AMSTERDAM - When it comes to voting, the U.S. may be the "Land of the Free, Home of the Apathetic."
That is the title of an award-winning documentary video made by three Amsterdam High School seniors - Sarah Bellardini, Priyanka Singh and Ricky Russell.
The trio is among 75 winners chosen out of about 1,000 submissions to the StudentCam contest sponsored by C-SPAN.
This screen grab from the StudentCam website shows a scene from the documentary film “Land of the Free, Home of the Apathetic.” The film, made by three Amsterdam High?School seniors, is among the winners of the contest, which is sponsored by C-SPAN.
Stuart Palczak, who has the students in his AP government and economics class, said he had his students take part in the contest for the last five years.
According to the StudentCam website - www.studentcam.org - the contest this year asked the students to create a documentary video that portrayed the country's biggest challenge or greatest strength.
Palczak said for the class assignment, he and the students brainstormed and came up with a number of possibilities, from childhood obesity to gay marriage.
Bellardini said after juggling around a couple of different ideas, the trio decided to make a video about how low voter turnout was relevant to youth.
The video, which is just under 8 minutes long, notes the U.S. ranks 138th among all nations in voter turnout percentages. The average voter turnout in the U.S. is 48 percent, the video notes. As a comparison, it shows a few other countries including Australia, where the average voter turnout is 95 percent. It also notes that in recent elections, just 23 percent of people age 18 to 24 have voted.
One of the reasons the video lists for this is that the nation's youth tends to be uninformed.
Singh said for part of the documentary the group conducted "man-on-the-street" style interviews with fellow students.
In the video, students are shown giving incomplete or incorrect answers to questions such as "How old does one have to be to run for president?" and "Name three Founding Fathers."
"It shocked me," Singh said.
Bellardini said it also was interesting to learn from a foreign exchange student shown in the documentary how different voting is treated in another country.
"While some do not see low voter turnout among youth as a bad thing, we feel our democracy should represent all demographics," is shown on the screen at the end of trio's video.
Bellardini said she is the only one of the three old enough to vote, and plans on doing so Tuesday during the school board elections.
The video also included interviews conducted by the students, including an interview with Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane.
Palczak said while he might provide some initial contact information for students, it was up to them to arrange and conduct their own interviews.
"The students are able to get some in-depth knowledge about an issue from knowledgeable people in the community," he said.
Palczak said he was not surprised the students won. He said there were nine videos submitted from the class of about 29 students and several of them were good.
He anticipates using the contest for the class next school year. He also expects there to be even mor enthusiasm about it.
"Next year's kids may think they have a good chance at winning because their friends have actually won," Palczak said.
Bellardini said the group still does not know how they will spend their $250 prize.