Roger Ebert Home

Meet the Winners of the Inaugural No Malice Film Contest

We are pleased to introduce you to the winning filmmakers of The No Malice Film Contest, presented by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation (ALPLF), The Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. These ten winners, ages 11-21, created outstanding short films as part of Healing Illinois, a racial healing initiative of the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) in partnership with The Chicago Community Trust. Abraham Lincoln, in his second inaugural address sought to heal the nation's racial wounds after the Civil War "with malice toward none, with charity for all." 

I feel privileged to witness the blossoming of these young filmmakers as they thoughtfully use art to convey ideas and principles of empathy, kindness, and community. Working with them gave me a sense of hope for our future. I along, with Angela Staron of ALPLF, and our Judges Panel were constantly heartened as we watched not only the films that ultimately won the contest, but all of the submissions. We even had to disqualify some films because they came from other countries, or were submitted by contestants who didn't meet other qualifications. But even in those instances we previewed films that telegraphed that some of these young people today will certainly become compassionate leaders of tomorrow.

Winning films will be presented at two red carpet premieres; the first at the EbertFest Film Festival in conjunction with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, taking place at the Virginia Theater on Saturday, September 11th, 2021. The second premiere takes place at the Shakespeare Theater at The Yard at Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois on Sunday, September 19th.

The films were judged by a panel of 21 professional film critics and filmmakers who were impressed by the creativity and empathy displayed by the filmmakers. Cash prizes were awarded to first, second and third place winners in each age bracket (11-14, 15-18, 19-21). First places winners received $2,000, second place received $1,000 and third place received $500. Additionally, Illinois schools will use the films, and supplemental curriculum created by educators, to talk about race and the harmful impact of bias and injustice. Below you will find the bios and headshots submitted by each winner, as well as their thoughtful reasons for making each of their films.


AGES 19-21

ANNA LEE ACKERMANN

1st place winner for "As We Are Planted"

Anna Lee Ackermann, age 22 (age 21 when her film was finished), is a documentarian and freelance Chicago-based content creator in both visual, audio, and written forms. Through her time pursuing a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Documentary (December '20) with a dual focus in film and journalism and a minor in Social Media and Digital Strategy at Columbia College Chicago, and serving as an intern at Kartemquin Films, she has sharpened her storytelling skills working on a number of documentaries and professional projects. She now works freelance in the content creation space making videos for small businesses/nonprofits, editing a podcast, and a freelance communications associate. Ackermann recently started a new part-time job as a social media associate for a theater house in Chicago. In her free time, Ackermann enjoys cooking, playing board games, and going skydiving!

"I made this documentary initially for a capstone course for my undergrad," Ackermann says. "Never would I have imagined it would take me as far as it has! I first learned about Just Roots Chicago after volunteering there as a work outing. I was amazed at the idea of urban farms--I truly had no idea! When it came time for me to pick a topic for my documentary for the class, the Just Roots team was kind enough to trust me to follow along with their story and document it. It was through them that I was able to connect with Saint James Food Pantry to make this story have even more meaning by exploring food insecurity and apartheid in Chicago. While it's important to recognize and call out the systemic injustices, it's just as important to recognize and support the local organizations that are taking steps to combat the effects of the injustices."

MICHAEL PROCTOR

2nd place winner for "A Call to Fight Lies: Practical Steps to Fight Injustice"

My name is Michael Proctor and I am 21 years old. I am currently enrolled at Lincoln Christian University with a major in Business Administration. Upon graduating in May 2022, my tentative plan is to do marketing for a large company to gain career experience and learn from experts. Then after a few years of that, I'll move into freelance videography full time with a focus on small business marketing. 

I am a business administration student at a Christian university. I grew up in Gentry, Arkansas, on a goat dairy farm milking goats twice a day. I never touched a camera till 2019 where I borrowed my friend's camera for a semester and enjoyed taking pictures of people. In the summer of 2019, I bought my own camera, a Sony a6000, and a 30mm 1.4. Taking what I learned from my business classes, I wanted to take this newfound skill and market myself. I saw that fewer people did videography due to the higher skill floor for entry to the field. I learned how to edit and started shooting short commercials for small businesses. 2020 I shot my first wedding and enjoyed that. Come 2021; I shot my first short film for this film competition. I decided to participate in the film because I saw it as an opportunity to challenge myself and do something new. I also had not participated in the conversation about race and was quite naive about the whole topic. I took the opportunity to educate myself on the subject, and I am so grateful that I decided to leap into this project. I learned so much and became a better storyteller because of it and am not well aware of the lack of equality in our world and have become quite empathetic to it. 

ZAKNAFEIN LUKEN

3rd place winner for "Hate is Not Welcome Here"

Hello, my name is Zaknafein Luken and I am 22 years old (21 when my entry was submitted) and a senior at Lincoln College. My degree (and passion) is in Television & Film production. It has been something that has helped fuel my creative juices since I was younger. Growing up in Central Illinois doesn't provide a lot of filming ventures, so it's up to me to create my own and take any opportunity that comes my way! Of course, the end goal is to finish school and move out to Los Angeles, and direct movies! It's not about the fame for me, I could leave that at the door honestly, to me it's about creating a vision that people can get behind and love. I want to give people the same feeling that I have when I watch a movie! I have been blessed thus far with amazing opportunities such as my internship that was with 'Twas Entertainment who is ran and operated by Kevin Lima ("The Goofy Movie," "Tarzan," and "Enchanted") and Brenda Chapman ("Brave" and "The Prince of Egypt")!

