Like millions of people around the world, Sara Sunshine Ludder plans to watch the 75th annual Academy Awards on March 23.
While many of us will be parked in front of the television at home in pajamas, Ludder, a Fairfax native, will actually be at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood with her fingers crossed that the film she worked on will be a winner.
The 26-year-old graduate of Robinson Secondary School is part of a team that is up for an Oscar for "Daughter From Danang" as Best Documentary Feature.
"It's fabulous! I'm extremely happy that it happened," said Ludder from her Oakland, Calif., home. She was the associate producer and assistant editor on the film.
The movie, which has already won the Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Film of 2002, tells the story of Mai Thi Hiep, a girl born to an American serviceman and a Vietnamese mother at the height of the Vietnam War.
With her mother fearing for her safety as the war's end approached, Hiep was sent to the United States as part of the Ford administration's "Operation Babylift" relocation and adoption program. After living for 22 years as an American girl named Heidi in a small Tennessee town, Hiep returned to Vietnam and experienced a confusion of clashing cultures when she had an emotional, life-changing reunion with her birth mother.
Ludder, who graduated from Robinson in 1994, said she wore many hats on the film. She worked closely with the producer-director, Gail Dolgin, and Dolgin's co-director, Vincente Franco. Ludder said she did archival research, provided editorial feedback, tracked down Vietnamese musicians for the film's soundtrack and provided financial feedback to investors. Using a business analogy, she said, her job could best be described "as project management."
Back home in Burke, Ludder's mother, Simin Royanian, 57, couldn't resist telling everyone she spoke to about the news after the Oscar nominations were announced Feb. 11.
"I'm just very happy and, of course, proud of her," Royanian said. Ludder said that she, Dolgin, Franco and Kim Roberts, the documentary's editor, celebrated their nomination with "margaritas at a Mexican dive-bar" in San Francisco that evening.
As a young girl growing up in Fairfax, Ludder took an active interest in theater. Local audiences had several opportunities to see her onstage at Robinson when she performed in school plays such as "Les Miserables," "Rhinoceros" and "David and Lisa." After graduation, Ludder said, she spent two years at Pomona College in Los Angeles, where her interest shifted away from performing to film production.
Before she joined the "Daughter From Danang" team, Ludder worked on the digital special effects for "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace." That job was followed by a stint as the production coordinator for the 2001 documentary film "Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town."
Since completing her work on "Daughter," Ludder said she has returned to school at Mills College in Oakland, majoring in international studies with a creative writing emphasis. Last year she visited Iran, her mother's birth country, and said she hopes to return soon to possibly film a documentary there about families separated by international conflicts.
Ludder said she hasn't had time to think too much about what she might be wearing on Oscar night. "I don't know -- probably something vintage from a thrift store," she said.
Are there any Hollywood luminaries she'd like to schmooze with that evening? Ludder laughed. "I'm not much of a celebrity stalker. But I'll tell who I wouldn't mind meeting: Christopher Walken."
That encounter could happen. Walken is a nominee for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the Steven Spielberg feature "Catch Me If You Can." Ludder said she has long admired Walken's offbeat style.
Growing up, Ludder said, she dreamed she would get an Oscar for acting. But she said winning it for her work on this film would be "more true to my values in a broader context. In a way, that's much more satisfying."