Eric Draper/AP/Wide World
April 23, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

In less than a year, Keiko Ibi has gone from being another film-school graduate with an interesting thesis project to an Academy Award-winning filmmaker. Ibi, whose HBO-produced film ”The Personals: Improvisations on Romance in the Golden Years” won an Oscar this March for best Documentary Short Subject, is now famous for giving the most sincere acceptance speech in an otherwise drab ceremony. A month later, 32-year-old Ibi tells EW Online she’s still surprised by her sudden success. ”When I was making this film the Academy Awards was not what I was thinking about. The most I was hoping was to get it on TV, like on PBS or something,” Ibi says. ”I’m so overwhelmed by all this attention — doing interviews and making appearances. I was not prepared for so much to happen.”

As Ibi’s original wish comes true (”The Personals,” which follows an acting troupe of Manhattan senior citizens rehearsing and performing a play about elderly love, debuts on HBO’s Signature Channel this Sunday at 8 p.m.) she is busy changing her directorial focus to another niche of American culture: Texan high school cheerleaders. During an ESPN presentation of a national cheerleading competition several months ago, she became instantly fascinated with cheering. Because her husband Greg Pak (the cinematographer on ”Personals”) hails from Dallas, she found a local school there with a nationally ranked cheerleading team. Ibi will spend several weeks this academic year with her adopted team: ”I called the school and asked if I could follow them around for a while, and they actually said yes. It’s intriguing to explore how these girls grow up being taught to cheerlead, and why it’s so important to the whole community.” With Ibi’s luck, she could be yelling ”Gimme an O” again next March.

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