Free speech in school is theme of youth video contest

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The National Coalition Against Censorship is sponsoring a youth film competition titled “Free Expression in School (Does it Exist?).”

NCAC, based in New York City, says the goal of the contest is to act as a creative catalyst for thought and dialogue on free speech and how it is affected by culture and politics.

This year’s theme comes at the 40-year anniversary of the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School Dist. case, in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of students who were suspended for protesting the Vietnam War. Though the landmark ruling stated that students “do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom at the schoolhouse gate,” NCAC Youth Coordinator Brian Pickett says students today tell a different story. (Subsequent rulings have weakened the free-speech protections in Tinker.)

“After talking with public high school students in the New York City area, we were struck by the fact that many of them feel as if the right to free speech is something that doesn’t really exist within the school environment, at least not without serious restrictions,” Pickett said. This consensus was gathered in workshops administered throughout the year in New York City schools. The students' views, taken into account with recent cases of high school censorship, suggested to the NCAC a clear theme for this year’s contest.

Hopeful participants age 19 and younger are asked to create a video no longer than four minutes that addresses the contest’s question. Applications must be submitted and entries uploaded to Youtube no later than Oct. 23. More information can be found on the NCAC’s Web site.

The top three entries will receive $1000, $500, and $250, respectively. In addition, the winning competitor will be given a $5000 scholarship to the New York Film Academy, which can be applied to the one- or two-year programs currently offered. Alternatively, the winner could opt for a full ride to a weeklong study in digital filmmaking offered at various locations throughout the country.

Past entries have varied from music videos, animation, slam poetry and parody to more conceptual and symbolic narratives.

The top film will be showcased at Youth Voices Uncensored, a special screening at the New York Film Academy taking place in early 2010. It will also be shown during workshops in New York City high schools to provoke discussion by students and teachers.

This is the sixth annual iteration of the contest, with past years exploring such themes as whether free speech and a state of war can co-exist, and how censorship affects young people today. The contest is made possible by the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation.

NCAC is funded by dues from each coalition member, individual donations, and foundation grants.

Danny Hodges is an undergraduate studying English at George Mason University.

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