Where Heart Trumps Experience


“The winning films are the ones that have heart,” according to Wendy Milette, director of the sixth annual My Hero Short Film Festival, put on last month at USC by the Laguna Beach-based nonprofit, the My Hero Project.

That might explain how novice filmmaker Jackie McMahon, 14, won first and second place in the middle school category with her debut films. She also won a “My Hero” award for participating in a group that inspired a hero film.

Jackie, now a Laguna Beach High School freshman, admits to a love for the arts. But she was introduced to filmmaking only last year through Thurston Middle School’s Gifted and Talented Education program. Milette was hired to work in the district’s GATE program at the middle and elementary schools, helping students produce original films about local “heroes.”

Her award-winning film illustrates the importance of the Buddy Club, a group she and her sister Kate, now an LBHS junior, established at Thurston to foster friendships between students in regular classes and their peers enrolled in special education. They “buddy up” for lunches, games and field trips, such as an excursion to an Angels’ game. Kate went on to create a similar group, Circle of Friends, at the high school.

“The buddy club means a lot to me and my sister,” said Jackie. “It’s a big part of our lives, helping the kids who are buddies.”

While the film prize was a surprise for Jackie, but it was the My Hero award that she and Kate received for their work with the Buddy Club that was truly meaningful, since, she said it “was for everyone who was part of the club.”

While film festival accepts entries in a wide variety of categories (peace, community, experimental and global educator, to name a few) from all over the world, with winners hailing from Australia, India, and Haiti and beyond, Laguna Beach students made a strong showing in the school categories, thanks to Milette’s promotion of filmmaking here.

Local students took the second and third place awards in all three school groups: Michael Fenner’s film highlighting environmental efforts by his Thurston classmates sealed the middle school category for Laguna, earning third place.

In the high school division, Morgan Mills and Jack Winter shared second place. Mills’ work honors the volunteers of Dream Street Foundation, a camp for terminally ill youth, while Winter’s piece focused on Surfer’s Healing, which works with autistic children. Austin Dodge and Ryan Cavanaugh co-produced “Why Burma” to highlight the work of activist-filmmaker John Anthony, which earned them third place.

At the elementary level, Top of the World students Nicole Davidson, Claire Black, Madison Sinclair, and Rosie Morreale took second with their interview of Crystal Cove State Park Ranger Winter Bonnin about the importance of preserving nature, and Luc LaMontagne took third with his short documentary on Zero Trash Laguna’s founder, Chip McDermott, and his commitment to recycling.

Founded in 1995, the My Hero Project offers students, educators and professionals an ongoing online venue to share their hero-themed essays, images, audio, and films with a global community. The annual short film festival gives participants a chance for wider recognition.

“The work ends up being so inspiring,” said Milette, who credits the high school’s Pam MacKay with eliciting a strong showing in that category. Her video production students can produce a My Hero festival film entry as a class assignment.

MacKay likes the festival’s emphasis on positive role models and the technical challenge for students to produce a documentary-style work.

My Hero also sponsors the Laguna Hero Festival in May, which includes categories for art work and essays, as well as films of 10 minutes or less. Deadline for submissions is April 1. Visit www.myhero.com for info.


subhed: Young Filmmaker Turns Animal Adoption Advocate

When the National PTA Reflections Program art contest solicited original art work from students based on the theme “Together We Can” earlier this fall, Top of the World fifth grader Ireland Smith produced, directed, wrote and edited her film “Together We Can Help Homeless Animals” more in the hope of gaining recognition for her cause than for her artistic achievement. She was successful on both counts.

While Ireland’s project earned her the award of merit (second place) in her age group and category in the Reflections contest, the fact that it helped get dogs adopted through its Internet postings is what makes her a real winner, according to her mother, Robin Smith.

Smith spent hours at the O.C. Animal Shelter filming dogs for her project to encourage adoptions. According to her mother, the video’s Internet posting (it has been posted on Facebook and has had over 1,000 viewers on YouTube) has indeed helped get some of its featured dogs adopted. What’s more, it was chosen as video of the day for the site “No Kill Nation.”

Her video is posted on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_tniCLkpfo.

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