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Giving a Voice to Local Young Filmmakers

Film Studies

The new Bridging Divides, Healing Communities Youth Film Challenge is giving young local storytellers the opportunity to make their voices heard, and compete for $3,500 in cash prizes and the chance to have their films screened at local theaters.

The contest is open to young people ages 14 to 24 who live or attend school in northwest Litchfield, northeast Dutchess, Columbia and Berkshire counties. Participants will create up to 6-minute films that focus on challenges that divide us and highlight ways to tackle them in families, schools and communities. Possible topics include climate change; the state of our democracy; feeling excluded due to identity, age, religion, immigration or social status; the pressures of social media; or any issues with opposing views but the possibility for reconciliation and healing.

One of the partners behind the Youth Film Challenge is the Civic Life Project. Award-winning filmmakers Catherine Tatge and Dominique Lasseur founded the nonprofit in the Northwest Corner to inspire youth to participate in democracy through documentary filmmaking.

“We realized that the people we need to involve the most in conversations about democracy are our youth. Young people are passionate about many issues, but they do not feel like they can make changes because they are not connected to the political system,” Lasseur said. “Filmmaking is their medium. It is their way to comprehend the world. Creating and distributing short films is a great way to empower them and let their voices make a difference.”

While these films can focus on national challenges, Lasseur emphasized the importance of starting these conversations at the local level. “In our work as documentary filmmakers, we have seen that the national scene is increasingly divided and loud. At the local level, you find people who are working together to solve local issues. Our democracy will be saved by that energy.”

It may seem daunting to create a 6-minute film, which is why the Civic Life Project and its Youth Film Challenge co-host, Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative, are offering free virtual workshops and one-on-one advice with professional filmmakers. Recordings are available of four summer classes that covered topics such as filming with your phone, how to conduct interviews and how to edit videos. Lasseur kicked off a series of fall workshops on Sept. 19 with a class on storytelling for short films. He explained how to start with a broad issue and tell a local story that will resonate with your audience. View previous sessions and register for upcoming classes at www.YouthFilmChallenge.com.

Award-winning documentary filmmaker and educator Ben Willis hosted three of the summer classes. He shared tips on how to get the most out of your smartphone as a video camera. 

“The audio is so important,” Willis said during the workshop, noting that if your visuals are not usable, you can use photos or film new footage to pair with the audio of an interview. “The first thing you should do when you enter a space is stop, listen and look. You will start to notice the noise of that room. You don’t want to have noise disrupting a really good interview.”

He also discussed shot composition, lighting and stabilization. He suggested keeping your phone at eye level with your subject, and avoid having them stand against a wall. Look for a good light source, such as a window, by walking around the location with your camera pointed at your face. If you do not have a tripod to stabilize your phone, try a tablet stand or a car mount. Also, make sure to hold your phone sideways to create a horizontal film.

 Films must be submitted by Nov. 1. A panel of filmmakers will judge entries and award a $2,000 first prize, $1,000 second prize and $500 third prize. Cameras are available for participants who need them. To learn more and apply, go to www.YouthFilmChallenge.com.


Darryl Gangloff is communications officer for Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, the funder of the Bridging Divides, Healing Communities Youth Film Challenge.

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