2020 SVA Memorial Award Recipient: Julia Ward

DECEMBER 11, 2020

We are so excited to announce the 2020 of the Russell J. Efros Memorial Award Fund from the School of Visual Arts – Julia Ward.  The funds from the award helped Julia Ward complete her thesis project: Panic Never Pays. The film chronicles her family’s unusual experience during 9/11 and after. Congrats Julia!


Tell us a little bit about yourself
My name’s Julia! I was born in New York but raised in Princeton, NJ. I am passionate about story-telling and enjoy doing so by editing films and working in Digital Media. I discovered my love of editing and film-making when I was 9 years old. I would watch Youtube videos and try to recreate them using my friend’s photobooth and imovie programs on their Macbook.

Unlike the various sports I played or clubs I joined, film stuck with me. I struggled academically growing up as I have dyslexia. Learning was challenging for me but art came naturally. I knew I had found my hobby/passion because it was all I wanted to do and for many hours in the day, was all I did do. Unlike math or science, I excelled at it. I knew at an early age I had found my purpose and would go on to expand my knowledge and gain more experience in college at film school. When I’m not editing, I enjoy spending time with friends and family, going for runs and indulging in a good book. I am a daughter to two amazing parents, a younger sister to two role model siblings, and [possibly biased here] the “cool” aunt to 4 adorable nieces and nephews. Donating to, and volunteering for, charities is something that I am very passionate about and hope to do more of. I love working with others and meeting new people. I feel very fortunate and grateful for the life I have and hope through film-making and giving back, I can make a difference.

What inspired you to create the film ‘Panic Never Pays’?

I was only three years old when the events of September 11th took place but it changed my DNA. I have clear and distinct memories from that day. Despite my young age, I knew that my father worked in one of the towers. I remember understanding what I was seeing – the television showing people jumping from the towers, my mother and siblings crying and the phone constantly ringing. I knew something bad had happened but I wasn’t able to fully process it all. The days and weeks that followed my parents did what they felt was best for us to move forward. That meant trying to return to some kind of “normalcy” [whatever that means]. My siblings and I returned to school, my parents returned to work and we hardly ever spoke or addressed what our family had just experienced. My siblings were much older than myself when the events took place. They were able to process it as it happened and move forward because of that level of understanding. However, as I grew older I had questions. Lots of them. Many of which went unanswered or were met with censored explanations to shield me from the harsh reality of what took place. How did my father escape the 60th floor of the South Tower? What happened inside those Towers? What happened to those who didn’t get out? Why did my father return home, but so many other families didn’t get the same happy ending as mine? For a while I took it upon myself to find answers since I wasn’t getting them elsewhere. In doing so, I came across a lot of heavy material to digest for a person of any age and despite all of those efforts, a lot of my questions were still unanswered. I knew the only way to get the truth was from the source itself, my family.

“At the age of 21, I hoped that by finally speaking about what really happened with those who experienced it firsthand, I would get the sense of closure I had been longing for and felt like was missing. That perhaps by talking about it, we could all heal in a sense. That was only one inspiration for ‘Panic Never Pays’.” 

Every year when the anniversary of September 11th rolls around, you turn on the TV, what do you see? Archival news coverage of the Towers being hit? Photos of the wreckage in Pennsylvania? Or how about statistics of how many lives were lost? It is rare that I turn on a television on the Anniversary, but when I have in the past, without fail, that is what I see and it has never sat well with me. There were people in those towers. People on those flights. Close to 3,000 people died on September 11th but those numbers had names and faces. They were someone’s mother, partner, friend. They were much more than a statistic on a screen. I was inspired to make this documentary to show some of those stories, to put faces and names to those numbers.

“I believe it is dangerous to remember those we lost simply as that because when you do, you make it easier to detach from the event…you make it easier to forget them. When people say “never forget” I want them to remember the innocent souls we lost, not the way in which they were killed. I feel like we owe it to them.”

This was another inspiration and motivation for ‘Panic Never Pays’.

What was the most challenging part about creating this film? Most rewarding?

‘Panic Never Pays’ was shot last year but it took years of planning to get there. Each phase [pre-production, production and post production] had their own challenges. One of the overarching challenges was mentally preparing myself to discuss and then share these stories. These stories have lived within each of the four interviewees and myself for quite some time, yet it either felt too soon or too difficult to share. But then I asked myself, “if not now, when?”. I put an immense amount of pressure on myself from the beginning because I wanted to tell them in the most professional, respectful and tasteful manner. This was not simply another “9/11” film. These were real and vulnerable firsthand experiences and I had the honor of documenting them. I was an Editing major. I had no previous directing experience, especially in documentary. There were many times I doubted my ability to do this. I never was a risk taker but this wasn’t about me. This was about the four individuals, their stories and all of those who never got the chance to tell theirs. Even despite years of planning, things still went wrong. And that’s okay. Instead of panicking and stressing about the things I couldn’t control (like I normally do), I learned to accept and trouble-shoot them instead. I learned that challenges aren’t always a bad thing. Now a year later reflecting on the challenges I faced throughout this journey, I am grateful to have experienced them because as Fred Devito once wisely said “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you”. This film will forever have a lasting impact on me and the way I move forward in life. It challenged, inspired and humbled me. I created something I am incredibly proud of and without those obstacles, ‘Panic Never Pays’ would not be what it is. To see the challenges I faced and overcame, was a reward in itself.

If you could share any advice with a freshman film student what would it be? 

“Take risks. Some of the best experiences, opportunities and stories I’ve had all derive from a risk I chose to take at one point in time.”

I encourage freshmen to do the same. As that saying goes, “life begins at the end of your comfort zone”. Remember that and carry it with you throughout the next four years. Say yes, no matter how nervous you are. You never know where a “risk” could lead or what you’ll learn by taking one. Be open to new experiences, try new things! You might go into college wanting to be a director and end up leaving an editor. Collaborate with fellow classmates. Steven Spielberg still works with the same crew he started with. Your peers are your allies. The sooner you start networking, the more opportunities you will be presented with. Lastly, work hard but also enjoy your four years there. It’s cliche, but they really do fly by and you will most certainly miss it.

What sprouts your creativity?

I get a lot of inspiration from hearing of, or reading about, human stories and experiences. Recently, I’ve found myself gravitating towards projects that embody this. Real stories. I’ve always loved learning what shapes a person into who they are today or how people overcome challenges. After watching my father survive both terrorist attacks at the WTC and then later Stage 4 cancer, I matured at a very young age. I understood what death was and how precious life is. I began to become more aware of what others around me might be going through. Their stories. People constantly joke with me that I’m an old soul, wise beyond my years. While that may be true, I think those events more so made me a very empathetic person. I enjoy listening to others, learning about and from them. I think there is a lot you can learn about yourself when you do so.