Youth Free Expression Program Film Contest

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Promo video by Ani Akpan, 2013 Youth Film Contest Winner.

The National Coalition Against Censorship just celebrated its 40th year: Happy Birthday to Us! And for our Eleventh Annual Youth Free Expression Program Film Contest, we asked teens 19 and younger to make a film about a censorship issue or event from the past 40 years, or explore what they think will be the major free speech issues of the future. Most importantly, our directors must be engaging and informative, while showing how their topic fits in a historical context.

The FREE screening will take place on March 21, 2015 at the New York Film Academy: 17 Battery Place, New York, NY 10004 at 12:30pm.

For more information about this contest: visit the rules and frequently asked questions. You can also check out the previous years’ winners below.

We’re proud to announce the winners of our Eleventh Annual Youth Film Contest. They are:

1. Anne Wade (Cullowhee, North Carolina)

“Don’t Let Them Take Your Voice”

ARTIST STATEMENT:

“My film is a black and white silent film that was created out of a desire to speak out against censorship in schools across the nation using a unique and creative idea that engaged myself and a group of my friends. In my video, a student attempts to put up posters that speak out against censorship, but her efforts are thwarted by an authority figure in a menacing suit. This authority figure changes the messages that the student is trying to put out using a roll of black duct tape. Eventually, the student returns to her classroom, only to find that her fellow students have been “censored” and their actions dictated by the authority antagonist. I chose to attack censorship in schools through this project after having a conversation with a teacher about how the administration of my home high school discourages students from doing or creating anything that contradicts them or seemingly sheds light on the darker sides of public education. This film was made without the help of a teacher or instructor, as I go to a small high school in a small town without any kind of media program. My friends were the actors and the camera was borrowed from my father. Overall, this film was created by someone with very limited resources, but it was still created with a message in mind and a story to tell.”

2. James Tortorelli (Gaithersburg, Maryland)

“THREAT”

ARTIST STATEMENT:

“The government has the power to control what we see. Does this not scare you? Especially in the art world, censorship continues to plague and hinder human creativity. In my short form animation I imagined a world where some of the most iconic pieces of artwork in the world have been censored, as many of modern works have been.”

3. Mackenzie Mae Stewart (Gilbert, Arizona)

“FLOOD”

ARTIST STATEMENT:

“I attempted to artfully capture symbols and express their meaning through a modernistic lens, something that I believe is quintessential to experimental films, which I here attempt to emulate. I refrained from using spoken word to dilute the action of the narrative, instead using intensity of sound to guide the viewer.

Peter Turnley published the photo essay entitled “The Unseen Gulf War” which divulged all of the photos he was able to capture during Desert Storm, none of which had been published. Why? I am certain you have heard tell of the “pool system,” which was means to the governments control–and therefore censorship–of the media that defined the war as American saw it. Peter Turnley abandoned his pool in order to take the photos included in this essay, and sought the truth despite this censorship. I respect his journalistic instincts to seek the truth, and that was my inspiration for this film.

Included in my film are many symbols, intended to hint at these ideas without explicitly stating them. From the jar representing the blood of the lost soldiers, the “handicaps” placed on the journalists, and the vague inklings of struggle and war all serve to create emotion in lieu of a definitive narrative, a concept of which I admire in experimental films.”

PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD, for the film with the most views on YouTube:

Sasha Betzer (Olathe, Kansas)

“Unmask Us”

ARTIST STATEMENT:

“The mask of culture questions the effectiveness of the 1st amendment’s right to freedom of speech and expression. Not only do mundane social exchanges embody our feelings of imprisonment within society, but so do specific roles given to a gender, which we have acquired since birth. The redundancy of structure can shield one’s mind from what she or he truly believes to be real. The truth about gender roles is represented by the absence of color, and in this short film, I explore the aggressive spaces which define the female—the absence of love and the anticlimactic attempts at feeling joy by abandoning one’s true self.  “Unmask Us” is an experimental film that expresses the way I personally feel as an adolescent growing up within a society that always has me second guessing myself. Spliced scenes were added in the editing process to act as awkward social exchanges. The symbols within the film represent how the inevitable circumstances of society have altered my actions. When the girl (Emily Nicholson) is wearing the mask, she falsely appears to be expressing joy, but when she is unmasked, her attitude becomes mundane and somber. Sometimes being accepted for what one is not is easier than being repudiated for what one is. My hope in making this film is to challenge today’s youth to express their true selves and to face society’s expectations unmasked.”

