February 25, 2022
By Lori Draz and Maura Collins
Welcome to Teen Scene. Each month, our young authors write, in their own voice, stories that will educate and inform their peers and parents. If you are a teenager who would like to write your story, contact Le Journal. We’ll help you polish it, so don’t worry, let’s get to sharing.
This month’s author is Maura Collins, a 16-year-old junior at Middletown High School South, a passionate, award-winning filmmaker working toward her big dream of becoming Chief/Creative Director of Walt Disney Studios. Film taught Maura how to tell stories, starting with her own, and in doing so she found not only her voice, but also her conviction and self-acceptance. Maura’s films will be screened at the Garden State Film Festival this month. In the meantime, here’s Maura’s story.
My language arts teacher in seventh grade required all her classes to participate in the Genie Fair. These were small research projects that took up the space of a triple in the school cafeteria, with room for a box of munchkins to entice people past your work. That’s what most kids did. Instead, I decided to make a three and a half minute animation about how I deal with anxiety. I had never made a film before, let alone animation. However, for some reason, I had a serious urge to do so.
After spending two months sketching digitally, I finally finished and presented my film to my family. Most of what I talked about in my animation I had never said out loud before. I felt like I was sharing a raw piece of me that I never wanted to acknowledge, and now the whole world could see it. After giving it to my teacher, my mother posted it publicly on Facebook. It ended up getting over 36,000 views from people all over the world. It has been shown to colleges, high schools, and invited university teachers to use it for their lessons. People from Britain, Australia and beyond have contacted me to tell me how inspiring and courageous I am. I never thought I was brave before. At the socially awkward age of 12, people I didn’t even know told me that I had changed their lives. It was then that I fully recognized my passion for cinema. (“I want them to know” can be seen at youtube.be/-2szlFs9Z7E)
As I continued my education in high school, I always felt left out until I walked into the movie theater. As a nervous freshman, I felt familiar with the program, even though I didn’t know much about it. I continued to make films and in March 2020 my comedy short “Stressed Out” was accepted into its first film festival. In my second Film II class, I met other passionate filmmakers and made some of my best work. In June, I attended my first in-person film festival. I was interviewed, participated in a Q&A and accepted awards for two of my films. My friend in class convinced me to continue with the Independent Film Studies course for the rest of high school, and my confidence skyrocketed.
However, entering the junior year was not as uplifting. The previous summer, I found myself trapped in an unhealthy mental state and questioned everything about myself. The first few weeks of school, I struggled with crippling anxiety and looked back on my seventh-grade self for guidance. Where did that girl go? I was no longer brave. I found myself collapsing into my own thoughts, and I didn’t know how to begin to escape them. Everything seemed strangely foreign. Nothing felt right or comfortable anymore. Then I walked into the movie theater.
It was our first class since summer vacation, and we gave a brief account of what we had accomplished over the summer. My severe nausea and panic subsided for the first time during school that week, and I finally felt like I could breathe again. As I soaked in the moment of normalcy, two Golden Lion Awards High School Film Festival plaques banged on my desk. My film teacher, Mr. Corey, congratulated me and I fought back tears. For the first time in months, I finally felt who I was again.
Having a passion for cinema is an interesting concept because like in most arts, you have to be crazy in every sense of the word to achieve it. Making films can be stressful, but provides me with a means of communication that cannot be replicated. It explains ideas and situations in a way that words cannot. It serves as an escape from reality, but at the same time it propels me towards my personal reality. When I was at my lowest, the cinema took over what was left of me.
There are many moments in every artist’s career when they wonder if they have what it takes, and the answers are never simple. It takes a special kind of determination to persist in any artistic industry, especially when you’re just starting out. I received a lot of indirect support when my so-called “hobby” became my future. I received pitiful statements like “Wow, I wish you the best of luck”, as if I had caught a disease. I learned that a lot of people just don’t get it, but it goes with everything.
The film connects me to the seventh grade girl who bravely spoke about the darker parts of herself in an animation. This girl wasn’t afraid of who she was and didn’t care what people thought of her. She did everything for her, no one else. I do this for her. The past year has been one of the most transformative and difficult years of my life for me, and I don’t regret a single moment of it. I have shown my films more than 20 times in various film festivals and have won many awards. Through my struggles and successes, I’ve learned that there are times in life that will make you question everything, but the best you can do is keep going. So keep going. Find what motivates you. Find what drives you crazy in the best way possible – and to quote the animation that started it all, “You will find your peace”.