Contributor: Maya Montell
As a teenager, it is hard to know how I can make a difference in the world. Fourteen-year-olds don’t drive, we don’t make a lot of money, and with school, homework and extracurricular activities, we don’t have a lot of time. When my teacher, Ms. Bengels, introduced me to a challenge that was not only about bettering the community, but also a way in which I could use my passion for documentary filmmaking, I leaped at the opportunity. The IWitness Video Challenge not only allowed me to pursue my passion but also encourage me to make a difference.
My interest in documentary filmmaking comes partly from my love of stories. I love storytelling because it transports me to another world and allows me to feel what it is like to be somebody else. I previously made a documentary about Jane Goodall and her work in animal conservation. However, the IWitness Video Challenge gave me a chance to tell the story of people making a positive change in my own community.
One of my favorite parts of creating this documentary was interviewing people. I was a newcomer to the Poets Undercover Guild, a poetry club founded by classmates Allison Vandal and Caroline Waters to inspire students to express themselves after dealing with bullying and other hard times. I learned so much about it from speaking to its creators and to a seventh grader who was helped by the poems. I loved hearing people talk about their passions and what they have learned through life experience. When you interview people, it is a very natural process, unlike say, a speech or a book. When you interview someone, you see that person’s unedited thoughts and feelings; and without cutting to the “best” parts, the interview allows me to see the full picture of a person’s experience.
Through film, I wanted to tell the story that you don’t have to be an adult, famous or powerful to make a difference. The Poets Undercover Guild project started simply as a small act of kindness, and ultimately had an impact beyond what anyone could anticipate. It was incredible to see their organization grow and to hear the stories of kids who had received these poems. It reminded me that even small acts could stick with people for a long time.
I saw this again when I watched the testimonies of the Holocaust survivors in IWitness. The testimonies that still stick in my head are the ones about how small acts of kindness had an incredible impact on the survivors. It is hard to imagine how something as simple as a poem could give someone hope under those circumstances. I learned from the survivors’ stories that even small acts of kindness can have a powerful impact, and even as a teenager, I can make a difference.
It was because of this experience that I have found a passion inside my passion; using filmmaking to tell stories that make the world a better place. From the IWitness Challenge, I have learned through even small acts, you can make a difference.
I encourage you to participate in this year’s IWitness Video Challenge.