The Kids Are Alright – Vol. 8

Jessica Sutter, Chief of Civic Learning Initiatives

January 17, 2024

The Civic Life Project works with teachers and students to prepare them to create and produce films which harness civic knowledge and civic skills. (Photo from The Civic Life Project via Facebook)

Excerpt crossposted from The Kids Are Alright, an occasional Friday afternoon email newsletter written by Jessica Sutter featuring three stories of youth voice, youth leadership, and adult allies supporting youth efforts to change their communities — and our country — for the better.

This past week, I had a wonderful conversation with two filmmakers, Catherine & Dominique, turned co-founders of a youth-serving nonprofit called the Civic Life Project. They work with teachers & students to prepare them to create & produce films which harness civic knowledge and civic skills to help young people tell digital stories about issues which matter to them. As I was preparing for our call, I spent time exploring their website & found some incredible student films which garnered awards in the organization’s Democracy Youth Film Challenge. As I watched these films, I wondered what these young people were up to in the years since their award-winning creations…and what I found was pretty spectacular.

Telling Stories of People, Peace & the Environment on Film

In 2020, Mia Lazar was a high school senior busy using film to make an impact in many ways. She, along with her younger sister Ava, won Second Prize in the Documentary Category of the Democracy Youth Film Challenge. Their film, Burning Bridges: The Mountain Valley Pipeline, wasn’t their first collaboration. The pair of Blacksburg, VA siblings had previously won awards from CSPAN for StudentCAM documentaries in 2016, 2017 and 2018. In 2019, Mia & some of her high school classmates created the Filmshakers Festival to showcase “the work of high school students passionate about peacebuilding.” Now at the University of Richmond, Mia is continuing to use her camera -both still and video — to tell stories. She spent last summer traveling the country on a research project called, Digital Documerica: Picturing the Environment in 1970s AmericaHer project recreated photos originally shot as part of a 1970s EPA effort to document the environment & includes video interviews with some of the original photographers.

A Girl Who Starts — and Continues

In 2022, Ellis Chung won 3rd Place in the Documentary Category of the Democracy Youth Film Challenge for her film, Unpunished Crimes, focused on the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic and the various efforts by activists and legislators to address the increase. Now a junior in high school in Maryland, Ellis is still making films — about her community, about representation of women in media — and about women in government. She is also on the leadership team of another youth-led organizationGirls Who Start, dedicated to promoting & supporting women entrepreneurs.

An Astronaut Filmmaker — Seriously

In 2020, Amogh Thakkar won 1st prize in the Social Media Category of the Democracy Youth Film Challenge with his short, You Need to Vote, a public service announcement for youth about the importance of youth voting. Now at NYU, Amogh is continuing his work as a filmmaker & pursuing his passion for space. He says, “I want to become an astronaut-filmmaker” and describes his vision for becoming a member of the first manned-mission to Mars and documenting it on film. Given that he’s already created documentary films for NASA as an intern at the Goddard Space Center, he seems to be on the right track.

“I was finally able to have a platform for me to express my voice and my ideas. I think that is so incredibly powerful.”

-Amogh Thakkar

View the full newsletter post here.

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