Mental health in motion: Five Burlingame students recognized in Directing Change film contest


Photos and Graphic by Sophia Bella

Five Burlingame students placed in the Directing Change film contest with public service announcements covering various mental health issues.

Sophia Bella, Managing Editor

After submitting films intended to raise awareness of the multi-faceted topic of mental health, five young filmmakers from Burlingame were recognized for their public service announcements at the statewide Directing Change Film Contest, winning awards in three categories. Under BTV advisor and Art of Video teacher Stephen Erle, students dedicated around four weeks of the second semester to creating original films that addressed their prompt in picture.

Directing Change is a nonprofit advocating for teen mental health and suicide prevention through the medium of film. Established in 2017, the California statewide film contest allows students to develop a public service announcement about mental health and incorporate it into original videos and animations.

“These are short films, 30 seconds to a minute,” Erle said. “[They are] something that can go on social media, where a student can see it and quickly get a message.”

Erle’s students first started submitting work to Directing Change in response to a flyer sent out in the mail a few years ago, and has been involved every year since.

“The organization we work with is really supportive, and their mission I really agree with — mental health for students and suicide prevention — how could you not get behind something like that?” Erle said.

Sophomore Finn Lorian and senior Anna Peters placed first in the Mental Health Matters category for their film “Be the Change,” winning $500 and advancing to state judging alongside 10 other films. Winners will be announced virtually on May 17. The public service announcement is a narrated scenario following a group of friends who recognize the struggle of one friend and help her seek support.

“I think that’s something that a lot of people can relate to, especially coming back from Covid, and this being our first year back — feeling kind of alone and not thinking that anyone’s noticing what’s going on with them,” Lorian said. 

Sophomores Ryan Luftman and Aidan Kelley won third place in the Statewide Animation Category and $500 for their animated public service annoucement “Reach Out,” encouraging viewers to connect with friends and family if they display warning signs of depression and suicidal behavior. 

“The message is that sometimes people are kind of isolated. They don’t really have a way to reach out for themselves,” Luftman said. “Sometimes it takes someone to reach out for them.”

Winning fifth place and $100 in the Through the Lens of Culture category was Andrea Chu-Tam for her film “Body Image in Chinese Culture.” Inspired by a conversation with her parents, Chu-Tam’s film features examples of common cultural expectations of body image and offers suggestions for what viewers can do to improve communication with their family.

“I see a lot of Asian stereotypes with mental health and what type of mental health Asian people in Asian cultures struggle with,” Chu-Tam said. “I didn’t see a lot of people talking about this issue, and I thought that it was something that I personally experienced that I want to share.”

Every film displays an end screen with helplines and resources for where to take the next step in receiving mental health support. If you want to view these students’ work, visit the following links:


“Be the Change” By Finn Lorian and Anna Peters

“Reach Out” By Aidan Kelley and Ryan Luftman

“Body Image in Chinese Culture” by Andrea Chu-Tam