“Books have been written for centuries to preserve and exhibit new thought,” says filmmaker Daniel Pritchard in his short film Excluded. “Why would we ever want to get rid of that?” Pritchard—winner of the National Coalition Against Censorship‘s Youth Free Expression Project People’s Choice Award—was on hand with other young filmmakers this Saturday at the New York Film Academy for Youth Voices Uncensored, a special screening for all the winning films in NCAC’s annual film contest.
In addition to the winning YFEP films, works directed and produced by young people from the Global Action Project, a social justice organization for young people, and Reel Works, a teen filmmaking mentorship program, were also shown at the event.
The Youth Free Expression Project, made possible by the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, invites people ages 19 and younger to submit videos related to censorship. This year, participants were given the theme “You’re Reading What?!?” and asked to create films focusing on book banning.
Through films infused with arresting visual imagery, references to actual book challenges, and poignant personal accounts, the teens vigorously defend the right to read freely, and demonstrate a strong passion for freedom of speech.
First-place winner Eden Ames relies upon the contrast between black and white and color film to underscore the restrictive, limiting nature of censorship. Her film Waking depicts a bleak, grey environment comprised of blindfolded inhabitants. A young boy is scolded by his mother when he attempts to read, warning him that books could potentially confuse him, but by removing his blindfold and accessing a library, he soon discovers a new vibrant, colorful world. Acacia O’Conor of NCAC praises the film for its nuanced look at censorship. “It admits that a lot of the things we read confuse us,” she says. ”They’re difficult to swallow, these books that show us the ugliness of our lives sometimes, but they are so rewarding.”
The filmmakers also express concern for current and recent book challenges. In her film Banned, second-place winner Naomi Clements cites the recent challenging of Patricia Polacco’s In Our Mother’s House, which portrays a family with two mothers. School librarians in Davis County, Utah were forced to shelve the book behind their desks until full access was restored.
Clements employs simple yet powerful animated images—bookshelves being locked away, a child staring at a book hidden behind a desk—as she narrates her beliefs in her own and others’ right to read: “It is not the right of one parent or person to decide what everyone else can read. I do not want to live in a world dictated by the insecurities of others.”
Third-place winner Alexis Opper also references recent book challenges in her film You Do Not Speak for Me, but delves into her personal feelings on the issue as well. The film shows Opper visually rearranging her own favorite books that have been banned or challenged—such as Matilda, Just Ella, and Speak—as she describes the need to safeguard access to all titles. And she pleas to well-meaning adults seeking to remove seemingly disturbing material in an attempt to protect teens: “You do not make darkness disappear by covering it up. You don’t save us by taking away reality, and you don’t determine what helps and what hurts.”
Michael O’Neil, NCAC communications director, wrapped the screening by announcing the theme for the next 2013 contest: “Video Games in the Crosshairs.” Because video games are so often viewed as potentially dangerous to young people by parents, legislators, and educators, NCAC encourages young people to share their views on this subject that directly affects them.
O’Neil emphasizes the importance of giving young people the chance to voice their opinions. “What we really strive to do with this film contest,” he says, “is to give young people a chance to speak for themselves. There are so many adult authority figures who spend a lot of time speaking for kids…and we need more opportunities for young people to speak up for themselves.”