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AETN 'Student Selects' past participants help other students look to the future

Posted 06 May 2015

People might be surprised to learn that Arkansas is not a bad place to be for a young filmmaker. Young Arkansas filmmakers now scatter across the country – and the world – pursuing opportunities that were first revealed through participation in the Arkansas Educational Television Network's (AETN) 'Student Selects: A Young Filmmakers Showcase.'

'For nearly a decade, 'Student Selects' has been giving Arkansas kindergarten through 12th grade students the chance to get involved early with state film festivals, workshops and scholarship opportunities,' Casey Sanders, AETN producer and program director, said 'Student Selects has started many students on the path of filmmaking and television broadcasting by giving them an outlet for creative expression and statewide recognition.'

Sarah Bailin and her twin sister, Emma, both of Little Rock, now attend Wellesley College in Massachusetts. These sisters produced four documentaries that were selected to be screened as part of 'Student Selects' from 2007 to 2010. In college, Sarah studies computer science and cinema and media studies with a production concentration.

'['Student Selects'] has certainly been one of the most instrumental [competitions] in helping me along my current career path,' Sarah said.

She currently serves as the co-president and technical director of Wellesley's satire news show, WCTV Boobtude, on YouTube and hopes to work in television production.

Since 'Student Selects,' Sarah and Emma each took a gap year between high school and college to study abroad in Taiwan and Belgium, respectively. While in Taiwan, Sarah learned a great deal about East Asian TV, which sparked a special interest of hers, the South Korean television industry.

Needless to say, Sarah's interest in film and television broadcast has taken her across the country and followed her around the globe. In the summer of 2014, she interned in New York City with NBC's Operations and Technical Services department.

'There is something about New York City you can't help but be drawn to,' Sarah said, remembering that exciting experience.

When she wasn't working, Sarah spent her time trying to visit all the locations around the city she'd seen in films. Although she said she doesn't think she came even close to finishing half of that list, she aims to return one day to finish.

Another 'Student Selects' winner, Connor Leech of Bentonville, says that his interest in film has followed him around the world. According to Leech, his travels already inspire him for the films he will make in the future. In March 2015, Leech was in Vientiane, Laos, while he also took a gap year before college to work and travel. So far, his journey has taken him to Japan and Thailand as well, and before he returns to the States he will visit India, Vietnam and Cambodia. In India, Leech will be joined by his friend Devon Gulati of Fayetteville, who helped film a public service announcement (PSA) that was chosen to be screened and broadcast as part of 'Student Selects 2014.' Since the screening of that PSA, the pair was contracted to produce several other freelance films together.

'This has been a life changing journey, and as a filmmaker I have been provided with infinite stories and experience that will influence my projects for the rest of my career,' Leech said.

In partnership with AETN and 'Student Selects,' the THEA Foundation awards four graduating seniors a $2,500 scholarship in the categories of screenwriting, directing, cinematography and editing. Leech received the 2014 directing scholarship for 'Consequences,' a drunk driving PSA. In the fall of 2015, Leech will attend the University of Texas at Austin to study film production and advertising, due in part to the financial support of his scholarship winnings in 'Student Selects.'

'Student Selects' has been a wonderful way for many young filmmakers to meet and work together to use their talents. Duos like Leech and Gulati aren't the only participants to continue to work together after their 'Student Selects' projects.

Landry Harlan – a native of Fayetteville, a 2014 graduate of the University of Tulsa and winner of the 2010 directing scholarship – runs and manages a website called The Thoroughfare that compiles recommendations of film, TV, music and books focused on current arts and culture. The Thoroughfare has more than 25 contributing writers and editors from around the world. Tanner Smith of Manila and William Sharp of Fayetteville, the 2010 screenwriting and editing scholarship recipients, respectively, now partner with Harlan and are writing film reviews for his site.

''Student Selects' acts as a wonderful medium for young film enthusiasts to meet and starting networking their skills,' Sanders said.

After graduating from Manila High School, Smith is now a senior at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. He is majoring in digital film and is currently working to finish his thesis project in film.

