The MY HERO Project Honors Contemporary Heroes Of 2015

Contact: Wendy Milette                           FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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SANTA MONICA, CA - 12/08/15 - Nonny de la Pena, a filmmaker recognized by the New York Times for her work with Virtual Reality and 3-D technology, and Ken Payumo, the United Nations worker credited for saving thousands of lives, are among those honored by MY HERO, a non-profit 501(c) 3 organization dedicated to honoring everyday heroes working to make the world a better place. MY HERO bestowed the awards Saturday evening at its 20th Anniversary Celebration and Multimedia Festival in Santa Monica.  
De la Pena is the winner of the first MY HERO Immersive Storytelling Award, an honor given to a filmmaker who uses new technology to foster empathy and compassion. “Project Syria: An immersive Journalism Experience,” directed by de la Pena, uses virtual reality and 3-Dimensional environments to convey the sights, sounds and feelings that surround the civil war in Syria, which has displaced nearly half the country’s 23 million people. More than three million refugees have been forced from homes and into camps and makeshift housing, more than half of whom are children. 
“Nonny’s brilliant use of actual sound from historic events takes this innovative form of storytelling to a completely different level,” said Wendy Milette, Director of the MY HERO International Film Festival. “I found myself personally engaged in concern for the children and women in the story and I wanted to help.” 
 (View the film: “Project Syria: An immersive Journalism Experience.”)
Ken Payumo - United Nations hero featured in
Ken Payumo - United Nations hero featured in
One of the most poignant moments of the evening was the screening of the documentary short, “Defying Death in South Sudan.” The film, by Francis Mead, features Payumo, a United Nations aid worker who refused entrance to 80-plus armed soldiers threatening more than 12,000 refugees in a U.N. compound in Bor. Payumo ordered the gates closed, locking himself outside with the hostile soldiers, who eventually walked away. For his brave actions, Payumo is the recipient of the 2015 MY HERO Humanitarian Hero Award. Veteran turned Peace Activist Ron Kovic was on hand to award  “Defying Death in South Sudan” the 2015 Ron Kovic Peace Prize.  
(View the film: “Defying Death in South Sudan.”)
MY HERO presented its prestigious 2015 Media Award to Vulcan Productions.  The company founded by Microsoft Co-founder Paul G. Allen uses the power of stories to change minds and ignite action through meaningful projects that help people understand the world around them and inspire them to make a difference.  
“Paul Allen’s commitment to using media to educate and inspire through Vulcan productions is work that MY HERO respects and honors,” said MY HERO co-founder Jeanne Meyers. “We applaud their mission and the outstanding quality of their work."
Vulcan’s latest project, “Racing Extinction,” will air on Discovery Channel this December. Directed by Academy Award Winner Louie Psihoyos ("The Cove"), "Racing Extinction" brings attention to the role of humans in the dramatic loss of species. Ted Richane, Director of Engagement and Impact for Vulcan, accepted the award.  
“The film...tells a story about how this mass extinction is upon us, about how mankind is causing it but it also tells a story about some things we can do to stop it,” said Richane. “And it includes a number of people, a number of heroes, who are putting aside their careers and are planning their lives around saving mantas, saving elephants, saving sharks, saving all these species.”
(Watch a short film about Vulcan Productions)
Richane gave praise to youth activist and filmmaker Slater Jewell Kemker, whose environmental work has been featured on MY HERO for years. She was saluted in a short video tribute as part of the 20th Anniversary Celebration.  
Richane said, “Racing Extinction" is about people like Slater, whom I’ve never met, but that film was unbelievable to watch. There’s also a role for every one of us to play, no matter who you are, what you do, where you live. There are things that you can do and actions you can take. We all need to be heroes if we’re going to turn this ship around.” 
(Watch a short film about Slater Jewell Kemker)
Sojourner Truth - artist Tom Block
Sojourner Truth - artist Tom Block
