Pulitzer Center Update

Project: Report Semi-finalists Find Inspiration

Donte Donald, Pulitzer Center

The instructions for the first round of Project Report video contest were to film a day in the life of an inspiring person, and the participants answered the call with compelling stories. The top 10 semi-finalists come from a group of 148 qualified entrants. With topics that run the gamut from environmental responsibility to healthcare inequities, this year's crop of entrants approached the assignment from multiple angles that brought their subjects to life.

With such a strong field it wasn't easy choosing the 10 best. We hope you'll view all the entries, at youtube.com/projectreport—and remember, make your own selection to choose the Community Award winner from among the entries on the site.

The 10 semi-finalists submitted films that told inspiring and unique stories. From a pilot who volunteers his time and aircraft to transport sick people to distant hospitals to a compassionate elderly woman who sews pillows for those serving in the armed services, the subjects lead daily lives that should be shared.

Emmanual Elan Gepner's sense of living in a global community was influenced by his frequent travels as a child. Though born in Minneapolis, Minnesota he grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with frequent summer trips to Switzerland to visit his mother's family. He continues to live in Philadelphia where he works as a performer in a theater company. Channeling his love for both theater and youth advocacy, Gepner also created a nonprofit that seeks to give youths creative means of stress relief and decrease incidents of violence in public schools. His video, "The People's Painter," speaks to this desire to use art to create a higher good as all of the artwork focuses on healing and sharing human stories.

Gepner said he entered the contest because "I am a big proponent and supporter of positive media. I would like media to share stories that actually empower people."

Jack Ballo's "Elio" chronicles Elio Madonia and his organization's work to provide adequate housing for the many homeless people in the Dominican Republic. Ballo often offers his expertise and time to nonprofit organizations that do not have the means to make videos to raise awareness. He said he knew Project: Report would be a great opportunity to help Elio raise awareness of his organization to a large group of people in the Dominican Republic and beyond.

"YouTube is changing the world as for as communication goes," Ballo said. "I love that you can say so much in just three minutes. You can tell big stories in only three minutes!"

Alex Rozier, a third year student at the University of Missouri, knew this competition was the perfect opportunity to apply everything he has learned studying broadcast journalism. He also knew he had the perfect story to tell. In his video, Rozier documents a day in the life of Amanda McDaniel, a teen who suffers from childhood bone cancer yet still manages to cheer for her high school sports teams. "That prompt was written for this girl," he said.

"I always try to find stories that are uplifting to counter the sad news that saturates the media. The journey that this girl has taken is such an inspiration. Sitting with Amanda reminds me how lucky I am to have another day here."

Patrick Aviles chose his subject, Santos Camacho, after using his recycling center for the last four years. He and his former college roommate and production partner, Robert Knauf, both heard about the competition through the Media Art Center, a San Diego nonprofit for which they both work. "It was a great opportunity to feature someone and make it look great," Aviles said.
Knauf said he and Aviles both prize the opportunity to tell stories not conventionally covered in the mainstream media. "Journalism is becoming more of a people's medium," he said. "It is no longer up to major companies to decide what to put on the air, but more about citizen journalism."

As a full-time student at Northwestern University and a licensed commercial pilot, Takayuki Ono appropriately chose to profile a pilot who volunteers his time to fly patients and others in distress. "I always wanted to do a piece on this organization, Angel Flight, and thought this was a great opportunity," Ono said. As for his thoughts on the competition, he said: "I think it was really amazing how creative people were with their story ideas and I'm thrilled to be among the semi-finalists."

At Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, Ono is a student of Beth Bennett, who made the Round 1 assignment a course requirement for her students. "The students were so enthusiastic about this project," Bennett said, "especially because it felt like they were playing for real stakes. Many of my students did enterprise stories especially for the contest and put in hours and hours of shooting and editing work."

Paul Franz chose to study multimedia journalism at the University of Miami because he knew he would need to acquire a variety of skills to make a career in journalism. "If I were going to survive in this industry, I would need a jump-start," he said.

His experience in the competition allowed him to work with a really high-end camera for the first time while also sharing the story of a 2009 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Dr. Pedro Jose Greer, a physician devoted to the care of low-income patients. "In school, we are looking into issues of poverty in Miami, and Dr. Greer was a good face to put on the issues both locally and nationally," Franz said.

Richgail Enriquez, originally from the Philippines, immigrated to the United States when she was 15. She now lives in San Francisco, where she works as a marketing and publication assistant while freelancing for online websites.

She jumped at the opportunity to enter Project: Report. "I always loved documentaries, and this was a great way to learn, get my work out there, and grow," she said. "I was really excited!" She found her subject by asking all her friends for suggestions for "untold [s]heroes." Upon meeting Lolita Kintanar, she was fascinated by her work with the homeless and knew her greatest challenge would be to tell it in under three minutes.

One would find few similarities between Samantha Danis, a senior at the University of Maine, and her subject, Alice Fogg. But upon closer examination it is easy to see that the broadcast journalism student shares the same vibrancy as her 82-year old subject. "Alice is probably the best subject and one of the best people I've ever met," Danis said.

The video details Fogg's mission to sew pillows for those serving in the armed services. "Alice is really one of a kind and so full of life," she said. "It was really humbling to meet her and an honor to be able to tell her story."

Mark Jeevaratnam is set to graduate from Davidson College this spring with a degree in economics and experience on the school wrestling team. He dreams of being an ethnographic documentary filmmaker and journalist. Jeevaratnam made films in high school but found it hard to continue producing films while staying abreast of his undergraduate coursework. "It was not until I traveled to the Philippines to produce a documentary last summer that I was really drawn back into it," he said. Project:Report allowed him to reconnect with his love of filmmaking.

He learned of the competition just days before the deadline. "I had already finished all the work I had due before spring break, and Sharon Hill is a phenomenal person," he said, referring to the cafeteria worker who became his subject. "I have gotten to know Sharon Hill over the course of my stay at Davidson because she works in Commons where we all eat. When I saw the premise of the contest, I knew Sharon was someone the rest of the world needed to meet."