Scenarios USA, a nonprofit organization devoted to helping kids make smarter decisions about sex, announced the two winners for their “What’s The Real Deal” contests on February 6, 2004. The contests, which took place in south Texas and in Miami, encouraged kids ages twelve to twenty-two to submit stories or scripts about the problems they face at school and at home.
After reviewing over 200 proposals, a national review board composed of 300 teachers, filmmakers, teenagers, and even a Supreme Court justice, narrowed the pool down to twelve finalists. Then a select panel of twenty judges, including teenagers and adults, hotly debated the winning two. One group of five seniors—Gladys Sanchez, Kristal Villarreal, Amanda Ramirez, Laura Coria, and Juan Carlos “Charlie” Ramirez—from Mission, Texas, won for their script about sex and relationships, and Katrina Garcia, from Miami, also a senior, won for her script about bulimia. Actress Carrie Anne Moss (The Matrix, Memento) personally called the contestants to inform them of their awards. They will see their short films made by established directors, and they will get to participate in the process.
But these awards are not just for the kids who wrote the scripts. Because Scenarios USA wants the films to be used as teaching aids in schools, they involve the entire community in the production. Maura Minsky, co-founder of Scenarios USA, explains, “On the panel, everyone has their own agenda. The kids have one opinion, the adults have another. But what we find is that once the decision is made, the schools allow the kids to push the envelope—they are not censored. The entire class gets involved, and they are mentored on the set. Because we want them to use the films in the schools, they are filmed in the communities where they are set. We listen to the kids.”
Ben Younger (Boiler Room, Prime) will direct the south Texas film, called Someone’s Sorrow, in the spring. “My politics are very much in line with Scenarios’,” he says. “Someone’s Sorrow is about teen choices—the choices about sex, before and after; whether to use contraception, whether to have a baby. Sometimes they don’t even have a choice. One girl on the panel thought abortion was illegal in Texas. This is a film that needs to get made.”
Someone’s Sorrow focuses on two female best friends who deal with their relationships in different ways. One couple uses contraception correctly and talks about their problems, while the other couple is less communicative and does not take birth control seriously. “Teen pregnancy is a common problem in south Texas,” says Minsky. “The Rio Grande Valley is the largest growing metropolis in the country, but it is also one of the poorest. The script was chosen because high pregnancy rates and AIDS are serious problems in that community, but also because the dialogue is so clever and funny.”
Jamie Babbit (But I’m A Cheerleader, Popular) has agreed to direct the Miami film, A Memoir to My Former Self. “Body issues are a big deal in Miami,” says Minsky. “And this is our first film to deal with the subject. We thought it was important for the community and beyond.”
The directors work on a volunteer basis, and have about two days to shoot. Approximately one week is devoted to pre-production, and one week to two months for development. Once the films are finished, the contestants are flown to New York City and their films are given a proper debut. “Sometimes I think that’s what the kids are most excited about,” laughs Minsky. This December, the Texas and Miami films will premiere with the winner from the Scenarios New York City contest, which is still in progress. A national contest will take place in 2006.
Scenarios USA stems from Scenarios from the Sahel, a West African program created by a French organization working to fight AIDS. The 3,000 Scenarios Against a Virus contests were held in Africa during the 1990s, and in 1998, the films were broadcast during the World Cup, most likely reaching one hundred million Africans. Scenarios USA has adopted a similar approach. In addition to being used as teaching aids in schools, their films have been seen on Showtime, ABC’s World News Tonight, PBS, NBC, MTV, and Oxygen.
For more info, visit www.scenariosusa.org
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