'If you can't tell already, I love making movies,' Smith said. '[Winning the screenwriting] award gave me the confidence to keep pursuing filmmaking because I felt I was good at it but could only get better.'

His desire to improve his skills has led him to participate  in everything film − from acting in friends' work, to documenting behind-the-scenes footage about other short films, to critiquing films for Eye for Independence and Delta Crossroads, to entering submissions into film festivals around the state.

'Student Selects' past participants and winners now follow many different paths in many different places, but for all of these filmmakers, 'Student Selects' acted as a springboard for exciting opportunities, scholarships, workshops and career paths.

''Student Selects' made me realize how much films can impact people and how I can be successful, even as a young filmmaker,' Whitney Butler, who won the 2014 cinematography scholarship, said.

Butler is a freshman digital filmmaking major at UCA.

''[Student Selects]' gave me hope and inspiration to push myself harder as a film student and [an opportunity] to see how important young filmmakers are to the future of the film industry,' she said.

Students like Smith have made the most of opportunities that AETN 'Student Selects' has provided for them. Smith's word of advice to future applicants?

'All I have to say is keep making movies,' he said.

Now in its ninth year, 'Student Selects' is an annual event that encourages K-12 Arkansas students to submit their film and video handiwork for possible broadcast on AETN, streaming on and screening at the Little Rock Film Festival (LRFF) and the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival (HSDFF). Throughout the year, 'Student Selects' maintains an open call policy, and AETN will accept and review entries as they are received.

Entry categories include, but are not limited to, documentary, narrative, animation, music videos and PSAs. The main stipulation is that in all of the submissions students must play key roles in the development and production of each project.

High school seniors who submit films to AETN's 'Student Selects' may also compete for $10,000 in college scholarships from the THEA Foundation. THEA awards four $2,500 Young Filmmaker Scholarships to graduating seniors who enter and qualify. Categories include: screenwriting, directing, cinematography and editing. This THEA scholarship competition is unique in that it is open to students who attend public, private, charter or home schools, as well as those who have completed their GED. Scholarships will be awarded to the student's institution of choice, regardless of planned major, GPA or test scores.

The LRFF and AETN will present student filmmaking workshops and screenings Tuesday and Wednesday, May 12 and 13. This partnership offers Arkansas's youngest filmmakers the opportunity to learn from the state's best filmmakers, meet the nation's finest storytellers, screen their very own films and be part of Arkansas's fastest growing film festival. In addition to 'Student Selects' and 'Made in Arkansas' screenings, this year's LRFF Youth! Program will include the following workshops: 'Props: Concept to Creation,' 'Interactive Filmmaking Workshop: Visual Storytelling' and a one day intensive hands-on filmmaking workshop. Middle and high school students interested in participating should contact Sanders, LRFF Youth! and education coordinator, at Similar workshops will be held during the HSDFF in October.

AETN 'Student Selects' partners include THEA Foundation, the Arkansas Humanities Council, Arkansas Film Commission, LRFF, HSDFF and Arkansas Motion Picture Institute.

Additional information, submission forms and past films are available at

The THEA Foundation is a nonprofit, public foundation founded in 2001 by the parents of Thea Kay Leopoulos, Linda and Paul David Leopoulos. The founders and board of directors have adopted the mission of carrying Thea's legacy forward through advocating the importance of art in the development of youth through educational and promotional activities and to encourage individual participation in art through scholarship, partnership and other programs.

The Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) is Arkansas's statewide public television network that enhances lives by providing lifelong learning opportunities for people from all walks of life. AETN delivers local, award-winning productions and classic, trusted PBS programs aimed at sharing Arkansas and the world with viewers. AETN depends on the generosity of Arkansans and the State of Arkansas to continue offering quality programming. For more information, visit, or follow the AETN blog at AETN is broadcast on KETS (Little Rock), KEMV (Mountain View), KETG (Arkadelphia), KAFT (Fayetteville), KTEJ (Jonesboro), and KETZ (El Dorado).