Typically, films for kids are created by – and through the eyes of – adults. But, what if we gave young people the tools to tell their own stories on film? That’s the mission of nonprofit BYkids, which recently launched the fourth season of their real-world documentary series on PBS. BYkids pairs young storytellers from around the world with seasoned filmmakers to create powerful documentaries about their lives—sparking empathy, conversations and positive change within the classroom and beyond.
In partnership with public television and education innovators, the films and their educational resources help make global issues feel personal, relevant and actionable for millions of students. The new 30-minute films – narrated by UN Goodwill Ambassador and Emmy- and Golden Globe–nominated actress Ashley Judd – takes viewers beekeeping in Kentucky, farming sustainably in India, protesting fossil fuel in Germany, and living the horrors of the Ukraine war as a refugee with a parent on the front lines. Each film comes with an educational companion guide for schools that promotes discussion, empathy, and action.
In anticipation of the new season, SEE Change spoke with BYkids founder and executive director Holly Carter about the project and its mission of helping young people understand complex issues while inspiring a new generation of changemakers.
What inspired this initiative?
Overall, BYkids is trying to connect American students with the stories of their peers from around the world to teach empathy and to ignite their curiosity and sense of shared humanity through story sharing. Kids don’t typically learn from other kids. They also process and express themselves through moving image outside the classroom, so framing learning around these films allows students to develop their own voices and ability to be engaged citizens.
We keep hearing about the dangers of media for kids. But I’m guessing you believe that media can be a force for good.
Of course! The role of media should be to educate the population so they can participate in a healthy democracy where debate and listening and problem solving can thrive.
How did you choose the topics? How did you find the teens?
We chose to do all four films of this fourth season of Films BYkids around the climate crisis. We work with non-profit organizations around the world to help us identify globally relevant topics that we want to make part of the American school day. We then chose a film mentor to pick one filmmaker to work together to help the teen direct, shoot and narrate their own story.
How important was it for you to get a first-person point of view?
Making these huge topics personal is our secret sauce. Each teen has such wisdom, honesty and authenticity.
What do you hope the takeaways will be from watching these films?
Made for, and by, school students, these films and their educational materials are designed to inspire a new generation of changemakers. Our educational tools help young people understand complex global issues in a deeper way through the shared stories of their peers. BYkids pairs young storytellers from around the world with seasoned filmmakers to create powerful documentaries about their lives—sparking empathy, conversations and positive change within the classroom and beyond.
In partnership with public television and education innovators, the films and their educational resources help make global issues feel personal, relevant and actionable for millions of students.
Can you briefly describe the episodes?
Each 30-minute film shares universal values of courage, perseverance and dignity. BYkids’ work serves as a catalyst for change, igniting important conversations and inspiring a new generation of social activists. This year’s crop of talented filmmakers includes:
“Return Date: Unknown”
17-year-old Tymur Tsapliienko loves playing basketball and dreams of becoming a pilot, but those dreams have been placed on hold as Tymur is also a refugee forced to leave Ukraine when the Russian army invaded his country. Now longing for his friends and family, his school, and his home, Tymur embarks on a journey from Germany through Poland to see his father, a war journalist who was injured during a Russian offensive. With guidance from film mentor and actor Rom Barnea, Tymur interviews fellow refugees, examining the devastation of war and displacement, the connection between war and fossil fuel dependence, and the ways in which people find solidarity and hope during times of crisis.
“Seeds of Life”
Diya Payal is a 14-year-old from India who loves science, nature, and spending time with her family. While assisting her grandparents on their rural farm in the foothills of the Himalayas during summer holidays, she grew passionate about plants and the importance of biodiversity. Mentored by filmmaker Camilla Becket, Diya interviews farmers, visits a community seed bank, and celebrates Hindu traditions with her family. Along the way, she explores how climate change and industrial agriculture are threatening plant species diversity, shines a light on sustainable farming techniques and examines the ways in which food, family, and farming are connected to her spiritual and cultural relationship with the natural world.
15-year-old Keith Griffith III developed an interest in beekeeping at age 11 when both of his parents were incarcerated. To help Keith cope with stress, his uncle taught him how to care for a bee colony, how to harvest honey and the importance of pollinators for food production and the environment. Now, Keith has become a mental health and environmental advocate and gives workshops and talks in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Guided by filmmaker Evan Mascagni, Keith illuminates what learning about and caring for bees has taught him about cooperation, community and emotional well- being.
“Another World Is Possible”
20-year-old Helena Marschall is one of Germany’s most prominent youth climate activists, having co-created “Fridays for Future Germany,” a global youth-led climate awareness movement inspired by Greta Thunberg and other young activists. Mentored by filmmaker Anja Baron, Helena documents how she and fellow activists protest a mining company’s plan to bulldoze a village and shares her passion for climate justice and the power of youth activism.
The series premiered in the New York Metro area on November 11 on THIRTEEN. Films BYkids will also be shown in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other major markets across the U.S. Check your local listings at https://www.pbs.org/tv_schedules/.