‘No Malice Film Contest’ My Jury Experience

Photo credit: Chuck Osgood, RogerEbert.com

On January 29, 2021, I was contacted by Chaz Ebert to consider being on a panel of judges to judge film entries of 3 -7 minutes long for the NO MALICE FILM CONTEST for youth and young adults in Illinois. Chaz sponsored the event through The Ebert Foundation, along with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. The contest’s purpose is to encourage Illinois youth and young adults to express their thoughts about race through their film to promote healing. The name of the contest is inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, where he urged us to end slavery, rebuild the nation, and bind up our wounds with malice toward none and charity for all.

No Malice Film Contest Jury Members-2021

As a former school teacher, my thoughts were many, first and foremost—what a brilliant idea to begin teaching cultural and racial differences through children. And better yet, those same children actually creating their own narratives as seen through their eyes. When a child researches and creates a project of their own, something remarkable begins to happen—it’s the light switch that all teachers strive for—namely ‘intrinsic motivation.’ Yes, there were prizes attached, which could be viewed as motivation, although, to see their personal project through to the end, a child typically becomes invested.

Creating a film to be judged continues the skills of synthesis, analysis, application, and finally, the highest level of critical thinking—evaluation. Not to mention the process of editing, filming, and critiquing their own work. The icing on the cake here is the celebration where all are invited to view the top three winners of each group, and hear the creator’s purpose, thus continuing the learning process. You can only imagine my adulation and excitement at the conclusion of the celebration—as these children will begin to see how we should genuinely treat others in our world, the nine-month process time was worth the wait.

No Malice Film Contest winners-2021, RogerEbert.com

Young filmmakers between the ages of 11 and 21 were invited to create short films exploring and promoting racial healing. The Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation helped run the contest and selected the winners in three age groups. The project was funded through the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation with a grant from Healing Illinois, a racial healing initiative of the Illinois Department of Human Services in partnership with The Chicago Community Trust.

L-R: Sarah Knight Adamson and Chaz Ebert with Columbia Film Students Cade Martsching, Jennifer Fenstermaker, Ally Peggs, Shalyn Delhaes, Norah Finn and Cassandra Daviswith.

Students competed as individuals or in groups in three age brackets: 11-14, 15-18, and 19-21. Live-action films must be between three minutes and seven minutes long. The minimum length for animated films is 45 seconds. Cash prizes were awarded at a red-carpet celebration at the Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois, on September 19, 2021. First-place winners in each age bracket received $2,000; second-place winners in each age bracket received $1,000, and third-place winners in each age bracket received $500. The winning films will also be shown at the Ebertfest Film Festival in Urbana-Champaign at the University of Illinois. Illinois schools will use the films, and supplemental curriculum created by educators, to talk about race and the harmful impact of bias and injustice.

The entire Panel of Judges was tasked with judging the entries based on how they addressed the issue of racial healing in creative, engaging, and informative ways.

L-R: Sarah Knight Adamson and Chaz Ebert with Columbia Film Students Cade Martsching, Jennifer Fenstermaker, Ally Peggs ,Shalyn Delhaes, Norah Finn and Cassandra Daviswith.

The Panel of Judges was divided into three groups: Group One previewed and rated the films submitted by contestants in the age group 11-14. This group was led by Chief Judge Nell Minow and included: Simon Abrams, Hallin Burgan, Sonia Evans, Veronique Hester, Collin Souter and Gerardo Valero. Winning first place in that category was Niko Robinson’s “Be the GOOD. Second place was won by London Shields’ “Racial Healing in Oppressed Communities.” In third place, Abigail Eldridge’s “We the People” and Jessica Wong’s “Racial Justice”tied.

Group Two: Ages 15-18 was led by Chief Judge Niani Scott and included: Sarah Knight Adamson, Sue-Ellen Chitunya, Jordan Csigi, Matt Fagerholm, Brandon Towns, and Jason Yue. Winning first place in that category was Kenya Apongule’s “Hush,” followed by Sean Emmanuel Atienza’s “Puzzle” in second place and Azalee Irving’s “Interracial Relationships” in third place.

Group Three: Ages 19-21 was led by Chief Judge Robert Daniels and included: Mark Dujsik, Jana Monji, Omer Mozaffar, Ezra Pelaez, Ibad Shah, and Wendy Wolverton. Winning first place in that category was Anna Lee Ackermann’s “As We Are Planted,” followed by Michael Proctor’s “A Call to Fight lies: Practical Steps to Fight Injustice” in second place and Zaknafein Luken’s “Hate Is Not Welcome Here” in third place.

Chaz wrote, “I feel privileged to witness the blossoming of these young filmmakers as they thoughtfully use art to convey ideas and principles of empathy, kindness, and community. Working with them gave me a sense of hope for our future. I along, with Angela Staron of ALPLF and our Judges Panel were constantly heartened as we watched not only the films that ultimately won the contest, but all of the submissions. We even had to disqualify some films because they came from other countries, or were submitted by contestants who didn’t meet other qualifications. But even in those instances, we previewed films that telegraphed that some of these young people today will certainly become compassionate leaders of tomorrow.”

“Racial healing is a huge topic of today, and honestly, it’s been a topic for several decades! It’s time for a change, and it’s time for people to realize that we can do this together. There needs to be changed; it’s long overdue.”
Chaz also wanted to show people that racism is a form of hate that is taught. It is a learned behavior. Some people are raised to learn to hate certain races and cultures while others are not. Everyone isn’t a racist. There are definitely some great people that can move past those behaviors and love people for who they are, regardless of their race or ethnicity.

The celebration at Navy Pier was one of smiles abound! The word pride can be used to describe the look on many of the young filmmakers’ faces, including their parents. I invited my intern from Sarah’s Backstage Pass, Norah Finn, to the event as she’s a film student and Senior at Columbia College in Chicago; she invited five of her classmates. The lively discussion afterwards, focused on the incredible creativity of the films, and the heightened sense of awareness to the topic at hand.

Chaz Ebert opening remarks, Sarah K. Adamson photo.

Chaz Ebert hosted the event; she told lively stories about differences and likenesses and quoted Abraham Lincoln, “The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise—with the occasion…think anew, and act anew.” She told us that Abraham Lincoln, in his second inaugural address, sought to heal the nation’s racial wounds after the Civil War “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” Illinois schools will use the films, and supplemental curriculum created by educators, to talk about race and the harmful impact of bias and injustice.

She noted how seriously the filmmakers took the notion that because everything on earth is connected to everything else, it truly matters how we treat one another. She hopes the films will cause viewers to pause and open their hearts to the messages of hope and unity artfully conveyed by these young people. As their films show, acts of empathy, compassion, and kindness can change the narrative in our everyday lives. I, too, echo these sentiments and was honored to be called to the stage and be introduced.

Chaz introduces the judges in attendance, Norah Finn Photo Credit.

Chaz invited the Seminar Instructors: Shawn Taylor and Liliane Calfee, and the Jury Members: Sarah Knight Adamson, Sue-Ellen Chitunya, Veronique Hester, Omer M. Mozaffar, and Niani Scott to join her onstage to take a bow.

Sarah Knight Adamson@ September 20, 2021

Check out my coverage of the No Malice contest on my radio podcast here: https://sarahsbackstagepass.com/emmy-award-winners-tiff-winners-no-malice-film-contest-h360-podcast/

To view the Navy Pier Celebration, click here: https://www.rogerebert.com/chazs-blog/no-malice-film-celebration-to-be-held-september-19th-at-the-yard-at-chicago-shakespeare-theater

To find out more about the contest, click here:https://filmfreeway.com/NoMaliceFilmContest