In June, Project VoiceScape, a collaboration between Adobe Youth Voices, PBS Foundation and POV, awarded fifteen $2,000 filmmaking grants to 22 emerging documentary talents from around the country.

Project VoiceScape editorial committee member Jessica Lee tells us about the challenges she faced in awarding the grants and what’s next for the filmmaker-finalists.

Jessica Lee

As an avid supporter of both POV and youth arts initiatives, I was very honored to serve on Project VoiceScape’s editorial committee. It was incredibly heartening to see aspiring filmmakers tackle mature and meaningful topics like illegal immigration, racial justice, disability, homosexuality and gentrification. I thought to myself, when I was in high school, all I wanted to do was go to the beach and avoid homework!

As cliché as it sounds, it wasn’t easy to choose just fifteen grantees. I found it very difficult to judge young people’s artistic work and vision, namely because you want to give everyone a chance to explain themselves, you want to be able to talk to them, hear their justifications, understand where they’re coming from. But ultimately, that is the challenge of good filmmaking, to express your point of view as clearly as possible, so that it resonates with all kinds of viewers, whomever and wherever they are. That’s the power and magic of documentaries.

Aside from the impressive range of topics covered by these students, it was clear that they each had a passion not only for the subjects of their films, but also for the art of filmmaking. POV has always been a strong advocate of the craft of storytelling, and it was evident that the Project VoiceScape winners all have the beginnings of a personal filmmaking style and a natural understanding of storyline. I’m excited to see what they ultimately produce, now that they have been partnered with a mentor who can help grow their talent.

Project VoiceScape encourages middle- and high-school students nationwide to use digital media tools to create compelling stories about issues and concerns important to them. The 15 winning projects were awarded $2,000 each in completion funds, and the students are being mentored by award-winning documentary filmmakers. Three finalists will also be selected and featured on the POV website . Project VoiceScape grant recipients will be honored at an event on October 6, 2011, at the Newseum in in Washington, D.C.

Jessica Lee is a member of Project VoiceScape’s Editorial Committee. She’s the founder of Lightbox Media and a producer of educational materials for independent media. As outreach and development manager at POV from 2007-2010, she helped facilitate hundreds of free community screenings, spearheaded partnerships with national organizations and oversaw research for POV’s companion materials. She holds a master’s degree in education leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University.

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POV (a cinema term for "point of view") is television's longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. POV premieres 14-16 of the best, boldest and most innovative programs every year on PBS. Since 1988, POV has presented over 300 films to public television audiences across the country. POV films are known for their intimacy, their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues.