By Keith Whitcomb Jr.

BRANDON — An environmental film contest that awarded cash prizes to local students is going countywide this year.

Michael Shank, an adjunct faculty member at New York University Center for Global Affairs, of Brandon, contributor to a number of national publications, said Tuesday the Brandon Environmental Film Competition, which in May awarded several hundred dollars of Shanks’ money in prizes, was such a success that he’s expanding it.

The Rutland County Environmental Film Competition opened Sept. 3. The deadline for submissions is March 1 with winners announced May 1. Shank said Tuesday that any student in Rutland County can enter. Prizes are $500 for first place, $250 for second, $100 for third, and $50 to honorable mentions. Visit for more information.

“It’s a slow expansion,” said Shank. “Next year, or the year after, I’d love to make it statewide. I figured I’d start in Brandon, see what the response is like and expand to Rutland County.”

The contest got its start at Neshobe Elementary School where Shank volunteers in the library. He said the school librarian, Hannah Fjord, was instrumental in drumming up interest and support, along with others.

For this contest, he’s reaching out to teachers he knows at Rutland High School, Mill River Union High school and others.

“Last year we had about 20 submissions and if I’m able to double that I would be thrilled,” he said. “I have a great lineup of judges, and these are 2 or 3 minute films so we can review those and evaluate their contribution to county-wide conversations pretty quickly.”

Through the contest he hopes to see students develop transferable skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, civic engagement in the community and communications. A winning entry will have a clear and coherent environmental message, a compelling invitation that encourages people to get engaged, creative storytelling and visuals, and be tightly edited.

Last year, the grand prize winners were Mickeen Hogan and Isaac James, who attended Stafford Technical Center, and based their film around flooding, which has played a large role in shaping parts of the town.

Cash prizes help get students interested in things like this, said Cristina Kumka, instructor of video communications at Stafford Technical Center.

Hogan and James were two of her students. She said they already had impressive video making skills when the contest rolled around, the trick was teaching them to think about what sort of message they wanted to convey. She asked them what was most important to them in their lives and how the environment affects that. It turned out they lived in an area where the government purchased people’s homes and removed them on account of flooding, so that was the topic they selected.

“I think environmental film contests like the one Mr. Shank is putting on… are really good right now, at a time when video is everywhere, and it’s a perfect time for anyone to tell a story through video,” she said. “I think an environmental topic is difficult for teens, but that’s how they grow, they have to wrap their heads around something other than technology, they have to wrap their heads around how we’re going to get through the pandemic or the next flood.”

Shank said the COVID-19 pandemic has environmental implications, but the film contest isn’t specifically geared for that as a topic, though someone might find an appropriate angle. His other competition, found at, seeks essays proposing solutions to a broad range of problems, the pandemic among them.