UT Alum Wins Oscar for Documentary on High School Football
KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Dozens of Oscars were handed out to some of the most talented artists in Hollywood Sunday night, and one went to a producer who has roots in Knoxville.
Rich Middlemas graduated from the University of Tennessee's Communication and Information program in 1997. Now he's an Oscar-winning producer, taking home the gold statuette for best documentary.
The idea for his film, "Undefeated," came from his love of UT football. An article about a possible recruit led him to Memphis in 2009. From there the journey to Hollywood's biggest night was underway.
Dr. Peter Gross, director of communication and information at UT, says it's inspiring to see former students achieve such grand success. "Many of our students go on to win high awards, but this was exceptional," he said.
For current students studying journalism and electronic media, the win gives them hope for their own futures.
"It sets a new standard and a higher goal for people in the college," said sophomore Hannah Cather.
It's a goal that has senior Sidney Simmons already preparing his acceptance speech if he gets the chance to step onto Oscar's stage. "I'd have to give my props to UT," he said. "I couldn't have done it without them."
Dr. Gross says the UT family is large and has always been successful.
For Middlemas, UT runs in his blood. His father, Bill Middlemas, received his undergraduate and master's degrees from UT and now serves on the UT Development Council.
"This is just another example of the many successes here at the university," said Gross.
Middlemas' documentary is about underprivileged student-athletes at Manassas High School in Memphis and the coach who helped take the team to its first victory in history.
The film will open in select cities including Memphis, Chicago and San Francisco on March 2.
Middlemas wasn't the only East Tennessean to take home gold from the Oscars. Writer/director Gore Verbinski is originally from Oak Ridge. He's well known for directing the first three films in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. He was awarded best animated feature for his film "Rango."
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