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Film Your Issue contest attracts buzz from big names

WASHINGTON—A new nationwide competition for short films by young people is causing a lot of buzz and drawing support from A-list celebs, politicians and even the Dalai Lama.

Top prize winners in the Film Your Issue competition will be recognized Monday at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

The contest, in its second year, sought 30- to 60-second films on contemporary issues from Americans ages 18 to 26. It drew more than 300 entries. MSNBC.com featured the 35 finalists, and 88,000 viewers voted for their favorites. So did a 28-member jury that included actor George Clooney, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and CNN newsthrob Anderson Cooper.

MSNBC viewers picked half the winners; celebs got the other half.

Winning filmmakers receive paid studio internships with The Walt Disney Co., trips to the Sundance Film Festival next year where their films will be screened, laptops and cell phones. Their films addressed topics such as child molestation, orphans in Africa, AIDS and the negative effects of technology.

"There's something about issues when they come from really young people," said FYI president and founder HeathCliff Rothman. "There's a certain clarity and truth when you hear about them."

One winner is already having some impact.

Benjamin Snow, a student at Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs, Colo., who has cerebral palsy, has been approached by the Labor Department about using his film, "Thumbs Down to Pity," in its employee training. The film is a critique of how people with disabilities are portrayed.

FYI is about issues, not politics, Rothman said.

"We're not MoveOn.org; we're not asking for people to send us films against (President) Bush," Rothman said. "Ninety-nine percent of films were not political, but on more important issues. I think when you're 20 years old, you grow up in a world with an expectation of equality, and I think that expectation is going to shift the way things work in the next 20 years."

Kyoo Kim, the vice president of sales for MSNBC.com, said more people voted on FYI films than voted in a MSNBC contest for their favorite Super Bowl commercial.

Why'd the network get involved? "We wanted to engage that audience because they were future news consumers, and user-generated videos are hot right now," Kim said.

The issues have been eye-opening for jury members.

"I would say young people are cynical and justifiably so," Rothman said. "There's a lot that is not working in the government and the culture, and I'd say they are really aware when it comes to understanding those nuances."

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Winners in the 2006 Film Your Issue competition are:

_"Innocence Lost," about the effects of child molestation on a family. By Gabriel Veenendaal, 25, Murray, Utah.

_"Orphans in Africa," about war's cost to Ugandan kids. By Tim Leaton, 22, Midlothian, Va.

_"Thumbs Down to Pity," about misunderstandings of disability. By Benjamin Snow, 19, Woodland Park, Colo.

_"Strike It Up," about how the iPod culture discourages social interaction. By Molly Conners, 26, Albany, N.Y.

_"It's the Buzz," about why the risk of disease doesn't stop unsafe sex. By Brian Gonzalez, 19, San Antonio.

_"Ubuntu: Humanity," about poverty in South Africa. By Scott Hamann, 25, South Portland, Maine.

To view these and other finalist entries, plus interviews with the films' makers, go to www.filmyourissue.com.

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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