Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
On Friday, the White House invited The Daily Gazette to cover the 2nd Annual White House Film Festival hosted by President Obama, the American Film Institute, and Participant Media. “It’s like the Sundance or Cannes of film festivals that are open to the public through a government website. It may also be the only film festival where one of the entrants has his tooth loose,” Obama said.
Under the theme “The Impact of Giving Back,” K-12 students across the country and even as far as Azerbaijan submitted over 1,500 films, of which fifteen official selections were chosen. Each winning young filmmaker was invited to Washington D.C. for a two-day program including a reception and screening at the White House, and a day of educational workshops at the Newseum.
The event acted in part as a platform to announce a new joint effort by the Obama Administration, the American Film Institute, and Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) to provide over one million hours of mentorship to American students over the next three years and help inspire and mentor young artists around the country. This effort contributes to the administration’s new three-year Call to Arts Initiative as part of the Corporation for National and Community Service. “We don’t know what these new connections will produce down the road, but if these movies are any indication I know that these young people are going to make an even bigger impact for their communities and their country in the years ahead,” Obama said.
6-year old Noah Gue of Bozeman, Montana, the youngest filmmaker invited to the event, made a film about climate change. His father, a wildland firefighter, helped Gue film parts of the video in Montana’s national parks and they edited the film together on iMovie. Several students from Austin High School in Austin, Texas created The Archer Hadley Story, a short documentary film about a classmate with cerebral palsy. “It’s amazing. It’s a tremendous culmination of all our work […] and it’s really awesome!” said Hadley. Another standout film was created by a 2nd grade class in Boulder, Colorado in which the students came together and wrote a song titled “We Starts with Me” and filmed themselves making an impact in their school with the help of their entire classroom community. Their film, like the fourteen others, was screened in front of the White House’s packed East Room.
At the Friday afternoon screening, guests from SAG-AFTRA, the American Film Institute, and Participant Media joined the festival winners and their guests at a star-studded event. Speakers included Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank, Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), and actress Amber Riley (Glee). McQueen hoped to inspire the students in the room with his own story. “What made me want to be a filmmaker was that I wanted to reflect the society that I found myself in […] You can move debate forward and actually try to sort of you know change the way people view certain aspects of life. We have, and you have, the power to do that,” McQueen said.
For all the Official Selections from the 2nd Annual White House Film Festival, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/filmfestival.