SAVE THE DATE! 2024 Fall Festival | October 6 - 13, 2024

Student & Emerging Filmmaker Competitions

Debuting in 2016, the Student and Emerging Filmmaker Competitions gives filmmakers the opportunity to use cinematic storytelling to answer important themes like “what’s your civil right?” and “speaking truth to power.” The annual short film competition receives over 150 submissions from across the world. An esteemed jury of civil rights, industry leaders, and established filmmakers select the winners, and the shortlisted films are screened during the festival. Now in its eighth year, the competition has continued to attract industry supporters, including a diverse portfolio of funders. Prizes for this competition are funded in part by the generosity of Deborah Zipser and Craig Emanuel.

2024 COMPETITIONS

The Festival continues its Competition for Emerging and Student filmmakers to submit short form content, both narrative and documentary, which focuses on civil rights movements, the civil rights era and social justice issues.

Opal Hope Bennett

Emerging & Student Filmmaker Competitions Director

Opal H. Bennett is the Emmy-winning Executive Producer at POV Shorts and Senior Producer at POV. Under her curation, POV Shorts won the 2020 and 2022 IDA Award for Best Short Form Series and the series broadcast the 2021 News & Documentary Emmy winner for Short Documentary, The Love Bugs.

Previously, Opal was Shorts Programmer and Director of Artist Development at DOC NYC and Senior Programmer at Athena Film Festival. Prior to that, Opal also worked with Nantucket Film Festival, Aspen ShortsFest, Tribeca Film Festival and consulted for The Gotham (formerly IFP). She is a Programming Consultant for the March on Washington Film Festival. Opal is a member of the AMPAS Documentary branch. She has served on juries for SxSW, HotDocs, Aspen & Palm Springs ShortsFests, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Seattle International Film Festivals and IndieMemphis Film Festival among others. She has also served on the shorts selection committees for Cinema Eye Honors and the IDA. Opal has participated on various selection committees for film programming and grants.

A Columbia Law grad, Opal holds a Masters in Media Studies from the London School of Economics, and received her B.A. from New York University.

2023 Winners

Student Narrative Shorts

Go Dani Go

Director: Chelsea Patricia Ramirez

A spunky girl helping her mother in the fields must choose between putting soccer or family first. (10:46 MIN)

Of Silence & Song

Director: Leyi Dai

An Asian American single mother seeks a way of abortion in recent Texas after her recent divorce. (13:18 MIN)

Project & Serve

Director: ESPIE RANDOLPH

When a Black teen is pulled over by an angry cop, he must use his father’s advice to navigate the struggle and quiet his own rage in order to survive the traffic stop that threatens to put an end to his night and possibly his life. (15:02 MIN)

Student Documentary Shorts

On Language

DIRECTOR: CAMERON JOY GRAY

“On Language” is an essay film that combines archival footage, video, and on-screen text to discuss the intersections of language and culture and race in everyday life. (06:10 MIN)

I AM MORE DANGEROUS DEAD

DIRECTOR: MAJIYE UCHIBEKE

A poetic tribute to writer, poet and environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed alongside eight other activists for opposing the environmental damage done in their oil-rich homeland, Ogoni. (24:00 MIN)

GRANDPA CHERRY BLOSSOM

DIRECTOR: MADDOX CHEN

The life of Francis Uyemastu, a Japanese immigrant, told through the words of Mary Uyematsu Kao, his granddaughter, and Chuck Currier, a local historian and former teacher. Francis Uyematsu created a successful flower nursery, owning over 130 acres of land, until the Japanese Internment during World War 2, where he was forced to sell his land. Entire neighborhoods now sit on his former land, filled with hundreds of homes and high schools, and the flowers he created are no longer his. (07:42 MIN)

Emerging Narrative Shorts

HERE

DIRECTOR: JAMES ANTHONY

(13:37 MIN)

SUENOS DE MI HIJA

DIRECTOR: CECILIA ROMO

Samantha is the strong-willed first-generation Latina daughter of an immigrant who is passionate about alternative punk rock music. Much to her mother’s disapproval, she has a band performing at the local Battle of the Bands. Rosa is a stoic immigrant mother who has held various labor jobs in her lifetime and holds traditional Mexican values. Will Rosa ultimately accept and support her daughter’s journey? (12:41 MIN)