Tom Block, artist and human rights activist, is the winner of the innagural Shetterly Art Award for his powerful portrait of Sojourner Truth, the former slave who became a powerful voice for the rights of women and blacks in the post-abolition United States.  Robert Shetterly, founder of Americans Who Tell The, is sponsoring the award to celebrate an artist who has created a hero portrait that truly conveys the emotional power of hero art.  Block is the founder of the Human Rights Painting Project, in conjunction with Amnesty International, and founder of the newly formed Institute for Prophetic Activist Art in New York.  His highly expressionist portraits of human rights activists include Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Sojourner Truth, and portraits of individuals incarcerated around the world for acts in the name of social justice.
The MY HERO Best of Fest and Relationship First Award went to “The Future of Our Species,” by director Tiffany Shlain. The short film takes a look at Leonardo's Brain, a book by Shlain’s father, best-selling author Leonard Shlain. He finished writing the book days before he passed away. Shlain builds on her father's idea that Leonardo da Vinci is a modern example of an evolved human being.  
(View the short film: “The Future of Our Species.”)
“One Woman Roadblock,” a documentary by the Mill Valley Film Group, is the winner of the Environmental Hero Award. The film tells the story of a former tribal chief, Marilyn Baptiste, who led her native community in battling proposed gold and copper mines that would have destroyed Fish Lake, a source of livelihood and spiritual identity for her people. Filmmaker Will Parrinello of the Mill Valley Group was on hand to accept the award and read a statement from Baptiste: 
“To the MY HERO International Film Festival, thank you for the honor and for your support of our most important work… to protect our lands, our water, our wildlife our wild plants that we use for food, medicine, and trees… for future generations.”  
(View the film: “One Woman Roadblock.”)
The People’s Choice Award went to “Young Storytellers,” a short film about an organization that pairs media professionals with young students to help them discover the power of their own voices. The students write their stories and have an opportunity to direct professional actors and create their own short narrative films.  
(View the film: "Young Storytellers.")
Erin Gruwell - recipient of MY HERO's 2015 Global Educator Award
Erin Gruwell - recipient of MY HERO's 2015 Global Educator Award
Erin Gruwell is the recipient of MY HERO’s 2015 Global Educator Award. In 1994, Gruwell, then a young English teacher, walked into her first classroom in Long Beach, California where the students were deemed “at-risk” and “unteachable.” She helped them draw parallels between their lives with the struggles of others, including Anne Frank. Her students started a journal of their own and named themselves the “Freedom Writers.”  
All the while, the video cameras were rolling. In 2015, the documentary, “Freedom Writers: Stories From an Undeclared War,” by director Daniel Anker, was released. The U.S. State Department recently translated the film into Hebrew and Arabic and, soon, Gruwell will travel to the Middle East to teach 25 lessons on tolerance and acceptance to young Palestinians and Israelis.  
(View the film: “Freedom Writers: Stories From an Undeclared War.”)
Kathy Eldon, founder of Creative Visions Foundation, was on hand to present the 2105 Dan Eldon Activist Award in honor of her late son, who was killed on assignment in 1993. This year’s recipient, “Frame by Frame,” is a documentary by Mo Scarpelli and Alexandria Bombach that follows four Afghan photojournalists as they struggle to establish a free press in a country where photography was once illegal.  
(View the film: “Frame by Frame.”)
Gabrielle Gorman - MY HERO's 2015 Student Honoree and director of
Gabrielle Gorman - MY HERO's 2015 Student Honoree and director of
Other winners include:
• John Seigel Boettner, Co-founder of Santa Barbara Middle School Teen Press, is the recipient of MY HERO’s Media Arts Educator Award. “Teen Press,” a documentary short by filmmakers Pamela Tanner-Boll and T.C. Johnstone, offers a glimpse into one semester of the Santa Barbara Middle School Teen Press program, in which student reporters learn to be responsible journalists. 
• Gabrielle Gorman, from New Roads High School, is MY HERO's 2015 Student Honoree for her short experimental film, “Dear America.” The film is a deeply personal exploration of the pain and joy of growing up Black in America.
• The Emerging Artist Award went to Kayla Briët for her sizzle reel. Briët is a multi-talented young artist who creates and shares inspirational soul-quenching media.  
Reggae musician Pato Banton ended the festivities by getting the audience to its feet and dancing to the beat of his song, "Love is the Greatest Thing," capping off a 20th Anniversary Celebration and Multimedia Fest filled with inspiration, light and love.  
To enjoy the highlights of the event, and view the winning films, visit

Page created on 12/8/2015 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 7/7/2017 10:18:51 PM

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