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PBS’ Student Reporting Labs video honored at White House film fest

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is showcasing the work of students from around the country who produced short films about service and giving back for a White House contest. The budding filmmakers include a Montana 6-year-old alarmed about climate change, a group of Chicago high school students who spin a hip-hop yarn of encouragement for peers facing adversity and Austin, Texas, students who organized a wheelchair challenge that raised more than $80,000 to install automatic push button doors in their school. The students from Texas are also part of PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs. Watch that video above.

A California 17-year-old entered a “sockumentary” about helping the homeless one pair of socks at a time, an 18-year-old from Arizona uses his film to raise awareness about Navajo water rights issues, and an 18-year-old born with cerebral palsy documents his campaign to get wheelchair-accessible doors installed at his Texas school.

The films are among 15 shorts that will be screened Friday at the second White House Film Festival in an East Room turned movie theater for the afternoon.

Obama will use the event to announce a new initiative through the Corporation for National and Community Service to help inspire and mentor young artists. The American Film Institute and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists have pledged to provide 1 million hours of mentoring over the next three years.

No “winners” will be announced and Obama won’t hand out any gold trophies at the festival. But along with the recognition that comes from having one’s amateur film shown on a big screen at the White House, the makers of these 15 “official selections” will get to spend Saturday toiling alongside actors and directors at workshops held at the Newseum.

Actors and directors are also expected at the White House on Friday, including Hillary Swank of “Million Dollar Baby” and Steve McQueen, director of the Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave.”

The 15 films were chosen in conjunction with the American Film Institute and were culled from some 1,500 entries, the White House said.

The filmmakers range in age from 6 to 18, and come from 12 states.

Actor Ken Howard, president of SAG-AFTRA, said the union’s members want to help the next generation of actors and filmmakers.

“Sharing the tools of the trade helps ensure dynamic new storytellers practicing the craft, and a vibrant future for the entertainment industry,” said Howard, star of the late 1970s TV show “The White Shadow.”

According to the White House:

  • Six-year-old Noah Gue, of Bozeman, Montana, was inspired by the changing climate and landscape in his hometown. He created his film to inspire others, especially children who will be affected by climate change in later years.
  • Desmond Bournes, 18, and Ajamu Austin, 15, participate in C.H.A.M.P.S. Mentoring Filmmakers, a program for high school males that is based on the South Side of Chicago, Obama’s hometown. They used hip-hop to deliver a positive message to young men facing adversity.

  • Riley Beres, a 17-year-old senior at Port of Los Angeles High School in San Pedro, California, summarizes her investigation of homelessness in Los Angeles with her “sockumentary.” She created Socks for Souls, Inc., to help those experiencing hardship, one pair of socks at a time.

  • Keanu Benjamin Jones, an 18-year-old Navajo senior at Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy in Arizona, focused on diabetes and water rights issues. His grandparents suffered from diabetes, which is prevalent in the Navajo Nation. Thousands of Navajo homes also have no running water.

  • Archer Hadley, an 18-year-old senior at Austin High School in Texas, has cerebral palsy and gets around in a motorized wheelchair. He started a fundraiser to install wheelchair-accessible doors at school, which inspired classmates to produce a documentary about Hadley’s efforts.