Film Fest addresses timely topics

AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – There was a little bit of Hollywood in Austintown on Thursday, including a walk on the red carpet, awards and photo opportunities.

It was Oscar night at Fitch High School for student film producers, directors and actors, but the videos were not put together just for fun. They address serious issues students see in their schools, including drug abuse, bullying, dating violence and other bad behaviors.

It was all part of the the Friends 4 Friends campaign put on by Operation Keepsake. The goal is to teach students how to recognize when a friend is in trouble, talk to them and get an adult involved.

The students came from all over Mahoning County and were handpicked for the project because they were willing to stand up for something even when it is not popular.

“Tonight is really about them. It’s about all their work and all their accomplishment,” said Peggy Pecchio of Operation Keepsake. “We’re really helping young people understand the warning signs of dating abuse and bullying and also drug and alcohol abuse. Usually if someone is involved and they’re in trouble, the first person they confide in is their friend and so this whole campaign is to strengthen the friends.”

Chaney, Western Reserve, Salem, Campbell Memorial and Austintown Fitch high school students doubled up as movie producers. Students had to write, direct and act in a film.

“We did ours about dating abuse, and we found it’s really important because most people don’t recognize that dating abuse goes on in their high school,” Sydney McGrath of Fitch High School.

Movies had to be about issues students see going on in their hallways. Campbell students went with drug abuse.

“We just kind of wanted to show the outcome and that not everyone has to overdose to get help,” former Campbell High School student Karen Hinkson said.

“We know that there are adults in the schools who are willing and able to help,” Pecchio said.

McGrath learned dating abuse is all about control and feels like she knows how to address it.

“This actually really helped me a lot, more confidence in it, because it gave me more knowledge about it so now I can go up to a friend and be like ‘listen’,” she said.

Austintown 11th grade principal David Purins agreed.

“Teenagers today need confidence in themselves, they need to have support from one another and I am so proud of what our students did and the initiative they took to stand up for something they believe in,” Purins said.

Operation Keepsake is a program designed to keep students out of trouble and help make their dreams come true.

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