Media Festival Highlights Young Filmmakers, Performers, Artists

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Emmanuel MinjaSILVER SPRING, Md – Saturday morning, while teenagers across the country were sleeping in, 17-year-old Emmanuel Minja co-produced an award-winning public service announcement (PSA) on digital literacy. Minja and his fellow high school teammates developed, filmed and edited the PSA in four hours, during a competition in the sixth annual “Just Us Youth Media Festival for Change.”   

“We spent the first hour on pre-production -- planned out shots, created story boards, [and] found locations to do filming,” explained Minja. The rest of their time was spent filming, editing and finalizing the PSA. Minja’s team chose from a list of themes announced at the beginning of the competition, focusing their video, which won the competition, on teaching teens how “to avoid being controlled by the media,” he said.   

Minja, who has created several other films as a promoter with Gandhi Brigade, the nonprofit that organized the festival, said he wanted to participate in the contest because he felt making a meaningful film in just four hours would be a good way to test his skills.   

In addition to the PSA contest, the festival included competitions and awards in three categories: Video for Social Change, Photography with a Purpose and Visual Art with a Vision. Nearly 130 young people from all over the country submitted entries and hundreds of young people and adults from the Washington, D.C., region attended the festival’s awards ceremony and other events on Saturday.   

Winners included a talk show about unemployment, short films about women’s equality and safe driving practices, a photograph illustrating the plight of migrant farmworkers and another about the need to take personal responsibility, a graphic discouraging consumerism and a promotional flyer for a youth-focused event.  

Gandhi Brigade, the nonprofit group that organized the event, teaches young people to use media and organize to effect social change. Young people involved with the group, called promoters, focus on one of three areas: video production (ranging from films addressing social issues to documenting local events); education of peers and younger students; or organization and promotion of local youth-sponsored events.  

Mona Yeh, program director for the group, said that Gandhi Brigade youth were actively involved in every aspect of the festival, from creating entries to running sessions, designing promotional materials and documenting the event as it happened.  

Festival participants were able to watch films, visit art and photography galleries, and attend live performances highlighting the work submitted. Attendees also engaged in interactive workshops, such as a youth-led session on healthy adolescent relationships and a fashion show and discussion on how clothing and dances from the 1960s and 1970s reflected the social and political issues of the era.

The day closed with a live competition featuring poetry, spoken word, hip hop and rock performances. In addition to participating in the PSA competition, Minja attended the film screening, participated in the healthy relationship workshop, and helped with the video recording of the performance competition. He said the festival “brings the community together to celebrate successful things they’ve done and gives youth a chance to show their creativity.”

“This event is about making sure we’re educating young people to think critically,” said Yeh, while also allowing them to be creative and have fun. She added that in today’s media-driven society, the event helps show young people that they can make art and music that has a message and has an impact.  

All categories of the competition look at the message being conveyed to the audience as part of their scoring. Yeh added that the national participation in the event brings together youth creators and youth media organizations, allowing them to make connections and build the youth media field as an important part of the positive youth development community.  

Lisa Pilnik, JD, MS, is a freelance writer, consultant, and co-founder of Child & Family Policy Associates, a Maryland-based consulting firm.

Photo credit: Lisa Pilnik / Emmanuel Minja (right), winner of the PSA contest, assists Yonatan Mengesha (left) in filming live performances.