Semi-finalists:

Kenya Bullock (Trenton, New Jersey)

“Breaking Free”

ARTIST STATEMENT:

“Society usually makes us confined into these tight spaces that gives us little to no breathing room. In the film Breaking Free, a “sculpture” gets interviewed about what their initial goal was for the end result of the art piece, and how that didn’t go so well when the sculptors: “Society”started to take over.

 Happiness is an important part of life, and having the ability to control that is even more important. Adults, sometimes want to live their dream through teens, and forget that your personal goal for life matters the most.

 Breaking Free sends a message to teenagers around the world that want to control their own destinies. You do not have to be a sculpture to be successful. Break Free and be your own person, with the help of others; life is better that way.”

Connor Harris (Phoenix, Arizona)

“Free to Speak”

ARTIST STATEMENT:

“The film represents my feelings regarding free speech. I believe that the ability to speak freely is the predominant factor in maintaining liberty, as well as an indicator which measures the amount of liberty we possess. With this in mind, I constructed the voiceover. The shots are representative of the beauty of liberty, and are meant to persuade towards the cause of freedom.”

Arianna McDaniels (West Haven, Connecticut)

“Different”

ARTIST STATEMENT:

“My video is about the censorship against gays. It shows how free speech allows them to express themselves and their beliefs. Defending free speech allows anyone freedom of expression of any medium which enables our society to be more accepting. Without free speech there would be no gay rights.

 I displayed my concept through stock footage clips that related to the topic to set the mood. I then connected a school experience to the topic to show how it relates to people in my society.

 I chose this topic because it held my interest. The actual questioning of why society isn’t accepting even today of gays. This would result in censorship of the media and in public. Censorship is the present and historic enemy of gay freedom and rights.

 My creative process included drawing out a very detailed storyboard. I proceeded to do some research about my topic. After I did some research, I wrote out the script and tried to connect it fully to the concept and the video clips that I added in.”

Patrick Utz (Walnut, California)

“Grass”

ARTIST STATEMENT:

“How many of us can say that as individuals, we truly feel as though we have the power to be heard by our world? The country? Even our communities? Often times, we are simply a grain of sand on a beach of millions of others fighting for this very spotlight. We feel very mundane, like nobodies, like… grass.

The video explores a world about something many people take for granted: grass. It poses the first question, “have you ever thought about grass?” While many of us may have taken notice of grass for its collective utility, it has never really been the highlight of anybody’s day. The connection between grass and the average individual can be seen immediately. It is the lack of value placed on each single blade that is an individual which censors the entire field of young people.

To be disheartened by people who ignore youth, adults or communities alike, is easy. Everyone has their own share of troubles on the path of life. In taking a stand against our own insignificance and facing our fears in overcoming obstacles that may block our path, we survive. No matter how people perceive our image, it is through the efforts that we make, that we become great. The very power to be heard and be taken seriously is rooted in our abilities to endure and strive towards this greatness. Every blade of grass and every individual has a story in this place. We are life.”

Ryker Wells (Prescott Valley, Arizona)

“Peace at War”

ARTIST STATEMENT:

“This film pictures three adults in a sandbox arguing over how to run the sandbox. My reason for making this was to exhibit the American government on how it rules over the United States. My inspiration for this was the occurrence of the government shutdown in 2013.”

Taylor Wood (Scottsdale, Arizona)

“E. Roosevelt Street”

ARTIST STATEMENT:

“In the early 1990s, Roosevelt St. or Roosevelt Row as it is known today was seen as one of the worse parts of the city. Occupied by gangs and drug houses, downtown Phoenix was looked at as a place of work, not a place to live. In the 90s there was a movement to bring artwork to the community through galleries and street art. Because of this movement, Rosevelt Row has turned into one of the most desirable areas of downtown Phoenix.

 E. Roosevelt Row is an artist profile of Jesse Perry, an artist who has been instrumental in showcasing Arizona’s culture in his murals. Street art is a part of my daily life, and the goal of this project was to shine a light on a form of art that is oftentimes overlooked.

 The creative process for me consisted of various interviews with artists, talking with local residents and researching the history of street art in Phoenix in order to properly showcase it in this project.”

NCAC’s Youth Free Expression Program Film Contest is made possible by generous support from the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation and the New York Film Academy.

Film Contest Archives
2013 Video Games in the Crosshairs
2012 You’re Reading WHAT?!?! 
2011 Censorship BYTES! Speech in Cyberspace
2010 I’m All For Free Speech, BUT…
2009 Free Speech in School (Does it Exist?)
2008 My Vote for Free  Speech!
2007  How Does Censorship Affect Me?
2006  War and (Free) Speech: Can They Co-Exist? 
2005  Does Free Speech Matter?
2004  What do you think of the state of free speech and democracy in the United States?