JULY 4th, 2020

DIRECTOR: JOE JUANYAO ZHENG

July 2020, at the peak of the pandemic in the city of Los Angeles, misunderstandings and conflicts between a Chinese immigrant father, a white restaurant owner, and a young black man escalate into a tumultuous climax… (28:53 MIN)

Emerging Documentary Shorts

Black Strings

DIRECTOR: MARQUISE MAYS

The Black String Triage Ensemble, an all-African American string orchestra in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, performs on the scene in the immediate aftermath of incidents of gun violence, altering the notion of “first responders.” In a city with such a troubled relationship with violence, can this ensemble transform the traumatized public space into a place of recovery, healing and hope? (12:00 MIN)

DECIDING VOTE

DIRECTOR: JEREMY WORKMAN & ROBERT LYONS

Over 50 years ago, New York State assemblyman George Michaels cast a single vote that changed the course of American history but destroyed his political career in the process. For the first time, Deciding Vote shares the story of how Michaels defied his conservative constituents by casting the critical tie-breaking vote on a bill which legalized abortion in the state of New York, laying the groundwork for Roe v Wade. The film is a moving tribute to a now-forgotten act of political courage. (20:00 MIN)

TROUBLED WATERS

DIRECTOR: SYDNIE HESLOP

Troubled Waters is an experimental short that examines the relationship between the black community and water, how it has both been weaponized against us, and employed by us, to empower and resist oppression. (04:34 MIN)

2022 Jurors

2022 Film Winners

2022 STUDENT NARRATIVE SHORTS

THE BOND | Director: Jahmil Eady
Pregnant and incarcerated, Aria fights for her most precious connection against a system designed to isolate her.  (USA, 16 MIN)

WORDS BETWEEN PHRASES | Director: Ben Bernard
When a college student fights for the removal of a whipping post in his hometown, he is forced to reevaluate his priorities and his intrinsic biases. (USA, 20 MIN)

SHIKATA GA NAI “IT CANNOT BE HELPED” | Director: Kevin Kodama
A fantasy romance set in the ruins of a Japanese American internment camp where a young couple attempts to reconcile their relationship as ghosts. (USA, 11 MIN)

2022 STUDENT DOCUMENTARY SHORTS

QUARANTINE KIDS | Directors: Bilal Motley, Bria Motley
Quarantine Kids tells the courageous story of 9 year old Bria Motley in her own words. Using previously recorded audio notes, home video and animation, Quarantine Kids is an honest, poignant, funny, and at times, heartbreaking testimony from a child’s point of view. (USA, 7 MIN)

#BLACKATSMU | Directors: Aysia Lane, Crislyn Fayson
#BlackAtSMU is an experimental documentary that uses an amalgamation of dramatic retellings, experimental explorations, and investigative interviews to explore a critical question: what is it like to be a Black student at a Predominantly White Institution? (USA, 34 MIN)

HEALING IN COLOR | Director: Nana Adwoa Frimpong
In a world where Black women are expected to be invulnerable to pain, five Black women confront their personal struggles and explore healing through art. (USA, 24 MIN)

2022 EMERGING NARRATIVE SHORTS

COLOR | Director: Carly Rogers
A rookie officer must decide where her loyalties lie when her partner pulls his weapon on a black teen in her old neighborhood.(USA, 8 MIN)

THOUGHTS ARE THINGS | Director: Christopher Thomas Brown
Librarian Joshua Turner has made it his life’s work to inspire young people in his community with the power of books. When a medical emergency sends him to the hospital, those seeds of inspiration come full circle to save his life. (USA, 11 MIN)

OTIS’ DREAM | Director: Jason & Blue
Follow Otis Moss, Sr. on election day 1946 through his day-long journey to cast his ballot in rural Georgia. Powerful, poignant, and prescient as today’s struggles with voter suppression multiply.(USA, 15 MIN)

