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Lake Orion Teen Filmmaker is Biggest Winner in Michigan Student Festival

Jonathan D'Ambrosio leads statewide field with three Best in Show awards.

Other young video artists around the state could catch a break after 17-year-old graduates from in June. Then he'll no longer dominate creative awards, such as the three Best of Show honors just earned in an annual event.  

D'Ambrosio, an acclaimed video artist who'll attend School of the Art Institute of Chicago on scholarship next fall, is the largest single winner in the 44th Michigan Student Film and Video Festival. Portions of three sophisticated films he produced will be shown April 28 in the ornate, 1,200-seat Detroit Film Theater at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

These are the latest awards for a prolific media artist whose You Tube channel has 156 videos he made since January 2008. This month's recognition in the statewide festival's general entertainment category is for these videos he wrote, directed, acted in and scored with original electronic music:

  • The Violin, a 12-minute feature about war memories that resurface when a young farmer crosses paths with a stranger and his priceless violin. The film also won two medals last month in the national Scholastic Art and Writing Awards scholarship program, which is to be presented at a June 1 ceremony at Carnegie Hall in New York.
  • Jasper, a nearly 14-minute film about a celebrity fighter from Australia who realizes the American Dream isn't all he thought. "The battle isn't so much between the immigrant and America, but moreso between the immigrant and himself," the student says in a synopsis.
  • War Within, a nine-minute film focusing on a young soldier whose "battle is not only in the field, but at home as well," as the creator describes it.

Four-minute excerpts will be screened at the DIA event. Full versions are attached to this article.

Nurturing digital media talent

Judging and the five-hour festival are organized annually by a Royal Oak-based nonprofit called Digital Arts, Film and Television (DAFT). It invites K-12 teachers and students to submit class projects and independent work in a dozen categories, including music video, animation, newscast, sports documentary, public service announcement, comedy, instructional and general entertainment.

"The main goal is to encourage and support young people who are already using media," said festival director Kathy Vander of Berkley.

Three dozen educators and media professionals reviewed hundreds of statewide entries last month at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. They chose 25 high school winners and 22 from lower grades, who'll share more than $20,000 in scholarships and prizes thanks to support from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the Kresge Foundation.

Other entrants get certificates of excellence, honor or merit. All are invited to the free festival, which starts at 10 a.m. in the 1927 theater downtown and is open to the public. An 11:15 a.m. reception in the mezzanine-level Crystal Café will salute high school winners, their teachers and families.

Other Metro Detroit winners

In addition to D'Ambrosio, winners include students from Birmingham, Dearborn, Grosse Pointe, Novi, Royal Oak, West Bloomfield and the Huron Valley Council for the Arts.

Submissions also came from Detroit, Holland, Kalamazoo, Madison Heights, Sterling Heights and smaller communities. Parents or schools paid $10 to $15 per entry, depending on how many DVDs were sent.

DAFT, an education nonprofit, was created in 1969 to promote media literacy with workshops and conferences for students, teachers and other professionals.

"This the oldest festival in the nation providing public recognition for the work of students in grades K-12," said Vander, an award-winning film producer who's an account manager at TVS Commercial Solutions in Troy. She joined DAFT's  board in 1996.

"In fact, many young people who got their first public exposure through this festival have gone on to professional careers."

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