News Column

TEEN FACE: Young filmmaker wins state recognition

June 23, 2013


June 23--The one-minute video plays like a public service announcement and shows glimpses of a young man's day -- jogging, going to high school, drawing, hanging out with a girlfriend.

There is a sweetness to his smile, but there is also a hint of something troubling, an angst his fellow students detect.

"You are my friend; you are not a mental illness. You cannot be defined by that, just as I cannot be defined by my race, gender or sexuality," states the assuring voice of the female narrator. "You can be defined by your strength."

The "More than a Mental Illness" clip, which just won second place in a statewide youth video contest, was the brainchild of Emma Spiekerman, a 2013 graduate of Montgomery High School.

She wrote the script, cast her friends in it, played the original guitar and piano soundtrack, and also edited.

She shot it with an $800 digital Sony camera with HD video capability that she bought with money saved up from her part-time job at Old Navy.

Her video was entered into the Eliminating Stigma category of the Directing Change contest for high school student filmmakers, who worked to reduce suicide among their peers and break down the stereotypes of mental illness.

Spiekerman was among 371 submissions representing more than 900 students and 142 schools from 35 counties.

"It's really hard to be a teen in high school and suffer from a mental health problem. That's what motivated me to want to spread this message of acceptance, and the fact that people aren't their mental illness," she said, adding that it's important to reach out to someone who's struggling.

Spiekerman's entry garnered her $2,500 in prize money, half of which will go to Montgomery High's film program.

The video can be viewed at www. illness/ She also won $1,000 with same video in another contest, "Art with Impact."

It's part of the culmination of her high school years reflecting a 4.5 grade-point average that included advanced classes, studying and making films, and judging youth entries in the San Francisco Film Festival.

Her latest prize-winning video is a great launch for Spiekerman, who is "super excited" to be entering college this fall at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, where she plans to major in film and TV production.

"This is my passion. I'm really excited about it," she said.

Spiekerman said she loves documentaries and films with social messages, as well as comedies and drama.

Directing, editing and producing are all of interest to her, whether it be in TV or film.

"I have hope in television. I feel the industry is stronger in certain ways," she said. "I still have to figure it all out. There are a lot of different directions I'm interested in."

When she was given her prize last month in Sacramento, she had a chance to talk with the presenters, who were from the TV hit series "Glee," director Bradley Bucker and actor Max Adler.

"The director said to 'start getting used to rejection.' That's something I'll have to work on," she said. "He talked about never giving up -- trying and trying."

But she's confident.

"I have the motivation to do whatever I want to do," she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or


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