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Howard students prepare films for 'Your Voice, Your Choice' competition

By Sara Toth, stoth@tribune.com

10:35 AM EST, November 4, 2013

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The kitchen in Amanda O'Shaughnessy's North Laurel home rarely has much in the way of soda and sugary drinks. But that wasn't the case one recent weekend, as the Reservoir High School freshman pulled a big bottle and several cans of soda out of the refrigerator.

Amanda, like other students in Howard County, is working on a short documentary to submit to the Horizon Foundation's "Your Voice, Your Choice" film competition, which is part of the organization's Howard County Unsweetened campaign.

The competition, which carries with it a $10,000 grand prize, is for students to showcase their talents while reflecting on the abundance of unhealthy beverages in their life and how those drinks can impact their health.

"We sponsored this contest as way to engage high school students in our community-wide effort to promote healthier choices," said Nikki Highsmith Vernick, president and CEO of the Howard County-based nonprofit focused on improving the health and wellness of people living or working in the county. "The contest provides an opportunity for teens to put their talents, perspectives and voices to use, to help the rest of us understand the daily challenges they face in trying to stay on a healthy path."

The deadline for film submissions is Friday, Nov. 8, and the documentaries will be shown at a red carpet event at the Horowitz Center Smith Theatre at Howard Community College in Columbia on Dec. 11. Horizon spokesman Ian Kennedy said that 20 individuals or teams had registered for the competition.

Amanda and her teammates, Reservoir freshman Desiree Morrison and Hammond High School freshman Grace Cheney, are hopeful for their chances. Amanda and Grace had met at Hammond Middle School; Desiree and Amanda know each other through Reservoir's film club. All have entered film competitions before. Their vision for the "Your Voice, Your Choice" competition is hodge-podge of fun, with plans to edit together interviews, factoids, photos and a music video starring Desiree.

Desiree bounces between two choices: a can of soda or a bottle of water as "The Choice is Yours (Revisited)" by the hip-hop group Black Sheep plays. Ultimately, as the song asks the listeners to choose between "this" or "that," In the film, Desiree opts for the bottle of water, but in real life, she said, she loves carbonated drinks.

"I sound hypocritical when I say this, but I'm a soda hound," she said. "I really like soda, sugary drinks. But I know they're terrible for me."

Desiree's older brother recently stopped drinking carbonated, sugary drinks, and she's noticed the difference in him. He seems healthier, she said.

"I still love all that stuff, but I know it's bad for me and I think people should be educated so they can make that personal choice," Desiree said. "But I've made that choice, to keep drinking soda."

Amanda, on the other hand, does feel strongly about drinking healthier beverages. She wants the film to show the negative effects of drinking, say, two-and-a-half cans of soda a day, like she's seen some of her classmates do.

"It's OK for a treat, but if you're consuming sugar constantly and it's a habit, I think it's a problem," she said. "We just want people to back away and think about their options, and know there are healthier options out there."

Really, though, the girls are making a film for the Horizon Foundation's competition just because they like making films. Amanda's been making films since the fourth grade, and she and Desiree both participated in the county's environmental film festival while they were in middle school.

"I like the fact that I can convey what I'm thinking into something other people can see and enjoy," said Desiree. "I'll take most chances I get to make a film."