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Students win prizes for short videos about compassion

Two local students made moving videos about caring and compassion, and were amply rewarded for their artistry.

Mariah Barrera, a junior at City High/Middle School, won first prize, with an award of $1,000, and Morgan Weststrate, a sophomore at Byron Center High School, won second prize, worth $500, in the inaugural Spectrum Health Mosaic Mobile student film competition.

The contest is an outgrowth of the Mosaic Mobile Film Experience, an annual film festival for West Michigan students. This is the first time another organization has partnered with The Mosaic Film Experience to host its own contest. Spectrum wanted to recognize creativity, “a key skill for our community’s youth and our nearly 30,000 employees,” said Ovell Barbee, senior vice president of human resources.

Entrants had to use “people first” as a theme, use headphones as a prop, and use the words “We hear you” within their two- to three-minute films. Tess Cowles of Loy Norrix High School in Kalamazoo won the $250 third prize. The winners will be recognized at a Mosaic Film Experience event next fall.

Mariah Barrera wanted people to think about walls in a new way, other than the divisiveness of the proposed southern border wall

Reaching Beyond Walls

Mariah Barrera took the politically charged issue of a southern border wall with Mexico to make a broader statement about empathy, in her first-prize film “Behind the Wall.” It initially depicts a little boy peering up at a high wall and listening to a voice on the other side, then returning to the wall as a young man with a new perspective.

The characters are played by her brothers Zane, 3, and Marcos, 14, and the film was shot against the wall along the M-6 freeway near her Cutlerville area home.

Although the controversy about President Trump’s proposed border wall is very much on her mind as a Latina, Barrera said she wanted her video to go beyond that issue.

“Walls have become so synonymous with division,” Mariah said. “I took it on as my personal challenge to try to remove that association and try to offer something else. Sometimes these metaphorical walls or barriers can be opportunities for people to have empathy with each other.”

Empathy comes through in her film, when a voice on the other side of the wall says to the little boy, “I hear you, we hear you.”

“If we can all have compassion and empathy, those things can prevail against any situation or border,” Mariah said. She will study filmmaking at New York University this summer, with an eye toward a career in film.

Notice Those Who Care

Byron Center High School sophomore Morgan Weststrate took home the second-place prize of $500 for her film, “Silent Voices.”

Morgan Weststrate’s short film makes the point that people can sometimes be blind to others who want to help them

Starring sophomore Alayna Adams and teacher Julie VanderLaan, the video shows how it’s easy to overlook people who are trying to reach out. She created it after attending the Mosaic Film Experience.

“At first, in the video, the girl thinks nobody cares about her, but she’s just blinded by those thoughts … (and) doesn’t even notice all these people are trying to help her out,” Morgan said. “Sometimes people don’t realize so many people are doing things for them and putting them first that they don’t even think about it.”

She and her classmate Lara Johansen also won the People’s Choice Award in the Mosaic Mobile 2019 juried short film competition for their video, “Through Different Lenses.”

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers Rockford and Grand Rapids. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.


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