At Connecticut College's 2019 commencement, Morin was recognized when his student won the Oakes and Louise Ames Prize for Outstanding Honors Study. Morin: "I have never worked so hard with a student on anything in my life and I have never seen a student pull off such an incredible feat with the production of this film. I'm so, so proud that he received this honor."
Excerpts from the Commencement text:
Samuel Simonds, Film Studies major, is awarded the Oakes and Louise Ames Prize for his honors thesis in the Department of Film Studies, “Smoke of the Sea: A’Tolan Amis Resistance to Colonized Consciousness Through Resurgence of Traditional Epistemologies, Contemporary Existence and Collective Community.” A multipart creative project, Simonds’ thesis culminated in a short dramatic fiction film that explores the complexities of death, sickness, rebirth and reconciliation within a community whose cultural identity has been damaged by colonization and Western influence, and yet endures.
Set in Taiwan, Smoke of the Sea tells the story of a young girl who is dying from a mysterious sickness and must journey into the world of her Amis ancestors to rediscover her connection with herself, the land, and her culture to find a cure. The work is deeply spiritually introspective, using irony and humor to engage with those from Westernized perspectives. It challenges Western perceptions of health and science as practices based on observable truths in the physical world and explores how “old” traditional ways can be corrupted by capitalism, technology and U.S. culture, but also how they can endure and adapt to new influences and modern-day life.
The film was shot in Dulan, Taipei and Taitung City, Taiwan. It stars Amis actors from Dulan and is based on personal stories and accounts from many of the stars and crew of the film as well as cultural histories from elders of the Dulan Amis community. The dialogue is in three languages—Taiwanese, Mandarin and Amis—and Simonds worked with 26 actors, including children, and 31 crew members, many of whom speak Mandarin or Amis exclusively, to create the work.
In addition to the final film, Simonds’ thesis work consists of 15 unique screenplay drafts in English and five additional drafts in Mandarin; a 300 page document containing a producer’s notebook, a director’s notebook and a publicity campaign; and an immersive anthropological research experience. Chair of the Film Studies Department and Associate Professor of Film Studies, Ross Morin, who served as Simonds’ thesis adviser, describes the scope and quality of the project as unprecedented and exceptional. “It is beyond the undergraduate level, it is beyond the graduate level; it is at the professional level,” Morin said. “Sam has put the liberal arts into action as a global citizen as a storyteller, as a businessperson, as a manager, as a researcher and as an artist … if I had to guess, I would say that I will never again see a project of this level of ambition or execution in my career.”