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Behind the Lens: Local teen filmmakers tackle C-SPAN's StudentCam Documentary Contest 

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"It's the biggest amount of joblessness anyone's ever seen and it's affecting a lot of people and businesses. Also, Bend is one of the worst towns when it comes to the economy."

Such sentiments have been tossed around in conversation for a couple years now, but it might come as a surprise to learn that these are the words of a 15-year-old Bend High freshman. Her name is Beth Miller and she is one of the eight middle and high school students gathered at the downtown Bend Boys and Girls Club to begin work on a video project sponsored by C-SPAN.

As their peers play games of foosball, pool or assist club staff in putting together the afternoon's next activity, the two groups at the Bend Boys and Girls Club working on the C-SPAN project are in a backroom, huddled around a pair of laptop computers. Beth and the other students are still in the idea stage at this point and they won't have a camera in their hands for a few more days, but their enthusiasm bubbles as they pore through page after page of government web sites.

In 2009, the C-SPAN StudentCam contest yielded roughly 1,000 entries nationwide, but only one from Bend. This year, Bend Broadband took notice of the contest and got behind it, believing that there could easily be more Central Oregon entries. As part of their community outreach, the local cable provider brought the idea to local schools and youth organizations.

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The competition invites middle and high-school-aged students to create five-to-eight minute documentaries based on one of two topics: One of the nation's greatest strengths or a challenge the country is facing. Not only do the students gain some filmmaking experience in the process, but there's also some big money involved. C-SPAN plans on awarding $50,000 in cash prizes, which is divided amongst 75 student prizes and 11 teacher prizes.

There are two separate groups working at the Boys and Girls Club, and Beth's group has decided to make a video about financial instability. The other group is addressing the issue of poverty by interviewing people working at local homeless shelters. Again, the videos are five to eight minutes in length, which may seem like just a blip, but creating such a film often takes hours upon hours of writing, shooting and editing. With these eight minutes, the students at the Boys and Girls Club hope to create something that will make an impact, as well as stand up nicely to the entries of their peers from across the country.

"This contest is good for students in Bend, in particular, because it's important for people to hear student voices from this part of the country. Usually, these contests draw students from bigger cities and it's important to hear from people in the suburbs and people outside of the larger cities in improving our government," says Suzanne Tarbet, the community relations representative for BendBroadband.

The group at the Bend Boys and Girls Club, as well as the Clubs in Redmond and Terrebonne, will shoot their projects on cameras donated by BendBroadband.

"The donation of the cameras to this project has really made it possible altogether. This is a resource that we didn't have available, so this just removed one of the obstacles, enabling our kids to get started right away," says Brandy Fultz, Operations Director at the Club.

At least one local filmmaker has thrown his hat in the ring to help the students at the Boys and Girls Club edit their films. Hans Skjersaa, of FlickFive Films, formerly Blue Screen Video and Film, has offered his assistance. The Bend native has been producing video in Central Oregon for 12 years and has an IMDB credit for his work on the standup comedy show Alive N' Kicking and short film "Lucky Star."

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Matt Calanchini, a multimedia teacher at Summit High School, heard about the contest, as many Bendites did, by way of a flyer that arrived with his monthly cable bill. Later, Terri Mintz from BendFilm and Tarbet came to him in order to get his students involved. Last month, Tarbet and Mintz joined Tamara Robinson, C-SPAN's Washington D.C.-based Media Relations Specialist, on a tour of local schools to introduce the project to students. They showed entries from former winners and Mintz challenged students to think outside the box. Calanchini decided to roll the contest into his curriculum for his Multimedia 1 class.

"I think it's empowering for students to enter a video contest, get their work exposed and shed light on themselves," says Calanchini, "It's a good way to understand the connections they can make to politicians and [the political] process."

Students in Calanchini's class had the option of creating a project for the StudentCam competition or entering another video contest about teen workers safety in the work place. The other contest only calls for a 45-second PSA, but there are a good number of students brave enough to take on the five-to-eight minute requirement of the C-SPAN contest.

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At least at Summit High, the projects seem to be leaning more toward national concerns than local issues. One student is taking on the challenge of outlining the inequality of pay for females versus males in the American workplace. Another student filmmaker wants to discuss animal protection and animal rights.

In addition to the teens in the Boys and Girls Clubs and the students at Summit High, groups at Redmond High School, Bend High School and Redmond Proficiency Academy, a charter high school for students who desire a more interest-based study, are also taking on the C-SPAN project.

"I was a little intimidated by it having to be five to eight minutes long at first," says Beth Miller with the rest of her group looking on at the Boys and Girls Club in Bend. Then she shrugs and smiles.

"But I think we can do it."

Additional reporting by Mike Bookey.

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