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Local student filmmakers tackle variety of issues

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With family and friends in attendance, 40 aspiring high school filmmakers debuted their documentary shorts at the second annual Documentary Foundation Film Festival Sunday. The Sacramento student filmmakers covered a multitude of issues including racism in high school, legalization of marijuana, pink-slipped teachers and prisoner work programs in Folsom Prison.

The program is taught by Sacramento native documentary filmmakers Keith Ochwat and Christopher Rufo and sponsored by KVIE. The duo created the Documentary Foundation student program as a means to inspire future generations of documentary filmmakers.

"There are so many issues that affect peoples’ lives," Ochwat said. He spoke of the importance for the students participating to think critically about social issues. "It’s (also) about the journalism (and) the storytelling," he said.

With nine documentaries on the program, the event kicked off with a look at the Sacramento Zoo’s lovable red pandas. The short film highlighted the environment the pandas live in at the zoo and their current state of endangerment. The film elicited many "aww"s at the sight of the pandas.

There were less fuzzy feelings during "Nestle Waters," about the debate over a Nestle Corporation Plant coming to Sacramento. The film covered both sides, interviewing both Nestle management about plans to use the American River and an opposing resident concerned about environmental protection.

Two films struck close to home for the students, spotlighting the racism felt and witnessed on high school campuses. "Racism in High Schools" had a clear and powerful message, never disconnect with who you are. The second film, "He Said, She Said" gives insight to the rules of attraction from high school students’ perspectives.

"K-9 Angels" showed the benefits of pet therapy for one young patient at the Shriner’s Hospital, while "CA in Smoke" touched on the debate over legalizing marijuana, incorporating what appeared to be actual footage of high school students using the drug. Later in the evening, "Folsom Prison" debuted, shadowing one prisoner in a carpentry work program. This was the first time in history Folsom Prison has allowed minors to film inside.

Winning the impromptu Audience Award for sparking the most laughter, "The Last Battle" followed a group of participants during Carmichael’s Amtguard games. The game’s role-players dress in medieval garb, arming themselves with padded weaponry and duked it out for ultimate Amtguard supremacy. The audience was hysteric over one new young participant, whose goal was to take down the elder, most feared member. Neither side would admit defeat, let alone acknowledge their counterparts’ skill level, much to the delight of the crowd.

But it was the last film in the lineup that proved most powerful, winning the Best Picture Award. "Sorry to Inform You" gave a student’s view of the current situation involving California teachers and pink slips. Following one beloved teacher from Natomas High School, whose 31-year career had never landed her a pink slip before, the film gave an inside look, showing the effects on the teacher, her students, and the school’s principal. Ironically, the same teacher had won the Teacher of the Year Award three days prior to being laid off.

AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) teacher Nancy Kidd was in attendance for the film and accompanied the students on stage for their award. Afterward, many students took pictures with Kidd, giving hugs and offering final condolences.

"This is why I’m a teacher, this is what makes it (worth it)," Kidd said. "’I just wish all the students continued success. With a little hard work (they) will get there."

Each student in the program wins a framed plaque, and groups that won awards for Best Picture, Cinematography, Editing and Producing received prizes such as gift cards to Best Buy and Dimple Records, weekend passes to the French Film Festival, and annual subscriptions to Filmmaker Magazine.

The Documentary Foundation will offer a third session coming this fall, dates to be announced, as well as a special summer workshop that will pair returning documentary student filmmakers with local nonprofit organizations.

The goal of the workshop is to "teach (the students) how to apply their skills," said Ochwat, "(enhancing) career skills and taking it to the next level."

The program is offered to all Sacramento area high school students. To sign up, or for more information, visit documentaryfoundation.org. Classes for the workshop are held once a week, on Saturdays, during the 10-week program.

Photos courtesy of Keith Ochwat of the Documentary Foundation

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