March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Calling All Teens: Banned Books Video Contest

Youth Free Expression ProjectGot a great story to tell about a banned book or another disturbing incident involving censorship? Then encourage your teens to enter the 2012 Youth Free Expression Project’s (YFEP) film contest—and give them a chance to win up to $1,000 and a free trip to the Big Apple.

The annual competition, open to kids 19 and under, hopes to educate youth about their First Amendment rights and the importance of free speech. It’s a perfect way to teach a lesson on the subject—and get your students’ creative juices flowing.

The judges of this year’s theme, “You’re Reading WHAT?!?,” are looking for several things: a compelling story, how it made you feel, as well as evidence of critical thinking and an opinion to back it up. It doesn’t matter if contestants experience censorship firsthand or if they were inspired by a news story.

Submissions, which are loaded to YouTube, can be in any format: music videos, documentaries, animation, experimental forms, fictional narrative, and old-fashioned propaganda reels. They just need to be four minutes in length or less. Teachers and librarians can help, but the actual filmmaking is strictly up to the teens.

The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom documented close to 400 book challenges last year, but many more go unreported. What were some of the top challenged titles last year? They include classics like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (cited for offensive language and racism) to Suzanne Collins’s “Hunger Games” trilogy (for its offensive language, violence, and occult and satanic message) and Lauren Myracle’s IM series, ttyl, ttfn, and l8r, g8r, which ranked the nation’s top restricted books in 2011 due to their sexually explicit language and inappropriate content for their targeted age group.

Despite this, nearly three-fourths of high school students say they feel indifferent about intellectual freedom or admit that they take the subject for granted, according to the Knight Foundation. Meanwhile, more than a third of teens think the First Amendment goes too far in protecting freedom of speech, religion, or expression.

Sponsored by the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), the videos are winnowed down to a group of semi-finalists, which are then sent to a panel of judges who choose the top three winners. The top three contestants, along with a guest, win a free trip to New York City to attend the Youth Voices Uncensored screening, which takes place in March 2013. The grand prize winner also receives a cash prize of $1,000, along with a $5,000 scholarship to the New York Film Academy. The second- and third-place winners get $500 and $250, respectively. All winners receive a one-year complimentary student membership to the Rubin Museum of Art.

Winning films will be available on NCAC’s website and will be used in workshops to educate the public about young peoples’ rights.

Hurry up. The deadline for applications is December 15.  For more information, check out the contest rules and frequently asked questions.

The NCAC is an alliance of more than 50 nonprofit organizations that are dedicated to protecting free expression and access to information. The film contest is made possible by the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation and the New York Film Academy.

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About Debra Lau Whelan

Debra Whelan is a former senior editor for news and features at SLJ.

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