Film Focus short ‘The Journey’ wins first place in state-wide competition

Emily Cerf

“There’s some really great work with images and how to tell a story, and doing it within 60 seconds is quite a challenge alone,” said Peter Parish, Film Focus teacher. “But these need a solid message. They’re not just telling a story, they’re really trying to deliver a specific message.”

This challenge is exactly what four seniors excelled at in their production of “The Journey,” a 60-second PSA about Mental Health Awareness.

Benedict Conran, Thomas Hayden Smeltzer, Asha Cummings and Dominique Cruz won first place in The Directing Change Program & Film Contest in California, which is part of the larger Each Mind Matters: California’s Mental Health Movement. The students competed against 450 submissions from around the state.

Students attend the state-wide red carpet event.
Students attend the state-wide red carpet event.

Placing in both the regional and state competition is an accomplishment unprecedented in Redwood’s history.

California’s Mental Health Movement is funded by voter-approved Mental Health Services Act (Prop 63) and administered by the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), according to the Directing Change website.

After winning first place in the regional competition, the students competed among other finalists across the state in the category of “Suicide Prevention” for the state championship. The students and Parish traveled to Glensdale, Calif. on May 20 to attend a full-day awards event and receive the results of the statewide competition.

The film depicts Conran as the main character who is on a road trip discussing his depression. According to Cummings, both Cruz and Cummings used their background in visual art to incorporate mostly candid shots.

“Specifically with me and Asha, a lot of our projects start with a word or one single shot and then we build off of that,” said Cruz, one of two producers of the film. “In this case, it was the map and the road trip deal. That was all we started with, and went from there.”

It was important to the students that they be especially respectful of people who suffer with mental health issues, according to Cruz and Cummings.

“It’s kind of odd because it is a film project and you’re looking at it from a competition point of view, but the whole goal is to raise awareness for mental health. I think as a group we became a lot more conscious of how our actions artistically impacted people,” Cruz said.

The group chose to have Conran as the main character of the film to help break a stigma it perceived surrounding issues of men with mental illness.

“You really don’t see that very often—it’s kind of a taboo to see men talking about mental illness. So that was one of the things we really wanted to focus on,” Cummings said.
The competition is a “perfect” project for the Film Focus class, in which students learn about equipment, techniques and style involved in producing films, according to Parish.

The parameters around the competition include a length of 60 seconds and the inclusion of a strong message. The large number of participants was also ideal according to Parish as it provided healthy competition.