New Mexico middle and high school students can now learn filmmaking through the Film Prize Junior New Mexico, a short-film curriculum, contest and festival that brings film industry professionals and students together.

The Prize Foundation teamed up with Stagecoach Foundation to launch the program at the Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe on Saturday (Aug. 28). The evening event hosted students, teachers, industry professionals, foundation leaders and elected officials.

"Film Prize Junior has been helping middle school and high school kids create films and find success in their lives, so expansion of the concept was imminent," said Gregory Kallenberg, executive director of the Prize Foundation.

Film Prize Junior was established in 2017 as a student version of the Louisiana Film Prize to teach kids the creative and collaborative skills of storytelling, planning and teamwork.

"We want New Mexicans to have those [writers, directors, actors] positions and have those opportunities. We have to start creating the pathways and Film Prize Junior New Mexico does exactly that," said Elizabeth Stahmer, executive director of Stagecoach Foundation.

The program tapped Rosey Hayett from the media literacy nonprofit True Kids 1 to run the statewide initiative from Taos. More than 30 middle and high school classrooms will participate, with students competing to win digital media and filmmaking grants, student scholarships and teacher recognition awards.

"We have schools registering every day. We're up over 30 schools in - I think - 11 counties," said Hayett, the program's director, who counts Taos High School, Vista Grande High School, Taos Integrated School for the Arts and Roots and Wings Community School among those participating.

The program will provide students a combination of in-person and virtual workshops, along with lessons plans and resources for students and teachers, and will include a dual-credit component with the University of New Mexico and other colleges in the state.

"We're really committing to virtual support," said Hayett. "We have around 80 schools that are doing this project in Louisiana, and we're going to be connecting students from both Louisiana and New Mexico to attend these virtual workshops, which really is creating a diverse group of students."

"We have a lot of African American students in Louisiana, and here in New Mexico, from a lot of rural communities and tribal communities. So I think it's going to be exciting to see what stories the students bring, especially after this crazy couple of years they've been through," he said.

Kids will learn storyboarding, script writing, acting, shooting and post-production skills. They'll also help produce the festival and market the event through radio, social media and on the red carpet.

Raya Shabtai, a high school senior studying at the all-online James Madison Academy, was tapped by Hayett to provide leadership to students who participate in Film Prize Junior.

"He asked me to be on the leadership board, and to help the younger kids, and just be one of the people there to help them," said Shabtai. She began working in film in the seventh grade, and through Hayett and True Kids 1, completed an internship at the Roundhouse and hosted several radio shows.

Genevieve de Vellis, a Taos High School French teacher, will also be supporting her students and helping them incorporate aspects of their French curriculum into their films.

Shabtai and de Vellis attended the program kickoff at the Jean Cocteau Cinema together. "It was very motivating, uplifting and inspirational," said de Vellis. "The people involved are really caring people that want to see students here have a creative outlet that will help them express themselves."

The festival will be held from April 22-24, 2022 in Santa Fe. Students will compete in categories that include Best Film, Comedy, Drama, Sci-Fi/Thriller, Stop Motion/Animation and Documentary/PSA.

Prize funding will come from festival sponsors, as well as public and private funding. Other program partners include the New Mexico Public Education Department, GEAR UP New Mexico, Adobe and Watchbeem.

"It is really inspiring to note that many Tribal communities and communities of color, underserved and marginalized communities and schools will receive the opportunity for this incredible mentorship, and more importantly, that moment to be on the stage with their films," said State Rep. Roger Montoya, D-NM, at the program kickoff in Santa Fe. "And that's going to be beautiful."

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