When high school students Sarah, Nia and Ricardo (and teammate Carnell, who isn't featured in the above interview) started their project as participants in a six-week summer session run by Chicago-based student documentary production program Free Spirit Media, it was clear they wanted their film to cover a local issue important to them. As the students brainstormed possible topics for the short documentaries they'd create that summer, they debated whether to cover teen pregnancy, obesity, depression and suicide, or pollution. They landed on teen depression and suicide, an issue all four of the students had seen affect people in their schools and neighborhoods. In the WBEZ podcast you can listen to Sarah, Nia and Ricardo talk about their project, what inspired them to dig into such a heavy topic, and how these teens handle depression themselves.
In their planning for the documentary the students had unknowingly picked up on an alarming statistic: according to a CDC report from 2012, the Chicago teen suicide rate is the highest in the nation. By the end of summer 2013, the students had produced "I Am Happy," which you can watch below.
Free Spirit Media is an organization that works with young people in Chicago, teaching them multimedia skills and how to use those skills to create projects inspired by issues in their own communities. Free Spirit Media’s summer partnership with the Pulitzer Center, now in its fifth year, brings journalists to serve as mentors to the students as they conceptualize, plan and create short documentary films. This collaboration is supported by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.