"Youth Voices Uncensored" Presents Films By and For Teens, and the Winning Films of 2009 YFEN Film Contest
Filmmakers gather to share views on media, activism and free speech

NEW YORK – On Saturday, March 27, 1:00 PM, NCAC screens the winners of the 2009 Youth Free Expression Network (YFEN) film contest at its annual Youth Voices Uncensored event at the New York Film Academy at 100 East 17th Street in Manhattan.
"One the most urgent issues we face today is the virtually unchecked assault on the free speech rights of young people. They are especially vulnerable to being controlled and silenced, even though arguably they are the very ones who most need First Amendment protection," says NCAC executive director Joan Bertin.

Young filmmakers from around the country responded to this year’s competition theme, "Free Speech in Schools (Does it Exist?)."  Entries focused on a range of issues including censorship of student newspapers, strict dress codes, academic freedom, and self-censorship. Such a response seems to indicate that students still face challenges to their free speech in school, even 40 years after the famous Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines when the court ruled in favor of students suspended over their views on the Vietnam War.

"Freedom of speech in schools unfortunately does not exist," says First Place winner, Jordan Allen of Glendora, California. "Schools are making strides to allow children this right, yet they have a long way to go until they can ultimately claim a child’s speech ‘free.’"

The Youth Free Expression Network film contest, now in its 6th year, gives young filmmakers the chance to have their work viewed and judged by a jury of prominent filmmakers, playwrights and producers. All winners receive a cash prize and first place winners receive a scholarship to the New York Film Academy.

At the event, NCAC will announce the launch of the 2010 film contest. There will also be a special performance by hip hop artist and film contest judge, Kahlil Almustafa.

WHO: Youth Voices Uncensored is hosted by the National Coalition Against Censorship’s Youth Free Expression Network, in partnership with Global Action Project, Reel Works, the New York Film Academy, and Kahlil Almustafa.

WHAT: An afternoon of film screenings and discussions about how youth media can transform the way we think about and address important social and political issues.  The event is free and open to the public. High school students and media educators are especially encouraged to attend.

WHEN: Saturday, March 27, 2010, 1 – 4 p.m.

WHERE: New York Film Academy, 100 East 17th Street (near Union Square)


TICKETS: Free Event

The 2009 winners of the Youth Free Expression Network’s Film Contest are:
  • First Place: Freedom Thieves by Jordan Allen is a music video featuring Jordan, who hip-hops his way through free-speech history while criticizing his school. Jordan Allen is 18, from Glendora, California, and has appeared in television and commercials. He discovered that directing was his true love when he began making his own films during his freshman year in high school. The winning film Freedom Thieves stems from Jordan’s personal experience: in his senior year, the school board reprimanded him for a film he made. The first place winner receives $1,000, a scholarship to the New York Film Academy, and a trip to New York City.
  • Second Place: In Silenced by Stephen Small and Tom Piasny, a character recalls how he felt when his teacher labeled his essay "smut" due to its controversial topic.  Stephen Small is 18, from Morton Grove, Illinois, and Tom Piasny is 18 from Skokie, IL. Stephen has directed many videos for several small film festivals and video contests, and Tom took many of the leading roles for these films.  Last year, the EPA chose one of Stephen’s commercials to air on a Florida cable station. "The school administration took one of my videos out of a film festival at our high school," Stephen says, "because it had a scene where a student was murdered.  At the time, most of the school thought the situation was unjust because the film was thought-provoking and had nice camerawork.  I have been generally critical of our education system ever since, and the YFEN contest gave me a way to express my opinion."   The second place winners will receive $500 and a trip to New York City.
  • Third Place: Rumors by Aaron Dunbar is an animated film about a boy who has allegedly said something horrific, but has actually just been "caught" praying. Aaron Dunbar is 18 from Lowell, Ohio, and a freshman at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania where he studies media arts and animation. According to Dunbar, Rumors was largely sparked by the idea that "a student in today’s society is much more likely to be censored for his political or religious comments than he is for things such as profanity and lewdness." The third place winner will receive $200 and a trip to New York City.
  • Honorable Mention: Petty Inquiries by Amy Obarski is a film about four students who struggle to understand their school’s educational policies. Amy Obarski is 19 from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and currently attends the Park School of Communications at Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY.  She is a member of the honors program and is majoring in cinema production with a minor in art history. Her film is a personal statement about what needs to be changed in regards to certain teaching methods and how issues should be approached in public schools.
About the judges:
  • Kahlil Almustafa is known as the People’s Poet. Almustafa is the 2002 Nuyorican Grand Slam Champion and the author of four books of poetry and the CD CounterIntelligence. His collection, Growing Up Hip-Hop, is used in classrooms from elementary school to the university level.
  • Kathy Brew is an award-winning independent video maker whose experience spans independent documentaries to experimental work and public television productions. She is a film curator/programmer, having most recently served as Co-Director of the Margaret Mead Film & Video Festival (2004-2007) and Series/Curatorial Consultant for WNET’s independent series, REEL NEW YORK (2002-2004) and is currently on the faculty in the MFA Computer Arts department at the School of Visual Arts.
  • Shelbi Kepler, 18 years old, placed second in the NCAC’s video competition last fall. She graduated from Temecula Valley High School and plans to attend the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts as a Film-Television Production major in the fall of 2009.
  • Shelby Knox is nationally known as the subject of the Sundance award-winning film, The Education of Shelby Knox, a 2005 documentary chronicling her teenage activism for comprehensive sex education and gay rights in her Southern Baptist community. She has appeared on Today, the Daily Show, Hardball, and sat down with both Dr. Phil and Al Franken to discuss sex education and her varying states of virginity.
  • Emily Kunstler graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in Film and Video in 2000. She was a studio art fellow with the Independent Study Program of the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2004. Emily was an associate producer on Alison Maclean’s "Persons of Interest" (Sundance, 2004). Her film "Getting Through to the President" (2004), has aired on the Sundance Channel, Current TV, and Channel Thirteen/WNET.
  • Sarah Kunstler graduated from Yale University with a BA in Photography in 1998 and from Columbia Law School with a JD in 2004. She is currently a criminal defense attorney practicing in the Southern District of New York. Along with her sister, Emily, she is a co-founder of Off Center Media and has produced and directed a number of short documentaries.
  • Mark Heyman was born and raised in New Mexico, and graduated from Brown University in 2002.  After attending NYU’s graduate film program, he began working as the director of development for Protozoa Pictures, the production company of filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (PI,  REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, THE FOUNTAIN).   He was a co-producer on THE  WRESTLER.
  • Julia Morgan, a native New Yorker, graduated from Vassar College with a B.A. in Film and Dramatic Arts. She is an Associate Producer at Danny Glover and Joslyn Barnes’ award-winning Louverture Films, which develops and produces independently financed feature and documentary films such as the Oscar® nominated TROUBLE THE WATER, and the upcoming Oscar® shortlisted music documentary SOUNDTRACK FOR A REVOLUTION.
  • Michael Young is the New York Film Academy Provost.  He received his BA from Harvard University, and his MFA from NYU, Tisch School of the Arts. He is a Student Academy Award finalist. His award-winning film McJew has screened at festivals internationally, including Oberhausen, Cinema Du Reel, Clermont-Ferrand, Tel-Aviv, Ann Arbor, et al. He is a recipient of an NEA grant, and is a founding faculty member of NYFA..

NCAC is grateful for the generous support of the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation for the YFEN Film Contest.