When high school student Rebecca Baruch decided she wanted to create an outlet for students who, like her, had a passion for filmmaking, she remembered the lesson her parents instilled in her.
“My parents, Ron and Sharon, are very generous people, and they always taught us that whatever you do, whatever you’re passionate about, you should use it to repair the world,” said Baruch, a 17-year-old student at Toronto’s Bishop Strachan School (BSS), who founded the Spotlight Charity Film Festival, which successfully ran at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema earlier this month.
“I’ve always been interested in film. It’s a passion of mine and I think BSS instilled that because I didn’t know a lot about film. Then I took one film class and I fell in love,” she said.
“I’d always seen art around my school, like paintings and sculptures, but I never felt there was a place to show my work as a filmmaker.”
But giving aspiring filmmakers a creative outlet and showcasing young talent was only part of her vision.
“I think it’s important to make art, but I also think you should do something with your art because I was always taught about tikkun olam and tzedakah, so I wanted to take the art and use it for charity.”
After forming a committee of her peers in younger grades and collecting submissions from students at other same-sex schools in Toronto, including Upper Canada College and St. Michael’s College School, Baruch and her committee worked on fundraising.
“A lot of the money was raised through ticket sales. We reached out to our friends and family,” she said, adding that they raised almost $4,000.
The funds raised were divided between the three winners of the festival, as well as the festival committee.
Baruch said she chose to donate her portion to an organization called Sketch, which helps homeless people through art therapy classes. The other organizations receiving a donation include Covenant House and the Hospital for Sick Children.
Baruch, who is enrolled in the Newhouse School’s film, television and radio program at Syracuse University, explained that the submissions had to be narrative pieces, and each of the three winners produced a unique short film.
In the Grade 9-10 category, Faiz Khwaja won for his film Strange Love, Mary McNee won the Grade 11 category for her film called Girl Come To Me in a Dream, and Julia Thompson won the Grade 12 category for her film Breakthrough.
“The winner for the Grade 9-10 category was actually a Grade 8 student. He did a really cute video that was like Spike Jones’ movie Her, where there was a man who fell in love with a peppershaker… The next one was by a girl on our committee, and her film was a stop motion animation film about a stuffed animal bunny who wanted to find his other half… It has a happy ending, which was good,” Baruch said.
“The winner of the Grade 12 category, which I think was the most competitive category, was Julia Thompson, and she also made a stop motion animation film. She is very interested in fashion, so it was an Andy Warhol piece, sort of, where this girl, who is schizophrenic, kind of walks through her house and goes through her day, and everything she sees is coloured and different. There were designs everywhere, it had edgy music and it was really cool.”
The films were judged by a panel that included film director Larysa Kondracki, and film critics including Peter Howell and Liam Lacey.
Baruch said she hopes the younger members of her committee will keep the festival going and continue to pass the torch to their peers for years to come.
“The festival is about letting new artists shine.”