High school filmmakers explore violence, gender identity, social media pressure, autism in Open Mind Film Festival
What’s on American teenagers’ minds? Gun violence, gender identity, social media pressure, sexual violence and autism, according to submissions to the 2023 Open Mind Film Festival.
Now in its third year, the festival, sponsored by Friends of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, invites high school students across the country to submit short films addressing issues affecting their mental health. More than 130 films from 20 states were entered this year, says festival co-founder and co-chair Mia Silverman.
Finalists were screened at the virtual festival April 30 and now are available for viewing online along with top films from the previous years.
“We’re glad they have a place where they can tell their stories,” Silverman says. “And we think it will be good for both the teens and the others in the audience to see these stories told.”
Many focused on violence
Violence emerged as a common theme among this year’s entries, she says. Four of the 10 finalists deal with the topic — in the form of school violence and intimate partner violence.
“It was eye-opening for us,” Silverman says. “Intellectually it’s obvious that the level of violence we see on TV and hear about in the news would have an impact, but to see it translated into these films was really powerful.”
“It emphasizes how candid these kids are,” adds festival co-chair Mary Snyder. “They’re telling their stories, their fears, what their lives are like, which is really remarkable — to just put it out there in the form of a video that they’re submitting to a film festival.
“The idea of it being an artistic expression as opposed to a confession is a wonderful way to give them the freedom to speak.”
Two of the featured films address gender roles. Another is about a 16-year-old being diagnosed with autism. The 10 finalists are vying for $2,000 in prizes.
Actor and filmmaker Bryan Greenberg will host the program, which also will include a conversation between singer Henry Platt and Andrea Sonnenberg, host of the youth mental health podcast "Getting Thru."
Platt will share his personal experiences dealing with mental health challenges in college and what he did to overcome them, Snyder says.
“He realized in his journey through this that it was so important to be able to talk to people — to be able to express his problems and what was going on with him emotionally,” she says. “The film festival is just another way for kids to express this.”
Building a community
Snyder and Silverman, both Friends of Semel board members, created the Open Mind Film Festival as a way to engage young people around issues of mental health. Seeing the festival grow and draw interest from across the country has been deeply rewarding, Silverman says.
“We are just in love with this project,” she says. “We really feel we’ve opened a unique opportunity and another way for kids to be heard.”
Now that the festival has been going on for a few years, it’s become a community, she says, as previous entrants have become judges and presenters.
Says Silverman, “We just hope to see it keep growing.”