MSHS Student Wins Regional Documentary Award

Kaitlyn Cashdollar, Editor-in-Chief

For the past three years, Manitou Springs High School students, and now alumni, have attended the prestigious summer documentary camp, the Youth Documentary Academy (YDA), to create their own documentaries over the summer. Tea Santos’ (11) documentary “Surviving” has not only been nominated for numerous regional awards, but is also being played at many film festivals across the city.

Santos tried for a spot in the YDA last year, but ultimately was not chosen. It is a very competitive program, as only 12 people in the entire region are accepted every year. Santos was not planning on applying this year, but Wendy Harms, the theater teacher, pushed them to apply.

Santos has been involved in theater since 6th grade and photography for longer. “With theater and photography comes a lot of creativity, so it’s really easy to come up with ideas,” said Santos. It was through their love of theater that they became involved in local documentary camps, such as the MSMS Eat, Sleep, Film program. The Youth Documentary Academy, however, is quite a few steps up from the middle school program.

The camp is a seven week long intensive training program, the end of which should result in a finished documentary. The camp started with basic training for more expensive filming equipment and different types of editing. It eventually broke off after a few weeks so that filmmakers could do independent work. Each person had an advisor to help them with things like their video shoots, interviews and editing. Santos’ advisors were Tom Shepard for camera shooting and Eva Brzeski for editing. Shepard is the founder the YDA and still directs it today.

Despite their hesitation and doubt about the program, Santos was very happy with how YDA helped them as a director. “You can really go in there expecting nothing and getting everything out of it anyway,” Santos said.

Santos’ documentary centered around the theme of health; more specifically, mental health. It begins by outlining their medical history as a child, when they had both a heart and brain surgery. The film progresses to their start of freshmen year and their time in a mental hospital. The documentary talks about their experience with mental illness, suicide, and society’s effect on them.

This was the same idea that Santos pitched when they tried to get into the YDA last year. “It’s easy to focus on things that you understand rather than going outside of your realm. I know there were a few times when everyone was like ‘Well if you understand (mental illness) so much, why are you making a film on it?’ Well, it’s so I can educate people,” Santos said.

Mental health has been an important topic within our society in recent years. Many people who have defied the stigma and ignorance around mental illness and are finally being listened to. Santos is a huge advocate for change and help for people who suffer from mental illness. Santos argues that ignoring the topic is extremely harmful, pointing out that most people will have some form of mental illness in their lifetime. “I think that maybe you’d want to come to terms with that at some point rather than fighting it and not knowing about it,” Santos said.

Last year, Santos was diagnosed with PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is something triggered by a traumatic event in someone’s life that can lead to flashbacks and severe anxiety. Recently, the term “triggered” has been used as a joke, but many people have spoken up about the effects of joking about something as serious as PTSD. “Triggers are so real. They’re so terrifying. A single trigger can throw you into a depressive manic episode for close to a few weeks. That’s real. If you just ignore it, you can damage other people traumatically,” Santos said.

Santos’ film not only won the Best Documentary Film award from the Pikes Peak Art Council (PPAC), but Santos was nominated for the Young Filmmaker Award. For both of these awards, Santos ran against one of their close friends from YDA: Josh Sun. The winners were announced at a gala that featured “outstanding creative performances and exhibitions from the region.”

The documentary was also selected to screen at the 30th annual Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival on November 11th and 12th. “Surviving” will be shown on the 11th at 1:00 p.m., along with other documentaries made at the YDA. All the directors will attend the showing, and afterwards they will answer questions from the audience.

“Surviving” by Téa Santos will have it’s first public viewing on November 4th at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College at 6:30 p.m.

Even though the documentary showing is open to the public, Santos has a specific audience in mind. “If you’re not willing to talk and be open minded about (mental illness), then you probably shouldn’t see my film,” they said. “If you want to challenge yourself to understand more about it, then I definitely encourage you to see it.”

Mental illness is not the same for everyone, so Santos doesn’t expect for everyone to personally connect to everything in the documentary. In the end, their real hope is that their documentary opens doors for seeing problems in our society about mental health. “I’d like to bring out some knowledge of my own,” said Santos.