In many ways, the village of Spring Valley, New York, an hour north of Manhattan, is much like other bedroom communities in the region. It has a typical mix of suburban charm and big-city diversity—wealth and poverty, Black and White, Hassidic and Hispanic all share the densely populated streets of the village.

The burg is also, as it happens, home to a new international film festival aimed at young people 21 years and younger: the Rockland Youth Film Festival (RYFF). In 2014, its inaugural year, the festival received some 500 submissions from 6 continents.

RYFF was the brainchild of students at an after-school program at a sprawling affordable housing complex in the village. The program, Excellence in Education and Living Environments for Families (EELEF), serves around 47 students with homework help as well as with programs like karate and music.

RYFF2015The 2015 RYFF winners take the stage at  the Town of Ramapo Cultural Arts Center.

The free program runs on a shoestring budget, so directors Stephen and Tamara Truax were delighted when they received a grant to build a media room, where students could explore the art of movie-making. Students responded with enthusiasm, and a DIY ethic took hold, with kids teaching themselves the art of filmmaking via YouTube instructables and the Truaxs’ helping hands.

Once they’d learned the ropes, however, the students realized there was no outlet for them to showcase the results—and hence was born the film festival. They have taken the lead in organizing the event, playing key roles in publicity and logistics. “They’ve become young entrepreneurs after creating the film festival,” Truax told a local news reporter.

This year, 13 films were awarded “best” honors in categories including Best Motion Picture, Director of the Year, and Best Screenplay. Among them are young filmmakers from Canada, Australia, Ireland, and all over the United States. The 2015 festival took place on Saturday, October 17 at Spring Valley’s Ramapo Cultural Arts Center. For this year’s festival, Organic Valley provided a major sponsorship that included a separate award category for films about sustainable food and farming.

“Many young people know that their passion for good food today will affect their health and choices in the future,” said Anne O’Connor, Organic Valley’s director of public affairs. “We salute the festival and the spirit of the youth standing up with a message from their generation through the art of film.”

Gabrielle B. Giacomo, 17, of New York was awarded the first ever Organic Valley Award for her film, “From Farm to Table.” The film showcases one school’s commitment to integrating stewardship of the earth’s resources into its curriculum. Honorable mentions were given to Demar Guntar from Texas for her film “Invisible People” and to the students in the Baltimore Speaks Out! Program for their film “Survival in a Food Desert.”

Congratulations to all of Rockland Youth Film Festival’s 2015 winners.

Organic Valley has always been committed to fostering organic health and wellness in the youth of America and is proud to support Rockland Youth Film Festival.