The stories of heroes

The MyHero Film Project, which aims to enlighten and inspire people of all ages with hero stories from around the globe, recently celebrated its 15th anniversary at the annual International Film Festival in Los Angeles, where eight aspiring filmmakers from Laguna Beach received awards for their touching documentaries.

Held at the Ray Stark Family Theater at USC's School of Cinematic Arts, the event showed screenings of 37 winning films from more than 20 countries, and awarded filmmakers in an array of categories for outstanding work.

"It's really taken off since our first film festival in 2005, where we screened in a 75-seat theater," said Wendy Milette, director of the event. "It's so great working with these young people and helping them to learn to creatively use digital media to tell hero stories."

Among winners from Laguna were El Morro Elementary student Luc LaMontagne, for his documentary about ZeroTrash founder Chip McDermott, whose mission is to "green" the planet; Thurston Middle School student Jackie McMahon for her visual celebration of creativity; and Laguna Beach High School students Austin Dodge and Ryan Cavanaugh, for their documentary about fellow filmmaker and activist John Anthony's work in Burma, now known as Myanmar.

The concept for the project came during the mid-1990s, when the O.J. Simpson murder trial dominated the mainstream media, something the children of MyHero founders Jeanne Meyers, Rita Stearn and Karen Pritzker were constantly seeing on TV.

"We wanted to use the media to celebrate the best of humanity," Myers said. "We hoped that if we built a venue online for people of all ages from around the world to share their hero stories, then like-minded folks would join in and help the project grow into a digital library of hope.

"What began as a simple idea has become a global learning community that bridges the digital divide, promotes peace and tolerance, and allows people around the globe to have their voices heard in a safe, child-friendly environment."

Now having drawn millions of scholars, writers, filmmakers, educators, artists and musicians to create the largest existing database of heroes, Meyers said she grows increasingly impressed with the quality of work, craftsmanship and communication tools that progress each year, and would like to see even wider sponsorship by individuals, corporations and media outlets.

"We always hope for wider understanding and outreach for these outstanding heroes and filmmakers," she said. "Global learning and real friendships with educators, heroes and students around the globe make this project one that continues to inspire our team and supporters."

The MyHero team continues to find ways to reach and connect more individuals, most recently through its new online blog, where viewers can share comments about films and provide feedback to the project.

"The whole process is so rich and well-organized," wrote Andres Sierra, a participant from Mexico. "For me, [the project] has been an incredibly motivating and inspiring experience."

Jack Winter, a Laguna Beach High filmmaker whose documentary about Surfer's Healing also received an award at the film festival, said he chose to participate because he was so inspired by the other works he'd seen and the impact they can have.

"MyHero is great because it gets everyone's ideas out there and informs people about what's going on around them and inspires them to help with things they wouldn't have known about otherwise," he said.

MyHero is now accepting entries for the next Laguna Film Festival, to be held in May at [seven-degrees]. To learn more about the project, how to get involved, or to view a complete list of winners and their films, visit

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