By Kate Barcellos 

BRANDON — A journalist and communications director for the Carbon Neutral Cities alliance will host an environmental video competition to help spread the word about climate change in Rutland County.

Brandon resident Dr. Michael Shank is an adjunct faculty member at New York University Center for Global Affairs, a former Washington Post columnist and contributor to MSNBC, CNN and Time magazine, among others, and teaches about climate security and sustainable development.

Now he’s urging the children of the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union to submit homemade videos published to YouTube or Vimeo about the environment so they can compete for cash prizes.

“This environmental film competition is a culmination of two things I love: nature and the arts,” Shank said in an email. “The arts are such a powerful medium for storytelling and teaching, and as a professor I love finding creative ways to engage students in experiential learning processes.”

Students from each school in RNESU are invited to create their own submissions about environmental issues that they see affecting the Brandon area — such as burning garbage, pollution and renewable energies — and submit them via hyperlink until March 1, 2020.

Home-schooled students are also encouraged to participate, Shank said.

The films can be produced using the filmmaker’s choice of technology — even iPhones — to produce their film, and while adults and teachers are allowed to help, all main legwork needs to be the student’s effort.

“Short, shareable films — made with something as simple as a smart phone — can convey an inspiring story quickly,” Shank said. “And since social media is primarily image-based and video-based, this is increasingly the go-to medium to use.”

Judges will assess each film on clarity of message, how well it conveys a community-based approach to addressing environmental issues, storytelling, creativity, site visits and the quality of their production and editing, according to the film contest’s website.

“My wish for this competition is that students explore the beautiful natural world around them here in Vermont, fall even more in love with it, and find fun ways to story-tell why we should do everything we can to protect it, conserve it and restore it,” Shank said.

The judging panel includes Shank, Lloyd Komesar, producer of the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival, “Death in the Wilderness” producer and director Dr. Kevin Thornton, and Woods Organic Farm’s Courtney Satz, who co-coordinates the Four Winds Nature Institute Program at Neshobe School.

Also judging will be Columbia University ecology lecturer Dr. Nicole Mihnovets, Nature’s Path Organic vice president of mission and strategy Jyoti Stephens, and Marguerite Petit, campaign director for Purpose, a company aiming to creating public engagement campaigns to boost involvement in social-interest issues.

Future filmmakers stand to win $500 for the first-place submission, $250 for a second prize, $100 for the third and $50 for an honorable mention.

The winning artist will be chosen on May 1, and the winning film will be screened for the public that month.

“My hope is that the skills learned throughout this process will be relevant and beneficial to students’ professional careers and their confidence as communicators,” Shank said. “These youth will be the caretakers of Vermont’s natural beauty far into the future and their health and security are dependent upon a stable and thriving environment. In my mind, it makes all the sense in the world to encourage and support their role as storytellers here. … (I want to see) kids speaking up for the nature around them and speaking passionately about why we should protect and preserve it!”