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Holladay Journal

Churchill Jr. High filmmaker Marlo Harmer wins national recognition

Jul 30, 2019 03:58PM ● By Heather Lawrence

Marlo Harmer was surprised during an assembly at Churchill Jr. High when she found out she’d won a national Award of Merit for her Reflections film entry. (Photo courtesy of Granite School District)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

Marlo Harmer of Cottonwood Heights is serious about filmmaking. Though she just finished seventh grade at Churchill Jr. High, she’s had four film entries in the Reflections contest, each time winning at the state level. This past year her entry in the “Heroes Around Me”-themed contest received a national Award of Merit recognition. 

“I’ve always been interested in film. I’ve entered in other categories, but I’ve entered a film every year since fourth grade. I get feedback each year, and I use it to get clearer shots and better narration,” Marlo said.  

Her nearly-five-minute film, “Unseen Heroes,” tells the stories of four females. “I know a lot about the difficulties that females go through, so I reached out to people in the community and interviewed them,” Marlo said.

Marlo was thoughtful about where she filmed her subjects. “I went to places that I thought represented their stories. One story was about a student whose father had died. It had a ripple effect throughout her whole school because everyone knew about it, so I filmed her in the school,” Marlo said. 

Another subject shared her struggle with cancer. Footage showed her happily walking through Red Butte Garden. Her voiceover revealed that during her fight against cancer she could hardly get out of bed or go grocery shopping without help. Her statement of courage was, “We can overcome whatever life has to throw at us.”

Marlo would like to pursue filmmaking as a career, and sounds like a pro when she talks about her technical skills. “I used a phone to film this submission, but the work was more in the editing than the cinematography. I used multiple programs and tools — mostly iMovie and Photoshop, but really anything I could get my hands on to enhance and stabilize the footage,” said Marlo.

When Marlo showed her subjects the finished product, “they were really impressed. I was really proud of it and they were too. They were glad they got to be in the film and happy when I won the national award,” Marlo said. 

Marlo was one of five national Award of Merit winners in the middle school grade division for film, and one of only nine students from Utah to be recognized at the national level. Marlo’s film is available to view on Granite District’s website and YouTube. 

Marlo’s mom, Molly Young, said she was impressed by Marlo’s hard work, especially when it came to sticking with all the contest’s requirements, like the personal statement. 

“Her sixth grade submission was good, but the difference this year was refining the personal statement. This year she reflected the theme in her choices. What elevated her from a state win to a national win was that connection,” Young said.   

Young said she encourages Marlo’s creativity, and likes the Reflections contest because there are technical steps that make kids think about why they make a particular choice. “For four years she’s had to document her help, equipment, releases and music (for each entry). It’s a way to harness and refine what she already loves to do into something useful.”

After keeping the national win a secret from her daughter, Young was at Churchill for a big surprise reveal. “The PTA came to the school and brought Marlo up and surprised her in front of the whole school at the end of an assembly. I was off to the side of the stage watching. It was really cool,” said Young.

Marlo’s national win was celebrated at district and state levels. Granite School District embedded her film on their website and stated, “Marlo’s accomplishments are the pride of her school and all of Granite District. She has a bright future ahead of her.”

Amy Choate-Nielsen, director of communications for Utah PTA, said, “We are so proud. Marlo’s video, filled with beautiful images and experiences of everyday heroes, reminds us of the power that can come from seeing the good in the world around us. Her accomplishment puts her in the top 20% of students in the nation… competing against some 5,000 local PTAs throughout the country. We commend her for this achievement.” 

Marlo is already working on her 2019–2020 Reflections submission. “The theme this year is ‘Look Within,’ and I’ve got some ideas. My parents gave me a new camera and we went on a trip to Green River so I could practice using it and editing,” Marlo said. She’s also thinking about starting a YouTube channel to post her films. 

Marlo said she’ll continue to create, with her parents supporting her each step of the way. “My parents have given me unconditional support and given me what I need to make these films. I’m so grateful for that. A lot of kids don’t have these opportunities. I’m glad my parents are who they are.”