Film students capture top prize in national CNN contest

Contact: Cheryl Roland
Still from World Press Freedom video.

"World Press Freedom" by Cassandra Stagner and Wil Granaderos

KALAMAZOO--Two film students at Western Michigan University are about to find out what it's like to have their work broadcast on CNN and singled out for honors by an international team of journalists.

Cassandra Stagner a sophomore from Troy, Mich., and Wil Granaderos, a sophomore from Portage, Mich., have won a national collegiate film contest sponsored by CNN, Reporters Without Borders USA and the Ford Foundation. They will be flown to New York next week to see their work showcased Thursday, May 3, for World Press Freedom Day.

The pair created an original video public service announcement to enter in the "For Press Freedom" contest, a nationwide competition challenging university students to produce video PSAs on the topic. The two WMU students are film, video and media studies majors. They learned early this month they were among five national finalists in the contest.

The judges' final decision was shared with the WMU students in an April 24 phone call informing them of their win. They will be flown to New York for a two-night stay and will be honorees at the World Press Freedom Day banquet, where their video will be shown. CNN also will air their winning entry May 3.

Stagner and Granaderos made the 50-second PSA titled "World Press Freedom." working on their own outside of class. They submitted it for the contest in March.

"The general concept of our PSA is to voice what is typically unspoken and to show how this world is connected by information, by people and by the stories that impact us all," says Stagner. "As human beings, we have the right to know truth and nothing less. Countless numbers of reporters are being persecuted for simply informing the public of information they should not be deprived of. Our message voices the reality many reporters face worldwide--imprisonment, violence, harsh punishment or even death. Our goal is to motivate the public to take a stand, make a scene, defend and end this silence."

An international jury of journalists and human rights defenders selected the winning video based on quality, creativity, message and impact. Other finalists for the prize included students from American University, Stony Brook University, Tennessee State University and Wichita State University.

The jury members included:

  • CNN anchor Anderson Cooper
  • Mark Whitaker, CNN executive vice president and managing editor
  • Calvin Sims from the Ford Foundation
  • Reporters Without Borders Executive Director Olivier Basille
  • Reporters Without Borders USA Chairman Peter O. Price
  • Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi
  • Bashana Abeywardane of Sri Lanka's Journalists for Democracy
  • Bahraini journalist Nada Alwadi
  • Danfung Dennis, Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker of "Hell and Back Again"

"We are very proud of these students who took all they have learned in their courses in the School of Communication and, on their own initiative, filmed this PSA and entered this contest," says Dr. Leigh Ford, chair of WMU's School of Communication.

The students' winning video is available now on the CNN website: