Lives not Grades film poster
A team of USC college students travels to Moria Camp in Greece, known as "the worst refugee camp on earth," to design and build innovations that can improve the lives of refugees fleeing wars and natural disasters.

A Story for a Generation Hungry for Impact and Change

When people think about mitigating global crises, they naturally turn to politicians, diplomats, and overstretched humanitarian agencies. No one turns to college students for the answers. This film challenges that. It asks the question "what if we used the same passion and intellect that went into designing the iPhone and self-driving cars to solve the greatest challenges of our time? What if that's what we taught in schools?"

At its heart, Lives Not Grades is a dramatic, thrilling, and inspirational story embedded in geopolitical events. It is an honest look at the innovation process, the importance of learning from failure, and the role of education itself in a time when educational models are being challenged.

Witness the crisis through the eyes of the students as they race against the clock, their own fears and shortcomings in tackling what has been described as "the greatest humanitarian crisis since WW2." Through an intimate lens—in a way that humanitarian crisis and college courses have not yet converged on film—the film appeals to Gen-Z'ers empowered to spark change.

It facilitates a timely conversation about the role of engineering, technology, education, and young people in addressing wicked problems. The filmmakers hope to create a synergy between the film and existing campaigns around tech for good, forced migration, social entrepreneurship, youth advocacy, and innovation.

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Europe's largest refugee camp

Credits

Daniel Druhora

DIRECTOR

Dan Druhora
Daniel has worked on the development and post-production of feature films The Land, Gangster Squad, and The Lego Movie. Following his own experience as an émigré to the U.S. in the aftermath of Romania’s 1989 Revolution, Daniel has been involved in humanitarian development work in several countries which influences his work. His screenplay “Climbers” about Rwanda’s Olympic cycling team has been optioned by Paris-based Forecast Pictures. Daniel is the co-founder of U.K.-based Safe Passage Films and is currently producing I Am Sarah about Olympic swimmer, humanitarian and accused “criminal mastermind” Sarah Mardini for European broadcasters ARD and ARTE. His short film “Elie’s Overcoat” won an MPSE Golden Reel Award. Daniel teaches "Innovation in Engineering and Design for Global Crises" - a course open to all majors - and serves as an advisor to student teams launching social innovation startups. He is also the creator and co-host of "Escape Velocity," a podcast about the human side of engineering.

Teodora Totoiu

CINEMATOGRAPHER

Teodora Totoiu
Teodora Totoiu is a Romanian-American cinematographer based in Seattle. Her background in anthropology and photography inspires her creative approach when shooting scripted narrative and documentary film. With a passion for visual storytelling, she enjoys collaborating and working creatively to echo each director's vision through texture and movement that best supports story. Her recent work includes "Waterschool" (2017), which is currently streaming on Netflix, "Francesco" (2020) directed by Academy Award-nominated Evgeny Afineevsky and most recently, "Lady Cameraman" (2020) which premiered at EnergaCAMERIMAGE in November 2020. Her work spans internationally with projects in Brazil, Italy, Greece, Czech Republic, Austria, Romania, Uganda, India, China and across the U.S.

Rommel Villa

EDITOR

Rommel Villa
Rommel Villa is an Academy Award-winning editor and director born and raised in Sucre, Bolivia. His interest in telling stories started at an early age, creating fictional stories about his family having superpowers while fighting poverty and corruption. He holds a Bachelor’s in Systems Engineering and MFA in Film and TV Production from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. He is the recipient of the Lionsgate and Televisa fund for Latinx filmmakers and won multiple grants in support of telling stories that explore the lives of overlooked scientists including the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Science Grant. His short film "Sweet Potatoes" based on the life of Luis Miramontes, the Mexican scientist who in 1951, synthesized the main hormone of the birth control pill, won the 2020 Student Academy Award. In the last three years, he has edited three feature films, over ten short films, and a variety of music videos, animations, and AR/VR content. Passionate about education, he is also a Motion Picture Editing Adjunct Professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Eric Han

SOUND DESIGNER

Eric Han
A SoCal native, Eric Han was born in L.A. and spent most of his childhood in Riverside. After making several short films during high school, Eric decided to pursue a degree filmmaking and visual arts at the University of California, San Diego. Initially interested in directing and writing, Eric was exposed to the world of sound after taking a class on sound design. He has since designed sound for many independent films and documentaries. He graduated from USC's Film and Television Production MFA program specializing in sound and now freelances in both production and post-production sound.

Alejandro Briceño

COMPOSER

Alejandro Briceno

Alejandro Briceño is a composer, music producer and guitarist who began his career in Venezuela playing with various local bands. He attended the Federico Villena School of Music and the Conservatory of Music in Maracay, Venezuela, studying classical guitar and jazz. He later moved to Miami to attend the University of Miami obtaining a degree in Music Production & Composition followed by USC’s screen scoring program. He has played with multiple Grammy-winning artists and is currently composing, arranging, producing, and playing various film, television and radio productions.

Adam Smith

CO-PRODUCER

Adam Smith
Adam Smith is the chief creative content officer of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, overseeing stories and creative marketing strategies. As the project leader of “The Next MacGyver,” Adam helped launched a global competition to develop the first TV show with a female engineer lead, in partnership with top Hollywood producers, the National Academy of Engineering, Google and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Adam and the USC Viterbi marketing team have received five CASE Gold Awards for its alumni magazine, videos and strategic marketing campaigns. Previously, Adam helped launch the USC American Academy in China at the USC School of Architecture (including the first Western exhibition at the Beijing Urban Planning Center), developed new shows for ESPN, Discovery Channel and A&E for Pathway Productions and won awards for writing, design and photography as a journalist for The Indianapolis Star, Chicago Sun-Times and Union County Advocate. As a screenwriter, Adam’s great love is science fiction and fantasy, stories where the possibilities are endless: from Oz to a cornfield in Iowa where Shoeless Joe can say it ain’t so; from Tatooine to Punxsutawney, PA where a weatherman can live the same day forever.

Burcin Becerik-Gerber

CO-PRODUCER

Burcin Becerik-Gerber
Becerik-Gerber is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at USC Viterbi. She is a world renowned researcher and innovator in the field of built environments, machine intelligence, and systems thinking. Specifically, her work focuses on the acquisition, modeling, and analysis of the data needed for user-centered built environments, and the development of novel frameworks and visualization techniques to improve built-environment sustainability and efficiency, while increasing user satisfaction. Her work, which has received support worth over 8 million dollars from a variety of sources, including National Science Foundation, Department of Energy and Department of Transportation, brings together a variety of disciplines, such as engineering, design, computer science, psychology and architecture. She co-founded and co-teaches the course "Innovation In Engineering and Design for Global Challenges" and has helped launch a number of student-driven social enterprises.

Brad Cracchiola

CO-PRODUCER

Brad Cracchiola
Cracchiola started his career with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the forensic engineering firm Exponent, and eventually transitioned into the product design/development industry. In 2004 Brad joined BMW Designworks, a global creative consultancy, where he is currently an Associate Director overseeing global project management and leads technical projects. He has collaborated with clients including Microsoft, Disney, Herman Miller and the US Olympic teams, as well as several startups, and has experience developing products across various industries including consumer electronics, wearable technology, medical devices, sporting equipment, furniture and more. At USC, he co-founded and co-teaches "Innovation in Engineering and Design for Global Challenges" and helps students launch social innovation startups.

David Gerber

CO-PRODUCER

David Gerber
David Gerber's professional experience includes working in architectural, engineering, research and technology practices in the United States, Europe, India and Asia for Zaha Hadid Architects in London; for Gehry Technologies in Los Angeles; for Moshe Safdie Architects in Massachusetts; The Steinberg Group Architects in California; and for Arup as the Global Research Manager. His research has won multiple awards from industry, fellowships, and the National Science Foundation and is focused on the development of innovative systems, tools, methods for design of the built environment. He currently advises, and co advises multi-disciplinary student teams on topics that integrate design, architecture, engineering, and computation in pursuit of design and engineering solutions to global crisis and is a co-founder of the course "Innovation in Engineering and Design for Global Challenges." David's research and entrepreneurial focus is on the development of computational tools to automate the management and sustainability of complex design and engineering projects.

EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS

Yannis Yortsos, Sonny Astani, Patrick Natale

CO-EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS

Albert Dorman, Lucio Soibelman, Camille Gear Rich, Bryan Min

FUNDED BY

United Engineering Foundation, Provost's Wicked Problems Practicum, Astani Enterprises, USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

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Student at the Moira Camp in Greece

Published on April 22nd, 2021

Last updated on May 6th, 2021