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Chula Vista Students Screening Anti-Violence Short At White House Film Festival

Beyond the Crossfire | White House Film Festival Submission 2.0

A film made by three students from High Tech High in Chula Vista was among 16 shown at the White House on Friday at the inaugural White House Student Film Festival.

Gabriel Garcia, Tirsa Mercado and Rachel Walden submitted "Beyond the Crossfire," a short film about a larger documentary produced by more than 45 fellow students designed to elevate youth voices in the discussion about how to prevent and reduce violence and make schools, homes and neighborhoods safer, according to the White House.

Garcia, 17 didn't imagine a trip to the White House was in his future when they started their work back in September.

“I just didn’t really know what to expect," he said to KPBS in a phone interview. "I didn’t know that it would get this big.”

Now Garcia is directing and editing a segment of the documentary focused on after-school programs and the role they can play in reducing gun violence.

For Mercado, hearing President Barack Obama talk about the students' films was striking. In part because the things he talked about sounded like her classmates' work on "Beyond the Crossfire."

“He made a point that we just expand our minds so much and we grow so much with technology and it has given us the opportunity to grow so much and I think that was really amazing,” she said.

The festival was a competition for students from kindergarten through 12th grade to create short films on how technology is used in their classrooms, the roles technology will play in education in the future and to support learning in such fields as science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

High Tech High Chula Vista Teacher Matt Simon said he thinks his students’ film stood out because it's about more than a learning exercise.

“It is about a real cause and it's about 45 students spanning across the nation to do something about this challenge we face," he said. "These students got a lot of praise while we were there for making a film of real substance.”

More than 2,000 videos were submitted and 16 were selected for the festival. They will be screened in four groups -- "Young Visionaries," "Future Innovators," "World of Tomorrow" and "Building Bridges."

The film from the Chula Vista students was in the "Young Visionaries" group.

They were presented by actor Kal Penn; Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of New York City's Hayden Planetarium and host of the upcoming Fox Broadcasting series, "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey;" television personality Bill Nye -- "The Science Guy;" and American Film Institute President and CEO Bob Gazzale.

The event was intended to showcase the power of technology to boost learning and the Obama administration's commitment to connect 99 percent of students to next-generation broadband and wireless technology within five years, according to the White House.

In connection with the festival, President Barack Obama announced that Adobe will make available more than $300 million of free software to teachers and students, including Photoshop, and Prezi, a software tool for creating memorable presentations, will provide $100 million in Edu Pro licenses for high schools and educators throughout the nation.

KPBS education reporter Kyla Calvert contributed to this report.

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