Over 100 teen filmmakers spoke Truth to Power for this year’s YFEP Film Contest. We invited teens to speak directly to those in power to lead change about issues that matter to them. The 12 finalist films tackled a wide range of polarizing, and often taboo, topics including gun violence, immigrant family separation, gender equality, toxic masculinity, shaming and bullying, and climate change.

Together with the Chairs of the New York Film Academy Departments of Documentary Film and Cinematography, artist and guest judge Sheryl Oring screened the top 12 films and selected 3 winners. The second place awards were given to films that artfully tackled the taboo topics of sexual assault and toxic masculinity.  First Place went to Dear America, an open letter on gun violence from Generation Z, directed by Molly Smith and Sage Croft. 

The top three filmmakers will receive cash prizes of $1,000, $500 and $250.  The first place winner will also receive a scholarship to the New York Film Academy.

FIRST PLACE WINNERS: Molly Smith and Sage Croft (Clermont, FL)

Dear America

Issue: Gun Violence

Audience: American citizens

Dear America is an open letter on the topic of gun control from Generation Z, co-directed by 19-year-olds Molly Smith and Sage Croft of Clermont, FL. The film was produced by a cast of 20 students ranging from ages 5-19 and spotlights the psychological impact of gun violence on youth. Among a competitive field, Dear America won the judges’ highest scores for its clear message and compelling visual technique.

Judges’ notes: Incredibly forceful message from a strong voiced filmmaker. The script is pitch perfect, the delivery even better (strong acting = great directing). The camera work and composition are spot on, very advanced.

SECOND PLACE: Taylor Richardson (Edgewater, NJ)


Issue: Sexual Assault

Audience: Presidential nominees

Taylor Richardson’s emotionally-charged film, Shame, depicts a group of students’ responses to sexual assault and “speaks to the power of a woman’s truth in society.” In a very close race, the judges were blown away by the stark, devastating beauty of this film.

I hope “Shame” encourages the nominee to not shy away from acknowledging the faults in our society perpetuated by the government and to take immediate action to protect and raise the voices of women and other marginalized individuals over the course of their campaign and presidency.

Judges’ notes: Wow – professional quality sound design and the cinematography is outstanding! Overall really effective project and a very strong portrayal of the impacts of sexual violence. It got at the emotion behind the issues in a powerful way.  

THIRD PLACE: Cerys Rotondo

I Am a Man

Issue: Toxic Masculinity

Audience: General public

Harkening back to the Civil Rights Movement with her title, Cerys calls on viewers to challenge socially constructed ideas of masculinity and consider how those norms suppress voices and create predetermined roles. Judges praised Cerys for “making a single story the story of many” with her experimental film, which uses poetry and skillful camera movement to portray diverse male perspectives and experiences.

From the very start little boys are taught to be strong and to build up walls that tend to never come down.  Talking about men who have been sexually assaulted or harassed is taboo in our society. We hear women share countless stories and see organizations coming together for women and their experiences with sexual assault yet neglect the other 10%. We never talk about the one in six males that will experience sexual assault. (W)hy do we limit victims to one gender? Why can’t we as a society accept that men aren’t brick walls?

You reading this, have the power to change these social norms and eliminate toxic masculinity. You have power in everything you say, tweet, post, and do. Raise your little boys and encourage the men in your life to feel what they’re feeling and express their emotions, because if not, how will they ever truly be heard? We have to ask ourselves, how can you expect someone to be vulnerable, when we never allow it?

Congratulations to all of this year’s amazingly talented 2019 YFEP Film contest finalists!

Check out the rest of the semi-finalist films below.

Displacement and Migration

Families Belong Together, by Julieta Figueroa Loor, Adrian Cabrera Tejeda, Dulce Anahi Guevara Barreda and Imanol Obed Matul Perez (Fair Haven Elementary School, CT)

Target audience: The federal government

We all deserve a good life because we are human. It is unfair that undocumented people are placed in a detention center and they have to be wrapped in aluminum, many people come to this country to seek a new life and it is unfair that they do not let people in. (We) would like the government to realize the damage it is doing to undocumented families. No government has the right to separate families and make them suffer.

