Local student wins C-SPAN contest


Local middle school student Benjamin Kurian has been selected as a first-place prize winner in C-SPAN’s national 2023 StudentCam competition and will receive a total of $3,500 for his “Losing a Generation” documentary on the national opioid crisis.

Benjamin, who is in the seventh grade at Olentangy Liberty Middle School, is one of just four first-place prize winners out of more than 1,500 entries. His documentary was also recognized as the fan favorite submission, earning him an additional $500 along with the $3,000 first-place prize money.

As part of the competition, which is now in its 19th year, students were asked to envision themselves in a position of power as newly elected members of Congress.

“As each participant considered which issue would be their first priority and why, they creatively wove detailed research with expert interviews and proposed actions to address their concerns,” said Director of C-SPAN Education Relations Craig McAndrew.

Benjamin said he was inspired to choose the opioid crisis by his mother, who works as a nurse practitioner in addiction medicine.

“As soon as I saw the prompt, I immediately thought to do that topic because it’s a really important issue,” Benjamin told The Gazette.

He estimated the entire process of preparing for, filming, and editing the six-minute documentary took upwards of five weeks. Benjamin began by researching the topic with the aid of his mother, who provided some documents to kickstart the project.

“From there, I started to form a script from authentic sources from the internet and journals,” Benjamin said. “After forming a script, I formed a storyboard, which would outline where I needed to do this and when I needed to say this and that, all that kind of stuff. After that, I reached out to community providers such as health care providers, public health officials, and first responders for interviews because that’s one of the things they recommended putting in the video. Not only does that add a layer of credibility but it answered a lot of the questions I had about the topic, which might not be able to be answered from an article or something like that.”

Among the people Benjamin interviewed for the documentary were Andrea Boxill, who serves as the administrator for Alcohol and Drug Services with Columbus Public Health, and Dr. Krisanna Deppen, who is the program director for the OhioHealth Grant Addiction Medicine Fellowship.

Once finished with the interview process, Benjamin advanced to adding his narration for the video, which was done at various locations around downtown Columbus and was filmed with the help of his father. The last step to completing the documentary involved editing the video, which he did entirely by himself over the span of a week. Benjamin said of the editing process, “I pulled a lot of all-nighters for that, but it was pretty worth it, I’d say.”

While Benjamin said the six-minute limit on the video was a challenge given the plethora of information he wanted to share with the audience, he was able to deliver what he believes is the most important detail when addressing the crisis; addiction is a disease that won’t be beaten without first erasing the stigmas that cloud people’s assessments of the issue.

“I think one thing I established throughout the video was that we should see addiction as a treatable disease rather than a moral failing or something someone is doing wrong,” Benjamin said. “And we should treat it as a disease like diabetes or anything like that.”

Once the documentary was finished and submitted, Benjamin felt he had a chance to place well in the competition given the amount of work he put into the video, his ability to convey the overall message, and the importance of the topic. Benjamin was informed on March 15, while in German class, he had received a first-place prize for the documentary after his friend pulled up the website to check the results. “I couldn’t scream but I silently cheered for myself, so that was way fun,” he said.

The documentary is set to air nationally on C-SPAN on Monday, April 17, at 6:50 a.m. and at later times throughout the day. As for the prize money, Benjamin said he plans to save it for college.

In the meantime, Benjamin said he’s already looking forward to the release of the prompt for next year’s competition, which he has every intention of entering. He will do so with a wealth of knowledge in hand as a result of this year’s experience, which has helped him to understand what needs to be prioritized when making a documentary.

“One thing I’ve really learned is that no matter how good your video editing skills are, what really matters is the content that’s there,” he said. “If people can understand it, it has a way better effect.”

The “Losing a Generation” documentary can also be viewed online by visiting www.studentcam.org.

Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.

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