August 26, 2019
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BDN’s MaineFocus Film Festival asks students to answer powerful question about drug abuse

There’s no question that drug abuse is a major issue facing Mainers from all walks of life — from the addicts themselves, to the ones who love them, to the health care providers, law enforcement and political leaders trying to change the reality of drug abuse in our state, there are endless stories to be told. But who should tell them?

As part of the BDN’s MaineFocus initiative to bring issues surrounding the state’s changing economy, drug abuse and domestic and sexual violence to the forefront in a new journalism and community engagement project, the paper is hosting the inaugural MaineFocus Film Festival.

To tell these stories of drugs in Maine, the BDN is asking teens to create short films about how drug abuse has changed their lives. The Film Festival started as the brainchild of BDN reporter Nok-Noi Ricker, and it was developed by Ricker and BDN newsroom administrator Natalie Feulner, BDN editorial page editor Erin Rhoda and Carl Lakari of Project AWARE, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about prescription drug abuse and bullying.

“[This film festival] fits in perfectly with our organization because asking young people to answer such a powerful question — how have their lives been affected by drug abuse — is a very interesting experiment,” said Lakari. “It should elicit a powerful response.”

Students have until Jan. 6 to submit their short film, up to five minutes in length, via the MaineFocus website. Films can be shot using any equipment — from a cellphone camera to a digital camcorder — and can be fictional or nonfictional in subject matter.

Between Jan. 13-20, BDN readers will be able to vote online for their favorite of the submitted films, and then a panel of videographers and other professionals will make their picks for the best. The winners will be announced Feb. 3, and the films will be shown at a Feb. 22 event at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, during the high school basketball tournaments.

“There’s a lot of stuff out there surrounding drug abuse prevention that involves adults talking at kids,” said Erin Rhoda, BDN editorial page editor and with Natalie Feulner one of the organizers of the festival. “We wanted to try something in which kids were talking to other kids about their experiences, their opinions, their ideas.”

For the past 10 years, Project AWARE has helped students make short films and public service announcements raising awareness about drug abuse and bullying. One of the prizes for winners of the MaineFocus Film Festival, in addition to cash prizes of up to $500, will be a scholarship to the organization’s annual Summer Film Institute, held during a week in the summer and offering filmmaking training for high school students.

“Our mission is to empower kids to lead and to create a safe space for them to express themselves,” said Lakari. “When you open the door, it’s always surprising to see what comes through. Kids often know more about what’s going on that the adults, and they have so many stories to share. They can sometimes be disturbing, but they need to be told.”

For more information, students can email Erin Rhoda or Pattie Reaves at,, or call 990-8204 (Erin) or 990-8298 (Pattie).

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