2022 EMERGING DOCUMENTARY SHORTS

BAD HOMBREWOOD | Director: Guillermo Casarin
Through compelling interviews with creatives including Phil Lord, Lee Unkrich, and Guillermo Del Toro, and archival footage, Bad Hombrewood reveals the dark side of Hollywood’s history and the challenges Latinx filmmakers face while trying to succeed in the entertainment industry. (USA, 24 MIN)

RECLAIMING OUR COLLECTIVE STRENGTH | Director: Lori Webster Fore
The Black church is alive and well. See our faith in action, as we organize the church to reclaim our collective strength on the frontlines of social justice. (USA, 20 MIN)

WHEN WE FIGHT | Directors: Yael Bridge, Yoni Golijoy
The Black church is alive and well. See our faith in action, as we organize the In the second largest school district in America, 98% of teachers voted to go on strike. When We Fight goes behind the picket lines to show how and why teachers strike. (USA, 30 MIN) to reclaim our collective strength on the frontlines of social justice. (USA, 20 MIN)

2021 Film ShortLists

2021 SHORTLIST: STUDENT DOCUMENTARY SHORTS

BY YOUR SIDE | Directors: Debbie Africa, Mike Africa Sr.
MOVE activists, Mike and Debbie Africa, tell the story of their young lives, their hopes, dreams and fears–the story of their determination and commitment to never giving up. (USA, 16 MIN)

IT TAKES A CIRCUS | Director: Sarah D. Collins, Zoe Chiriseri Ramushu
Aaliyah, 18, soars on aerial silks. Her cousin Bre, 16, twirls on lyra hoops. The girls dream of escaping the violence that has marred their young lives, and their possible ticket out is Trenton Circus Squad. (USA, 28 MIN)

UNFINISHED LIVES | Director: Yucong Chen
In 2014, 24-year-old USC graduate student, Xinran Ji, was beaten to death by four teens when returning home from a study session. Lawyer, Rose Tsai, advocates tirelessly as his parents and the larger community attempt to understand the senseless tragedy.  (USA, 23 MIN)

2021 SHORTLIST: EMERGING NARRATIVE SHORTS

BLACK THOUGHTS | Director: Dwayne Logan
Aiming to bridge the divide that exists between embattled Americans, Black Thoughts places viewers within the history-ravaged mind of a broken-hearted Black man, as he contemplates how confusion has kept citizens engaged in an endless cycle of conflict.  (USA, 30 MIN)

R.E.S.T. | Director: Jon Appel
In Philadelphia, where Kay is plagued by extreme hours at her grocery store job, a product called R.E.S.T. (Rapid Eye Stimulation Treatment) is distributed to the masses through the televised guise of the Polites. (USA, 25 MIN)

2021 SHORTLIST: EMERGING DOCUMENTARY SHORTS

MIDNIGHT OIL | Director: Bilal Motley
First-time filmmaker and refinery worker, Bilal Motley, struggles to reconcile his love and kinship for his distressed refinery brothers and sisters and his growing awareness of the surrounding communities of color, fighting for environmental justice. (USA, 30 MIN)

SINCE YOU ARRIVED, MY HEART STOPPED BELONGING TO ME | Director: Erin Semine Kökdil
Central American mother’s journey by bus through Mexico, searching for their children who migrated north towards the United States but disappeared en route. (USA, 20 MIN)

TO THE PLATE | Director: Gopika Ajay and Annick Laurent
Restaurateur Moonlynn Tsai and girlfriend Yin Chang struggle to keep their local business alive and serve their community in the face of anti-Asian crimes. (USA, 23 MIN)

SPECIAL THANKS TO OUR STUDENT FILMMAKER 2021 JURORS

  • Charles Belk | President/CEO of DigiSolve

  • Alison Sotomayor | Award-winning independent documentary and television producer

  • Monica Wise | MOWFF ‘20 Grand Prize Winner, Emerging Documentary; Colombian American documentary filmmaker and journalist based in Mexico City

  • Nicholas Buccola | Professor of political science and the Elizabeth and Morris Glicksman Chair in Political Science at Linfield University

  • Jacques Thelemaque | Multiple award-winning writer, producer and director 

  • Mohammed Saffouri | MOWFF ‘20 Grand Prize Winner, Student Documentary; founder of Sirius Productions, and a Capital Emmy-winning filmmaker