By Charles Burns
When Mia Lazar, a 17-year-old student at Blacksburg High School, first heard the news of Heather Heyer’s senseless murder at the hands of a white supremacist in Charlottesville, she was both rattled and ready to stand up for positive social change. Outraged by the rampant bigotry on display on August 12, 2017, she felt an urgent desire to fight hate and intolerance with whatever tools she had at her disposal. For Lazar, filmmaking has become the ideal medium for both developing her own creative voice and promoting tolerance in the face of bigotry.
Last year, after winning a Digital Young Leaders Exchange Program fellowship grant, Lazar created the Filmshakers Festival—it’s student-run and focuses on starting a meaningful dialogue to foster peacebuilding both within the Charlottesville community and nationally. C-VILLE spoke with Lazar about filmmaking and the festival, which takes place on October 5 at the Vinegar Hill Theatre.
C-VILLE: How did you become more involved with the world of filmmaking and start making films yourself?
Mia Lazar: I started making documentaries for a school project when I was in 6th grade. Soon, I found the joy of researching in archives, [and] flipping through documents that nobody had seen in decades. I was really shy, yet documentary filmmaking made me realize that I could have a powerful voice. I began to make films about things that I care about: women’s rights, environmental justice, and equality. I especially love topics that relate to Virginia history.
The first time I attended a film festival, I was in awe. I was surrounded by people who wanted to make a difference, and who cared deeply about the problems presented in their films.
Our generation is looking for ways to express ourselves and advocate for a more just society. That’s why [I created] the Filmshakers Festival—I want more high schoolers to have an opportunity to share their voices about modern-day issues.
How did you come to this project?
Like many others, the events in Charlottesville two years ago made me want to do something. I also felt a big sister’s protectiveness to my own sister [when she was] getting criticized for her statements about our Tempest Tossed film [Lazar’s sister Ava was trolled online for a comment in a Roanoke Times article on the film, in which she said refugees should be welcomed to the United States just as our grandparents were].
Explain the origins of the festival and the steps necessary to make it a reality.
I came up with the name Filmshakers because I wanted to make a festival for high school movers and shakers. I spent the time from October 2018 to spring 2019 finding a venue and creating the website, rules, and budget.
My friend, Ella Goldschmidt, who is an incredible artist, created the painting featured on the website. My sister has been in charge of social media. A few friends volunteered to help hand out fliers in their schools before the festival and hand out programs the day of the festival. I’ve been trying to contact teachers and students to encourage them to participate. One challenge I had during this process was finding the courage to ask adults for mentoring or other help with the project. This pushed me out of my comfort zone, but I think that it will help make the film festival stronger.
What can you tell us about the selected films?
Many…come from the Charlottesville area. Albemarle High School is showing two films, and Light House Studios, a Charlottesville youth film nonprofit, is also showing two films. Isabelle Jordan’s film, A Familiar Refrain: Thomas Jefferson and the Golden Age, is a short historical documentary about Thomas Jefferson and the history of bigotry in the United States. Cross Culture Crush is a narrative film from Albemarle High School about two teenagers who date despite resistance from their parents.
What kind of reaction do you want to elicit from audiences?
I want the audience to come away from the film festival motivated and hopeful—motivated in that they feel like they can help with change and hopeful that change can happen. I’m also hoping that it will be a chance for filmmakers to meet other people who support the causes of anti-bigotry and peacebuilding.
Charles Burns is a senior at Charlottesville High School and editor of the school’s newspaper, the Knight-Time Review.