Encouraging Self-Expression Among Students 

Student filmmakers bring social issues to life

June 01, 2015

Armed with cameras and full of creativity, CPS students are making their mark with artistic movies.

Austin L., an 8th-grader at Beaubien Elementary School, recently won first place in the national Speak Truth to Power human rights campaign. His short film, “What Does School Mean to You?”, was inspired by a class project on Malala Yousafzai, an advocate for children’s education and the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. 

“We were doing a unit on human rights, which started with I am Malala, the autobiography of Malala Yousafzai,” said Nora Nagle, a first-year language arts teacher at Beaubien. “This was an opportunity for my students to inquire about the world around them.”

Nagle asked her students to identify important human rights, then create a website, video or series of posters based on their findings. Austin decided to make a short film, which he wrote, narrated and animated.

“I think that people, especially young people, should know about human rights and how to protect and defend them like Malala,” Austin said. “It’s really important to know how to raise awareness. I’d also like people to know how important education is and how much our world relies on it. Without education, we wouldn’t be anywhere.”

At Curie High School, students in Valerie Xanos’ multimedia class also created a short film tackling social issues. Inspired by the David Bowie exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the class produced “Wake UP!”, which focuses on rejecting conformity.

“The creative work displayed as part of the exhibit helped us channel our inner weirdness and share our message with the world,” said Curie sophomore Daisy S. “We wanted to show that you can go against society and share your true self with the world, just like David Bowie did with his artwork.”

With the help of resident artist Lee Blalock, the students spent four months on their film, and were responsible for all aspects of bringing it to life. Their tasks included writing and directing each scene, mastering the technology of film and sound, and creating costumes and choreography. 

“When you can work as an artist, that makes all the difference,” Xanos said. “They created the film as artists, not as students, and they were in charge every step of the way.” 

“Wake UP!” made its big-screen debut at the MCA earlier this year and was screened at the museum’s annual creative arts exposition for teens, 21 Minus, on May 30. 

“The message we want people to take away from our film is to be yourself -- no matter where you are and who you’re with,” said Curie senior Juan A. “You’ll find out who likes you for you. But don’t conform because that suppresses your creativity.”

His classmate, Beatrice S., agreed.

“We deal with peer pressure every day because we’re in high school,” she said. “People tell me all the time what to do and who to be. But this film shows you can do and be whatever you want.”

Page Last Modified on Monday, June 22, 2015