As I mentioned earlier, I believe that I need to take every opportunity that comes my way, that is exactly why I made this film! Lincoln College came to me telling me that there was a chance for me to create a short film for this exact festival! The subject matter brought great interest to me and I believe it is something that needs more coverage! The reception I received on my film is what made it worth it. People that I had never met were reaching out to me and expressing how much they love my short film and how impactful they thought it was. To me, that was what made it all worth it. Even though this is an absolute honor to be a part of this festival, the reception alone made everything worth it.

Racial healing is a huge topic of today and honestly, it's been a topic for several decades! It's time for a change and its time for people to realize that we can do this together.There needs to be change, it's long overdue.


AGES 15-18

KENYA APONGULE

1st place winner for "Hush"

My name is Kenya Apongule and I’m a 19 year old health science major from Springfield, IL. I attend Spelman College in Atlanta Georgia and I’ll be starting my sophomore year in a couple of weeks. 

I enjoy writing poetry and doing photography as well as videography. I created my film HUSH with hopes to give my audience a deeper understanding of the obstacles many black Americans face today. 

SEAN EMMANUEL ATIENZA

2nd place winner for "Puzzle"

I am Sean Emmanuel D. Atienza, an 18 year old student from the Philippines and a graduate of Niles West High School in Skokie, IL. I'm about to start my first year of studying engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

I, along with other students in my AP Lit class, were first encouraged to make a film about racial healing by our teacher, Ms. Jaffe-Notier. In making the film, I wanted to convey my ideas about how each and every person, no matter their background, still can be better and contribute to stopping hate and violence through listening to and understanding other people's stories.

AZALEE IRVING

3rd place winner for "Interracial Relationships"

I am an 18-year-old African American female who has grown up on the South Side of Chicago. I’ve seen many things. Experienced many things. So many stories to tell, and I’m ready to share them with the world. I’m a person who wants to have all knowing knowledge about any and everything. Omniscience, you know? I started as a freshman at Walter H. Dyett high school for the Arts, and graduated as a junior at Community Youth Development institute.

I want to show people that racism is a form of hate that is taught. It is a learned behavior. Some people are raised to learn to hate certain races and cultures while others are not. Everyone isn’t a racist. There are definitely some great people that can move passed those behaviors and love people for who they are, regardless of their race or ethnicity.


AGES 11-14

NIKO PECORI-ROBINSON

1st place winner for "Be the GOOD"

My name is Niko Pecori Robinson, I’m 12 years old and I go to Christ the King School in Springfield, IL.  

I joined the contest because I love making films. I hope the people who see my films like them! 

LONDON SHIELDS

2nd place winner for "Racial Healing in Oppressed Communities"

My name is London Shields. I am 14 years old. I am not currently enrolled in a school due to me transferring to another school, although my former school was Gary Comer College Prep Middle School. My most impressive achievements, which are in other branches besides film, are my high honor roll accomplishments and STEM science competition first place wins. My goal in life is to help others. That for me is in the form of activism and spreading awareness, but also helping in the medical field. My dream is to become a nurse. Something that no one knows about me is that I love to travel. The trip that I most want to take, but haven’t yet, is Roswell, New Mexico. 

The reason that I made this film on racial healing was because I wanted to take you on a journey. A journey through racial healing and what it has taken to get us to the position we are in now. I also wanted to acknowledge that we are not finished with racial healing as a whole. We have made progress certainly but the micro-aggressions and backhanded compliments cannot go unnoticed just because of the progress. That is demanding and possibly what delays progression even further. The misconception that we have accomplished our goal and won. Despite all of the social media handles and the #BlackLivesMatterMovement, we still have a long way to go. I wanted to take you through my personal journey of racial healing. To take you through what I was doing daily to reinforce racial healing and what others could do as well.

ABIGAIL ELDRIDGE

3rd place winner for "We the People"

Abigail Eldridge is 12 years old. She is in 7th grade and currently attends Lincoln Magnet School (LMS) in Springfield, Illinois. Her favorite subjects in school are math and choir. Outside of school, her favorite things to do include singing and playing games. She runs Track and participates in BETA Club for Lincoln Magnet. If she could, she would dedicate her third place win to her late first grade teacher, Mrs. Havey. Without Mrs. Havey, Abigail would not be where she is today. Abigail made a film for this contest because of the injustices going on in the outside world. She believes that no one should be judged by their heritage or the color of their skin, and that everyone should be made equal and free.

JESSICA WONG

3rd place winner for "Racial Justice"

My name is Jessica Wong, and I am 14 years old. I recently graduated from James Ward Elementary School and I will be attending Jones College Prep High School as an incoming Freshman. For years, discrimination against people of colour was normalized and ignored, and still today, justice has not been served for those who were wronged because of their skin colour. As a person of colour, I could not stand here and watch as the US nation fails to provide equity, so as a result, I spent months collecting clips and photos of the BLM (Black Lives Matter) and Protect Asian Lives movements. After constant reviewing and hours of editing, I finally put my video together and was ready to present it to everyone and help raise awareness of racism.

Chaz Ebert

Chaz is the CEO of several Ebert enterprises, including the President of The Ebert Company Ltd, and of Ebert Digital LLC, Publisher of RogerEbert.com, President of Ebert Productions and Chairman of the Board of The Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation, and Co-Founder and Producer of Ebertfest, the film festival now in its 22nd year.

Latest blog posts

Latest reviews

Midnight Mass
Dear Evan Hansen
The Starling
Surge
The Guilty
Sankofa

Comments

comments powered by Disqus