by MY HERO Staff from Laguna Beach

CONTACT:                                                                                 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wendy Milette
Director MY HERO International Film Festival
[email protected]

The 19th Annual MY HERO International Film Festival Special Awards Ceremony showcased filmmakers and heroes from around the world. The event, which was held online on Saturday, November 18, 2023 and honored this year’s special award winners in categories of narrative, documentary, animation, music video, and experimental work. Winners include all levels and abilities, from student through to professional filmmakers. Film Festival Director, Wendy Milette, and Kitty Richardson were the masters of ceremonies for the event.

 MY HERO Media Award

The MY HERO Media Award was given to Louis Schwartzberg for his film Gratitude Revealed. The film is an epic journey, forty years in the making, that takes us on a transformational, cinematic experience of how to live a more meaningful life full of Gratitude. Through intimate conversations with everyday people and thought leaders, Schwartzberg reveals that Gratitude is a proven pathway back from the disconnection we feel in our lives; disconnection from ourselves, our planet, and each other.

On accepting the award, said Schwartzberg: “It’s an honor to be here. I am enamored with the festival and the great work of MY HERO that inspires people to use media…right now there is a tremendous amount of misinformation and negative press…It takes a lot more effort to fall in love, to laugh, and to feel emotions and that is the challenge…we need emotional connections and that’s what media can do.”

Said Jeanne Meyers, co-founder and director of The MY HERO Project, “Your work exemplifies a crucial aspect for a better world. Thank you for continuing to inspire people to be the best version of themselves.”

Global Educator Award

Martin Smatana from the Czech Republic received the Global Educator Award for his book: A Year of Good News. Said Jeanne, "The book brings together stories of hope and inspiration from around the world and is accessible to readers of all ages. MY HERO applauds Martin's efforts to showcase those doing good around the globe in these challenging times."

Said Martin, “When I found out that I received not one, but three awards at the MY HERO Festival, I couldn't believe my eyes; I was absolutely amazed and shocked. It's a beautiful feeling to see that people like the work I do. Thanks to the whole team behind the organization of this beautiful event and also to the jury who decided to appreciate my work. It means a lot to me.”

Martin also received the Public Vote for Youth Animation and 1st Place for Stock Motion Animation for his film The Kite, an enchanting tale about remembering those who are no longer with us.

Special Awards

The Kovic Peace Prize

154324Ron KovikRon Kovik 

The Kovic Peace Prize is presented by Ron Kovic, New York Times bestselling author, Golden Globe winner, artist and peace activist.

The Ron Kovic Peace Prize

Winner: War by Mahyar Zaheri from Iran. In this film, Mahyar offers viewers an experimental glimpse of history and war, through the eyes of a young soldier. 

The Ron Kovic Peace Prize – Youth and Community

Winner: Shalom Ukraine by YouthBridge, Munich, a film about Ukrainian teenage refugees from different parts of Ukraine, who, finding themselves in Germany, despite their problems and difficulties, with their art and talents convey to Europeans the truth about Ukraine.

Said Ron, “I don’t know when there has been a more important time where peace, non-violence, and mutual respect are needed from one another. It is important to believe that we can make a difference. (And through films like these), we can change the course of what’s happening in the world right now…I can’t say enough for those of you (the filmmakers) who stand with me in the days ahead; I want us all to stand together and believe that peace is possible and that we can create a better world and this senseless killing of human beings will be a thing of the past.”

Ron concluded by reciting the last paragraph from his new book, The Art of Healing, available in January 2024.

 Dan Eldon Activist Award

154324MY HERO Awards CeremonyKathy and Amy Eldon 

Kathy Eldon, author and co-founder of Creative Visions Foundation, along with daughter Amy, also of Creative Visions, presented two awards in honor of her late son Dan Eldon, a journalist killed on assignment, in Somalia, in 1993.

Dan Eldon Activist Award

Winner: Ministry of Surf directed by Collins Reagan and edited by Keith Reagan (which also received the People's Choice Award). The film takes an intimate look inside the healing power of water and surfing on autistic children and the surfers who offer "one perfect day" to kids worldwide for free.

Said Kathy, “We are so grateful to MY HERO for keeping Dan’s super noisy spirit alive. Ministry of Surf is a beautiful and intimate look at the healing power of water and surfing on autistic kids…and it’s with enormous joy to present the 2023 Dan Eldon Creative Activist Award to Collins Regan for his powerful film.”

Collins could not be there but sent a recorded acceptance speech: “This festival is a perfect showcase for our film, and we are overjoyed to receive this award.” Brother Keith, who was in attendance, stated that Collins was sad not to be able to be there but that he was (in surfer’s language) ‘super stoked’ to receive this award. “Of all the festivals that we have been to, this means the most to Collins – he is only 25, just 2 years older than Dan was and so the award resonates with him.”

The Dan Eldon Student Activist Award

Winner: ‘PB&J Productions My Hero, Savannah Ackerman’ directed by Shelby Dahl and produced by Penelope Lee. This film is an interview with Savannah Ackerman, Grover Cleveland Charter High School’s Outreach Coordinator for Tree People. The purpose of the interview is to show how Tree People brings good into communities, and to teach others how to bring good into theirs. The production team included students Shelby and Penelope as well as Gabriel Nevarez, Isaiah Fernandez, and Jaiden Cisneros.  

Said Amy, “We have been long term fans of Andy Lipkis and Tree People and were delighted with the interview with Savannah Ackerman and of Shelby (and her team’s) insightful question. We loved the setting and the intercutting of the clips that brought alive everything that (Savannah) was discussing.”

