Celebrating MY HERO's Film Festival Director, Wendy Milette

by Abigail Richardson from MY HERO Staff

I am passionate about creativity, learning, the arts, digital media and activism. My vision is that creative young people from all walks of life can tell their stories with new media technology to promote positive change in the world.

150059Wendy editing the Jean-Michel Cousteau segment of the MY HERO ReportMY HERO

The MY HERO International Film Festival brings together professional and youth filmmakers who honor local and global heroes working for positive change in the world. Wendy Milette is the MY HERO Director of media-arts education and the MY HERO film festivals. Including this year (2023), Wendy has masterminded and guided the direction of 19 film festivals, 15 of which were hosted live in California and four that have been broadcast virtually, the last three being generously hosted by friend to MY HERO, Eva Haller in her Salon Series. Since 2005, as Festival Director, Wendy has built an online library of thousands of hero-themed films from over 194 countries around the world. She has mentored young filmmakers and connected MY HERO to award-winning professional filmmakers, including those using VR and Immersive Technology. The featured winning short films shine a light on activists, peacemakers, environmentalists, humanitarians, artists & others who make a positive impact in the world.

Having been involved with creating educational programs that value peace, human rights, and environmental responsibility, Wendy was drawn to the work of MY HERO and first used the resources as an educator at the Community Learning Center (CLC) in Laguna Beach. There, she worked with students in this model elementary school program as an art, musician, and environmental educator. Said Wendy: “I was part of the original task force for CLC and it was there that I first met and had the pleasure of working with the Co-Founder of The MY HERO Project, Jeanne Meyers.”

Wendy had always been passionate about film, but it wasn’t until her children were in high school that she started her own adventure by enrolling in the Film School at the University of Southern California where she wrote, produced, and directed a number of short films and crewed on many others. After completing her MFA in Film Production in 2004, Wendy was recruited to help direct the MY HERO International Film Festival and has been training teachers and students in hero-based storytelling and new media production ever since.

150055Wendy Milette with children in Manola Village, Malawi Africa 2006MY HERO

Since 2004, Wendy has helped Jeanne to expand The MY HERO Project to include the MY HERO Film Festival and Virtual Screening Room. She has also designed and taught workshops as part of the MY HERO Global Exchange that was launched in 2006 with support from a grant from the U.S. State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Representatives from Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belarus, Senegal, and Jordan attended workshops in Los Angeles to advance their skills in digital media production by creating "hero films" with the MY HERO team. The program was designed to help them understand how to prepare their communities to take part in this global exchange. MY HERO video artists and media educators then lead workshops in their countries to introduce young people to 21st Century digital arts and media literacy skills. Wendy represented MY HERO at The Royal Film Commission in Amman, Jordan as part of that program. She has also traveled to Senegal, the Netherlands and across the USA bringing MY HERO Media Arts Resources to teachers and students, encouraging them to create their own MY HERO short films. Wendy’s goal throughout all of this has been “to encourage a new generation of creative, connected, and globally-minded individuals in the 21st Century.”

As a filmmaker, Wendy focuses on producing media that inspires activism. She is a lifelong environmental activist who fought alongside other dedicated activists to create the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. With support from a grant from the Orange County Community Foundation and the Massen-Greene Foundation Wendy developed an environmental media arts education program for students at the Laguna Beach Boys and Girls Club and helped produce a documentary on Eco-Heroes of Laguna Beach that aired on Cox TV.  A special program produced by MY HERO with support from the American Legion Childwelfare Foundation called The MY HERO Report - Youth Edition was showcased at the American Pavilion in Cannes and has been distributed to schools around the globe. Wendy has produced several local hero fests in Laguna Beach with support from the City honoring community heroes, artists, teachers and environmental activists. This model program was used to create a resource guide for other communities and schools, "How to Host a Hero Fest" 

In an interview with MY HERO staff, Wendy reminisced over the past 18 festivals, explaining that they started small in 2005 in the Ron Howard Screening Room, at USC School of Cinematic Arts which only seated 60 people. The first event was so successful though that in 2006, they moved it to the Norris Theatre, which seated 250 people. Since then, screenings have been held in the George Lucas Theater at USC School of Cinematic Arts, The American Film Institute, Moss Theater at The Herb Alpert Educational Village at New Roads School, and in classrooms, community centers, and libraries around the globe.

