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Guerrilla video gives power to the people

'Film your issue' turns videocameras into tools of social change, part of a wave of influence from mini movies.

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Would-be provocateurs with Handycams, get ready for your close-ups.

If you're 18 to 26 and have a strong point of view, an organization called Film Your Issue (filmyourissue.com) wants to see your best short-form video work - 30 to 60 seconds - on a social concern that winds you up.

Finalists win wide exposure including webcasts on MSNBC.com, film-festival appearances, and a shot at a major movie-studio internship. Deadline: May 21. But don't fold up your tripod at the thought of the feat; in this art form, raw is OK, as long as the message is potent. The 2005 winner took on high school budget cuts.

"There's just something visceral" about what we're looking for, says HeathCliff Rothman, the journalist turned social entrepreneur who founded Film Your Issue (FYI) in 2004. Last year, he says, "the judges kept coming back to the same [entries], and ultimately it had so much more to do with originality than it did with the gloss."

The FYI competition, backed by corporations, major media outlets, Hollywood heavyweight George Clooney, and groups ranging from the Humane Society to the United Nations, represents a rarity: a means by which no-budget auteurs - an expanding and increasingly influential crowd in the age of YouTube, eBaum's World, VideoBomb, and Google video - can be judged from perspectives other than those of their peers.

It also points to short film's lofty place in today's media landscape. Micro movies made by everyone from high school class clowns to Fortune 500 companies can go "viral" on the Internet and spread as fast as they can be uploaded, making them the new power player in global communication.

Take Current TV, the cable venture launched last summer by former Vice President Al Gore. "Kids can film their message, and upload it immediately to the Current site [www.current.tv], and basically it's put into rotation based on its popularity among other users," says Hillman Curtis, principal and chief creative officer at hillmancurtis.com, a digital design firm in New York. Winners are showcased on the cable TV channel.

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