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White House Film Festival Seeks Student Submissions

President Obama wants to hear from young filmmakers.

Entering its second year, the White House Film Festival, a collaboration with the American Film Institute, mixes history with filmmaking and the ideas of young Americans. This year’s topic of “The Impact of Giving Back” encourages students from grades K-12 to submit a three-minute short related to public service on both local and national levels. Submissions came from all 50 states last year.

“Our charge has been to celebrate the impact of the movies,” says AFI president and CEO Bob Gazzale. “We all know that the tools of technology have now allowed almost everyone to have a voice.”

The festival offers a platform for students who have access to a smartphone, personal video recorder or other video equipment, to make their ideas heard by both Hollywood and Washington officials. Submissions will be accepted until Feb. 2.

The partnership between AFI and the White House is not a new one. Nearly 50 years ago in the Rose Garden, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced creation of the nonprofit institute, tasking it with preserving the nation’s films and inspiring future filmmakers to enter the industry. Gazelle says the festival helps propel these goals, and hopes this year’s event inspires a spirit of service as well.

Attendees at last year’s East Room screening included scientists Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson, as well as actor Kal Penn. Comedian Conan O’Brien addressed the students in a video. More than a dozen students showed their films to the president, with their parents also on hand. Among the shorts was one that focused on how technology helped a girl develop a stronger relationship with her father, allowing him to open up about his experience growing up in an orphanage.
AFI believes that student videos have the potential to create changes in policy and representation in both entertainment and politics.

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“Now the storytellers are everyone,” Gazelle says. “It’s done spectacular things for diversity in this country, and now it’s about using that to catalyze the conversation on how to give back. If you have a story to tell, it can be out there these days, and you can be making a difference.”

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