Said Wendy: “The festival grew very quickly. In the beginning, we only awarded 11 first-place winners – now we have over 35  categories. It is with thanks to our generous sponsors that we have a rich variety of Special Awards with cash prizes for filmmakers to enter."

The MY HERO festival categories include documentary, narrative, music video, animation, VR and experimental and are open to all: elementary, middle school, high school, college and professional filmmakers. Said Wendy: “Professionals have increasingly submitted films as we provide a unique showcase for sharing work that matters with our growing global audience of students and adults from around the globe.”

When asked what has changed over the years, Wendy stated: “The quality of the films has improved as technology developed and with the growth of media arts education groups. It has been an absolute privilege to reward and develop relationships with media arts youth groups that are looking to make a difference.”

Groups that submit work regularly include Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem, New York, a  nonprofit committed ‘to amplifying and expanding under-represented artists and narratives, while empowering young filmmakers in creative self-expression, communicating ideas, and advocating needs.’ BAYCAT, a San Francisco group dedicated to addressing racial, gender, and economic inequity, InProgress, a film program in Minnesota that aims ‘to diversify cultural dialogue and pave the way for new voices in the field of digital art making,’ Wapikoni Mobile, a training and creative studio for Indigenous youth based in Canada, BYkids, whose work serves as a catalyst for change: ‘igniting important conversations and inspiring a new generation of social activists’ and so many more…

“We have also had the privilege of featuring work from prominent filmmakers such as Ryan Coogler, Tiffany Shlain, Frank Marshall, Kayla Briët, Gabrielle Gorman, Abigail Disney, and Albert Maysles,” added Wendy. “We have also attracted more and more award donors. NYT's best selling Author, Peace Activist and Artist Ron Kovic has been a sponsor from the beginning -  the Mattie Stepanek Poetry Prize is new for 2022; Esther Wojcicki and Tract came on board last year with the WOJ Youth Reporter Award and Eva Haller, with the support of The American Association of University Women, has sponsored the Women Tranforming Media Award ever since receiving it herself at the 12th Film Festival in 2016.”

Other Special Awards presented at the MY HERO Film Festival include the Dan Eldon Activist Award from Kathy Eldon and Amy Eldon Turteltaub at Creative Visions, the Relationships First Award from board member, Dr. Judith Anderson and her Foundation for the Contemporary Family and the Sylvia Earle Ocean Conservation Award donated by MY HERO Board member Barbara MacGillivray for The MacGillivray Freeman Films Educational Foundation

150060Wendy with Tommy Hamaluba from Botswana at iEARN 2005MY HERO

Said Wendy: “It is incredibly heart-warming to be a part of this MY HERO family, an ever-growing community of people who have found us over the years, and all of whom encourage young people to have a voice. And it is with thanks to all of our generous sponsors that we are able to award prizes to elementary, middle school, high school, and college students.”

When asked about her most memorable film or filmmaker, Wendy recalls her work with Slater Jewell-Kemker, whom she has known for years and came to think of as a friend: “It is an incredible honor to have been a part of Slater’s story. Slater grew up as a youth reporter for the MY HERO Project where she discovered her passion for filmmaking and her activist voice. I have a lot of respect for her personally and as a filmmaker.” Today, Slater is an award-winning director who is known for introducing her generation to the international youth climate movement. See Slater’s work here: /slater.

