and two from Northwestern.

Incidentally, for those of you keeping track of our awards, we lost out to Google Earth in our recent Webby nomination in the Broadband category, but if you have to lose to someone on the Web, it may as well be Google, which happens to be the Number 1. site referring visitors to FRONTLINE/World.

Meanwhile, we look forward to more films from Xiaoli Zhou and wish her good luck on that red carpet.