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Film Prize Jr. New Mexico celebrates youth storytellers in latest competition


In New Mexico, the annual Film Prize Junior student film festival is bringing life to the film-making aspirations of rural and Native American middle and high school students.

The competition provides students with tools to become filmmakers and storytellers in a state that, while under-resourced, has a booming film industry. Even more, winning the top titles means earning equipment grants for your school and media scholarships.

The latest round of the Film Junior competition launched September 14th at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque.

Navajo teen Megan James won awards last spring in both the High School Drama and High School Grand Prize categories for her short film "Deprived." The story follows a young man who is overwhelmed by an over-consumption of bad news.

While the short film's main character is played by James' brother, it was her own experiences being overwhelmed by the news that initially inspired the project.

"One morning I logged onto Twitter and I just saw someone had died, like a famous artist. Then I went to my sister's room, and the news was playing in her room as well, and a shooting had just happened. And I went to my mom's room - a news channel was saying that our world is ending due to climate change," James recounted. "That was just five minutes of my morning."

James goes on to say that constantly looking at bad news is a normal part of our daily lives, and it's not healthy. She hopes the film inspires viewers to reach for what's really important to them.

"All the media that you see, be aware that it's happening but also at the same time the thing that truly matters the most out of our life is family, home and love," James said.

Award winner Megan James
/ Film Prize Jr NM
Film Prize Jr NM
Award winner Megan James

"Deprived" was one of 17 films from young Indigenous filmmakers at the 2023 festival. This year marked a triumph for increased visibility in Native and rural student-made movies.

"We need to fight for that representation to be accurately and respectfully represented in the media as the people we are," said James.
Joaquin Kriegel and Santana Valentine pulled inspiration from their hometown of Deming for their award-winning film "Holy Cross."

The film was recognized as the best High School Thriller for the paranormal.
Holy Cross is the name of a tuberculosis sanitarium in Deming. The spooky lore of the allegedly-haunted space is a mythos everyone in town is familiar with. So the teens reimagined the old story into a parable about respecting the dead.

"We really wanted to make it unique to our town, to our folklore," said Kriegel.
"I've been making movies for quite a while now," Kriegel added "I started when I was 10 or 11 years old, and it's a cool way for me to be able to express myself."

Holy Cross Film Crew
/ Film Prize Jr NM
Film Prize Jr NM
Holy Cross Film Crew

Joaquin and Santana are both currently studying film, journalism, animation and visual arts with the hopes of making their passion a future career.

Award winner Jaiya Daniels
/ Film Prize Jr NM
Film Prize Jr NM
Award winner Jaiya Daniels

Jaiya Daniels won Best Documentary for her personal storytelling. She grew up as one of the few Black girls in Los Alamos.

"My film is called "Sister of The Circle: A Black Girl's Journey Through the Land of Enchantment." It's basically a film just to showcase that Black girls, we're all diverse, you know, we're all different."

Her film's title is also a poignant comment on New Mexican culture.
Jaiya lives in a part of the state known as the "enchanted circle," and she often feels left out of that circle.

"New Mexico is referred to as tri-culture. We're not included in that culture - it's Indigenous, Spanish and Anglo," Jaiya's mom Luckie explained. Even though there are other ethnicities here, they are often not represented, not heard, not talked about within the tri-culture."

To find community, Jaiya is part of a group called Sista Circle that supports Black girls who grew up with similar lived experiences.

"I can watch my documentary and know that it's somewhere inspiring someone in New Mexico or not in New Mexico. I like having that impact on someone."

The radio version of this story was produced by Shelby Hawkins and edited by Jan Johnson. The digital version was edited by Treye Green.

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Shelby Hawkins
Shelby Hawkins is a producer who joined Morning Edition at the beginning of 2022. Before joining NPR, she interned in Chicago at WBEZ's audio news desk, where she focused on arts and culture. She also co-produced the documentary film, Sankofa Chicago, which won best educational film at Cannes World Film Festival. She holds an MA in Civic Media from Columbia College Chicago, and a BA in Multimedia Photojournalism and Biology from the same university. In her free time she works on puzzles and tries to keep her plants alive.
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