Seniors honored for their environmental documentary at international contest

October 19, 2023 — by Jane Lee
Courtesy of George Hu
Simarya Ahuja, George Hu, Alexa Shuey, and Caitlin Weber pose during the end-of-year MAP awards, SMASH’N, on June 2.
MAP seniors were awarded honorable mention by the One Earth Young Filmmakers Contest for their film, “Environmental ‘Justice.’”

Five Media Arts Program seniors — Simarya Ahuja, George Hu, Nicita Raam, Alex Shuey and Caitlin Weber — received honorable mention recognition for their film, “Environmental ‘Justice,”” at the One Earth Young Filmmakers Contest Awards held Sept. 17 in Chicago.

One Earth is an international contest for young filmmakers ages 8-25. Applicants have the chance to win up to $1,000 in scholarships or cash and a $1,000 matching grant. All films must be related to ecology and are between 3 to 8 minutes.

The seniors’ 5-minute film was made in their junior year as part of American Issues documentary unit and sheds light on the environmental struggles of Kettleman City, Calif. The city is home to a Class 1 landfill and subsequently faces issues including chemicals in drinking water, air pollution and environmental racism.

 Although the seniors didn’t earn any cash prizes, their film was played alongside the top 10 rated films and 11 other honorable mentions to an audience in Chicago that included contest participants.

“Environmental ‘Justice’” features clips showing Kettleman City’s landfill along with interviews with the city’s residents, such as Jorge Pacheco, an ethnic studies teacher in Menlo Park. In order to emphasize the severity of their environmental problems such as drinking water contamination, the film also included statistics about pollution set against a bright blue background. 

The group made an effort to feature voices from underprivileged residents in Kettleman City in order to showcase how different members of the city have dealt with the polluted environment, Ahuja said.

“The five of us wanted to address environmental racism and how policies like environmental regulation policies negatively and disproportionately affect low-income communities, communities of color and minorities,” Ahuja said.

During their process of creating the film, the five students first planned  their film by conducting research, writing a script, recording a voiceover and making graphics. They then proceeded to film interviews and finalized edits for their film by December. The students split the workload with Hu, Shuey and Weber in charge of obtaining interviews, Ahuja in writing the script, Shuey and Ahuja in making graphics and Raamkumar in recording the voiceover.

The film won in the American Issues documentary category during the 2023 SMASH’N event, an end-of-the-year celebration of work done in the program.

When Hu brought up the idea of entering a few film competitions, the team readily agreed without any expectations. While the students felt surprised that their film won an honorable mention award at One Earth, they said that they are glad that their film got greater exposure from outside the school after being recognized.

“It was really nice to see that a lot of people got to see it … it’s not like people are looking through documentaries and finding it themselves,” Shuey said. “[One Earth Young Filmmakers Contest] actually showing it is a big deal.” 

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