Young Voices Conversation

What do young people have on their minds today? The subjects that teens and pre-teens explore when creating films provide fascinating insights into their ideas, hopes, dreams, and deeply felt concerns. Using a selection of submissions to MFF16’s Emerging Filmmaker Competition as a platform for discussion, Young Voices: A Community Conversation held last Wednesday allowed us to talk about the concerns of local youth and examine how our community can provide a safety net to support them.


Photo by Brad Resnick / Montclair Film Festival

Moderated by John Mooney, Founding Editor and Education Writer of NJ Spotlight, panelists included:

  • Betty Strauss, MA, RN, NCSN, District Head Nurse, Montclair Public Schools
  • Sonja B Gray MD, Gray Consulting Services INC
  • Andrew D. Evangelista, LCSW, LCADC, DRCC, Student Assistance Counselor, Montclair Public Schools
  • Linda B. Mithaug, Director of Pupil Services, Montclair Public Schools

Below are highlights from this important discussion.

Sue Hollenberg, Montclair Film Festival Education Director: “Montclair Film Festival was so thrilled to partner on this critical community conversation. These films are a window into the types of issues kids deal with on a daily basis and we look forward to exploring ways to use film to help kids find their voice.”

Jahleel Giles, award-winning student filmmaker: “The films presented show not only what students feel within themselves but also how society has affected their everyday lives.”

Jailene Perez, award-winning student filmmaker: “Society has a huge impact on us kids today—we tend not to be ourselves. Our film goes to show that we shouldn’t depend on other people to define who we are.”

Al-Nafi M. Walker, award-winning student filmmaker: “Our film shows that it’s okay to be yourself. At one point in my life, it was hard to be myself… With this conversation I’m proud and happy that adults are aware of these tough times in teens lives.”

Tonjia Walker, mother of an award-winning student filmmaker: “It takes a village to raise a child.”


Photo by Brad Resnick / Montclair Film Festival

Emily Borilla, media literacy teacher of the award-winning student filmmakers: “Engaging youth and providing them a safe space to discuss their feelings or thoughts about the world will encourage compassion within our schools.”

Andrew Evangelista: “The younger generation is amazing… they have many hurdles to overcome on the way to being adults.”

Betty Strauss: “Wonderful that Montclair Film Fest and Partners for Health hosted an event to highlight the physical and mental health needs of youth in our community.”

John Mooney: “It is just so important we talk about these issues as a community—not just for these kids, of course, but also for their families who struggle with issues of mental health in teens and younger. Uncomfortable conversations. We must force it and have more of them.”


Pam Scott, Executive Director, Partners for Health Foundation: “This conversation is only the beginning. Partners For Health is exploring ways to continue to work with the Montclair Film Festival to build a culture of caring and youth resiliency.”

Steve Smith, audience member: “The films and the panel were fantastic! I am now moved to attend and view Emerging Filmmaker Competition films.”

Written by MFF blogger Karen Haas.