A crazy election season, friends who are immigrants and refugees, and a film hobby all came together to allow an 18-year-old from Logan to win the $10,000 grand prize at a Tribeca Film Festival youth competition this April.
Jurors picked Kyle Ransom out of five finalists from around the United States for his short film "New Frontiers" as a part of the America I Am youth film competition presented by the Tribeca Film Institute and the National Park Service.
The competition asked for films on the American experience that were five minutes or less and were directed, written and/or edited by youths ages 12-19.
Ransom and his older brother had been making films together for about a year when they entered a documentary in the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City in January of this year. It was while at this festival that Ransom first heard about the America I Am competition.
The theme of the Tribeca youth competition was serendipitous for Ransom, who had already been thinking about making a film about the American dream.
"It came from a lot of the chaos that was this election season," he said in an interview with the Deseret News. "A big emphasis has been placed on immigration and refugees."
In "New Frontiers," Ransom talks about his Mormon ancestors who came to Ellis Island from Liverpool, England, and then made the trek West to Utah by handcart. Then he talks about some of his friends and classmates, one who is a refugee from Burma, one whose father was deported eight years ago, and one who lives in Saudi Arabia and longs to return to the United States.
"These are people who I've grown up with and spend a lot of time with that came from different circumstances," he said. "I just wanted to tell a story about how I see the American experience in all of them even though they're not your typical high school kid. … Altogether, we collectively represent what it means to be Americans, which is looking for a better life and trying to improve the way we live."
When Ransom's video was selected as a finalist for the America I Am competition, he and the other young people selected were each given mentors who helped them improve their submissions before they were screened at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Ransom's mentor was Ellen Martinez, a documentary filmmaker who has also worked on the most recent Spider-Man movies. Since she lives in New York, Ransom worked with her over the phone and through Skype and email. He said he made a "genuine connection with her" and she became a friend who gave him excellent career advice.
In April, Ransom and the other finalists came together at Ellis Island in New York City. It was there that Ransom's video was selected as the grand prize winner.
"When I found out I won, it was one of the best days in the world," he said. "When your creative vision is confirmed, or you feel like your creative vision is valuable to other people — working on videos or films, you don't always know how the message is going to come through or if it comes across the right way."
He said most of the other finalists were from the East Coast and they weren't members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints like he is, so his film opened up a lot of conversations about his Mormon ancestors. He was able to accept his award on the same island where they arrived more than a century ago.
After he graduates this month, Ransom will be leaving on an LDS mission to Macon, Georgia, but he said he ultimately plans to make a career in film and intends to use his prize money toward future projects.