150061Slater Jewell-Kemker, Director, Youth UnstoppableWendy Jewell

For Wendy, another standout festival winner was Ryan Coogler, of Black Panther fame. Ryan was a fellow graduate student at USC and Wendy encouraged him to submit ‘Locks’ (a short film about a young man who sacrifices part of his identity to show support for his sister) to the 2010 festival where it won First Place College Narrative. Said Wendy: “Ryan comes from a place of soul and genuinely cares about people, which is what MY HERO is all about. This film reminds us not to allow preconceived notions to limit our thinking.”

Last year’s ‘Best of Fest’ film Rainforest Action, produced by Will Parrinello of the Mill Valley Film Group for the Goldman Environmental Prize was also a standout film for Wendy and features one of Wendy’s personal heroes, Nemonte Nenquimo. “Not only was this a beautifully told story by Will and the Mill Valley Group, but it was so humbling to see this indigenous woman fight against all odds to save the rainforest.” The film portrays the remarkable accomplishments of Nemonte Nenquimo who received global attention after reaching a landmark victory in a lawsuit against the Ecuadorian government which was trying to lease Waorani territory to oil companies. Read all about it HERE.

150084Pacific Elementary Students voting on MY HERO filmsWendy Milette150056Wendy with students at her stop motion storytelling summer campWendy Milette

When not working on the film festival, Wendy teaches Stock Motion Animation and Tech Lab to 3rd through 6th graders at the Pacific Elementary School in Davenport, California.

Said Wendy:

I love kids. I love helping them learn and giving them tools to help them find a voice through creativity, which is also why I love working for MY HERO. I feel that in a world, which currently has so much darkness, shining a light on people, particularly young people that are trying to make the world a better place is very satisfying. The MY HERO Emerging Artist Award is particularly important to me as I feel so passionately about encouraging young people. Last year’s Emerging Artist is my current Assistant Director, Kitty Richardson, who not only is an incredible singer-songwriter and documentarian but an accomplished and dedicated assistant too! I am thrilled that Lucy Schacher is being honored this year.

Lucy, who also submitted ‘Still There’ last year, is a budding film director, currently a second-year Film and Television student at Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia. Her 2022 submission, ‘Hello Anna,’ a short documentary exploring the work of Australian children’s illustrator and author, Anna Walker, is also winning the Eva Haller Women Transforming Media Award and receiving First Place in the College Documentary category. The subject matter is close to Wendy’s heart as she has just written and published her own children’s book, ‘Adventures of Lizzy the Lizard Wizard.’ “Anna’s story and talent really touched me. I would love to learn more about her craft,” enthused Wendy.

150083Wendy and grandson, FinneasWendy Milette150058Wendy and grandson, JahkaiWendy Milette

So, what’s next? Wendy’s future ambitions include continuing to support and mentor young people both at school and via MY HERO, to spend more time with her grandchildren who bring her 'endless joy,' to write more children’s fiction, and to sail around the world! “Or at least to spend more time on a boat!”

150057Wendy and the SeaWendy Milette

We wish Wendy the very best with her future endeavors and hope that she will be at the helm of MY HERO films for many years to come. For now, though, from everyone at MY HERO, Wendy, THANK YOU!

Find out more about Wendy here: Wendy Milette - Media Arts Education | MY HERO and at: /WendyMilette.

Join us for the Awards Celebration on Saturday, November 18th 2023 at 2pm (PST). Festival winners and their heroes will be on hand to answer questions and share their stories. Short clips from select films will be screened. Awards are given to winners at Elementary, Middle School, High School, College and Professional levels. Register HERE.

To find out more about the Film Festival go to: /Films/festival

To watch an Overview of the MY HERO Film Festival check out the short film here: /festivalpromo22

Please Donate

Donations from individuals, foundations and corporations help fund our film festival as well as our award-winning educational programs. So any donation to help us continue our work would be greatly appreciated and is especially needed in these difficult times. Watch our sizzle:  The MY HERO Film Festival - Donate | MY HERO


Page created on 11/15/2022 3:17:45 PM

Last edited 12/5/2023 8:32:40 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.