The Women Transforming Media Award

154324MY HERO Awards CeremonyEva Haller 

 Generously donated by Eva Haller, a champion for women's rights and world-renowned philanthropist and host of the weekly Eva Haller Salon Series, and MY HERO board member. This year Eva has kindly honored 5 filmmakers:

Eva Haller Women Transforming Media Award  

Winner: A Prayer for My Mother: The Eva Brettler Story by Cheri Gaulke and Samara Hutman - an animated film that chronicles the extraordinary saga of Holocaust survivor Eva Brettler. Said Eva, “This film is so magnificent and so painful...We owe an enormous gratitude to the filmmaker.”

The other honorees were:

Thomas Machowicz and Sabina Diethelm for The Unbound Project (an excerpt from the longer film Transforming Switzerland) which documents how Sarah Heiligtag transforms ​animal farms into vegan farms and animal sanctuaries across Switzerland and neighboring countries.

Anabelle Vo, previous MY HERO film festival assistant, for her film Keiko Fukazawa, by, a film about a woman who uses her art to address gun violence, an issue that has greatly impacted the quality of life in America.

Sakura Forney for her film My Hero Maya Angelou, a story about Maya Angelou's life and how she changed her community's perspective on racism and sexism.

Yassa Khan for Just a Girl, an emotive film that shares the voices and stories of three young girls whose childhoods were stolen when they became child brides and mothers in Nigeria.

Tommy Machowicz attending from Switzerland stated, “Meeting people like Sarah has helped me expand my capacity for love and passion towards animals and people…My hope is that when people see this film and all of these films we have seen so far that we can use as a blueprint or inspiration to commit ourselves to service and make the world a more peaceful place.”  

WOJ Youth Reporter Awards

154324Esther WojcickiEsther (WOJ) Wojcicki 

The WOJ Youth Reporter Award celebrates youth reporters who are creating videos on heroes making a positive difference in their community and the world. This award is presented by Esther Wojcicki, an outstanding media arts educator, author and reporter. The prize is open for Middle and High School Students. Three winners were honored this year and Esther spoke about how she has strived to empower students throughout her career by utilizing multimedia resources, such as the ones as found on the MY HERO website.

WOJ Youth Reporter Award and High School Documentary

Winner: Finding Home by Ethan Dumper. A short film regarding the systemic problems behind Homelessness and possible solutions.

Said Esther, “I am very impressed by this young man…who is able to capture our attention and create a film that matters to all of us, and I want to congratulate him...I would also like to congratulate his teacher because it’s through the encouragement of the teacher that kids create films like this.” Esther continued to explain that the State of California had recently mandated that all teachers are to teach media literacy in all grades. “I am very excited that more kids like Ethan will take a role to speak about what it is they would like to do to make the world a better place. So, thank you Wendy (MY HERO Festival Director), and thank you Jeanne (MY HERO Co-Founder and Director) for hosting every year these MY HERO awards. Really what would we do without them?”

Said Ethan “Since second grade, I have been really involved in the community and concerned about social issues and climate change. Homelessness is so relevant right now…Thank you to the MY HERO Project for showing this film and giving a voice to me and my work.”

WOJ Youth Reporter Award High School and High School Profiles

Winner: Oasis: The Projection of Your Own Identity by Amiko Muscat from Baycat Studios - a documentary about Jessica Recinos, a choreographer based in San Francisco who is yearning to pursue her identity and culture through dance & the struggles she’s endured as a Salvadorian-American.

Said Esther, “This film touches everyone’s heart…and you have to remember, that big production companies don’t create films like this about local heroes. This is what is so special about MY HERO because we hear about everyday people that make a difference in the world.”

WOJ Youth Reporter Award Middle School

Winner: Fannie Lou Hamer – A Civil Rights Unsung Hero by Elia Grace Defore from the Lora Batchelor Middle School.

Elia’s teacher Jeffrey Rudkin was in attendance and stated, “I am really proud of my students. I believe strongly in giving students the opportunity to do films about heroes because I think they learn a lot from this experience.”

 Best of Fest, Relationship First and Emerging Artist 

The Ceremony concluded with the announcement of the Best of Fest which went to Down the Road [excerpt] by Care Dorghalli. The film also received the Relationships First Award (presented by Judith Anderson, Ph.D. and The Foundation for the Contemporary Family and Care, herself, was honored with The Emerging Artist Award.

Down the Road is a documentary that follows the progress of father and daughter team, Woody and Luna Faircloth, who established the charity, EmergencyRV in response to the massive and deadly November 2018 Campfire in Paradise, California. The film is narrated by Luna and Care uses a cinematic and poetic visual style to follow Luna and Woddy’s journey.

Said Care, from the Green Room of a new project that she is working on, “This is such an honor and we are really excited…Woody and Luna are continuing the work that they started in 2018...They are currently in the process of donating trailers to the people in Hawaii…The film is very sentimental to me because my family’s business was burned down in that wildfire. I wanted to be here to show my gratitude and appreciation. It was a difficult and draining project because it was so close to home. Woody and Luna are true superheroes.”

Said Wendy, "Care is a promising filmmaker with the ability to engage an audience with meaningful stories that inspire humanitarian values. It is an honor to recognize Care Dorghalli with the 2023 MY HERO Emerging Artist Award and Best of Fest."

To view the 2022 MY HERO International Film Festival Program

Click here 

View all winning films online 


Page created on 12/1/2023 10:21:30 AM

Last edited 12/1/2023 5:35:39 PM