Palestinians Deserve Peace, Carmen Vincent (Honorable Mention)

Target audience: U.S. Government and Media

After our administration moved the Embassy to Jerusalem and declared it the capital of Israel, so much changed, but, most of all, Palestinians felt that we had abandoned them. We need to see what is really happening and care about these people, for they are human and deserve so much more than segregation walls, limited water, tear gassing, violence, and oppression.

Our media needs to stop portraying Palestinians as violent people, and start sharing their real, vulnerable stories. I have hope, but we need to speak truth to power, and we need to do it now.

Gender Equality and Toxic Masculinity

Boys Will Be Boys, by Angelina Velis (Ursuline Academy of Dallas)

In response to recent media coverage regarding sexual assault, this short film shows the steps that women take every day to make sure they are not assaulted. Sexual assault is a serious issue and many women are assaulted every day. Women everywhere have to take the extra step to protect themselves while doing everyday things like walking to their car or going out with friends. 1 in 3 teenage girls in Texas will be physically or mentally abused and this short film brings to light the fear that women face while many men never have to think about whether or not someone will assault them.

Nashville Women’s March, by Casey Crowe (Brentwood High School)

A short documentary film covering the 2017 Women’s March on Nashville

Bridging the Political Divide

Civil Discourse?, by Hunter Wanger (Marblehead High School, MA)

Wanger asked people in his neighborhood to share their ideas for building a “more civil and less violent” America.

In order to rectify the stark and violent political divide in the country, the only recourse is to sit down one-on-one and discuss these issues rather than yell anonymously out of a crowd or through the internet. I wanted to make a film addressing this idea because I am unhappy with the state of political discourse in the country and wanted to express this with man on the street style interviews. My film speaks truth to power by telling the political and media establishments that fomenting this divide is not the way forwards for this country, and that the people are not happy with it.


You Reap What You Sow, by Jacob Updyke (Millburn High School, NJ)

Jacob Updyke is an aspiring animator and storyteller who is passionate about environmental activism.  He’s also a 10th grader at Millburn High School. It took him 7 months to teach himself how to create animation, producing 1600 frames by hand.

I hope it will spread awareness about the subject of climate change and ecosystem destruction. We are becoming increasingly more disconnected from these matters and it is my greatest fear that we leave them behind entirely.

Be a little more conscious of what you do. Don’t leave lights on when you leave a room, don’t throw out plastic and prioritize a more efficient means of energy. It’s the little things collectively that kill our planet. I also think we have a responsibility as citizens to get informed and demand our leaders take accountability. The government is not going to change unless we change.

Remembering Maria, by Joshua Soto, Jedriel Albino Fernandez, Yancy Almestica Joseph, Madelin Garcia Peralta, Yairinette Crystal Cordova Rivera (Fair Haven Elementary School, CT)

In Puerto Rico, a hurricane passed. Her name was Maria.

While the hurricane was happening, many people hid in closets and other places so that they and their children (could be) safe. Many of the towns of Puerto Rico were ready for the arrival of the hurricane but some people who did not have homes had to go to some shelters that had water and food…Many people survived but many did not. Many of those people who died were very brave people but also some people died after the hurricane because they had no home and no food. Many people were very sad because some people in their family died.

When I contacted my family they told me that before there was not much gas there was no light but now it is improving because there is light, there is a little gasoline.

Gun Control

Questions need to be asked before bullets begin to fly,” says Mikayla of the message behind her film. “I am mentally and emotionally drained from unarmed African-American(s) being brutally abused and murdered by law enforcers.

Hands Up, Don’t Shoot, by Mikayla Ibrahim

We’re called African Americans, but aren’t treated as such. We say we live in ‘The Land of the Free’ but we aren’t truly free. We live in fear every day that just a routine traffic stop could turn into a murder within a matter of seconds. Questions need to be asked before bullets begin to fly. I feel as though my adaptation should be taken as a lesson to our government, to our law enforcers, to our youth, and any and everyone else who considers themselves as an American.

Sincerely, a Student, by Maya Bernardes

In an open film-letter to the National Rifle Association, Maya also asks critical questions about the gun lobby’s motivations.  

Often, young people of this generation are nervous to speak up on controversial topics, including gun control. I did it the only way I know how- writing a narrative with a moving picture… Experimenting with the impact of music, cut scenes, and voice-overs all compressed my artistic view in storytelling. Within the four minute time limit, I wanted to tell a story about a Student wanting her voice to be heard and truth be told to those in power, as a call for action.