World-Hunger Commercial in Top 5 Finalists of International Contest

News Story: August 7, 2008

While studying at the American University of Rome (AUR) last spring, Sacred Heart University senior Shawn Cohen co-produced a television commercial that has since advanced to the final five of the U.N. World Food Programme’s (WFP) HungerBytes YouTube video contest.

According to the HungerBytes website, the contest was for “students, would-be filmmakers and other interested folks in the web universe to focus their creativity on raising awareness about hunger through a unique, international competition.” More than 70 videos were submitted from around the world. The top five were chosen by a panel of judges that included Cathy Schulman, Oscar-winning producer of the film “Crash”; Edward Zwick, director of the film “Blood Diamond”; Steve Grove, chief of News and Politics at YouTube; and Nancy Roman, director of Communications and Public Policy Strategy of the WFP.

The finalists’ videos have been posted on YouTube, and the winner will be determined by which receives the most views by World Food Day on October 16. (Cohen’s video can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMnyfvgJALg.) The winning producers will be sent to make a video at an official WFP relief operation in Asia, Africa or Latin America.

“I just think it’s amazing that we’re one of the final videos,” says Cohen, who created his commercial with full-time AUR students Sandra Goffin and Rosi Mosca-Herrera. “I’m happy to see that our work was found creative and inspirational enough. To think that the judges took the time to look at my video and considered it as something worthwhile was very inspirational to me.”

The resident of Miller Place, N.Y., also recognizes that the commercial contributes to more than just his résumé and portfolio. “I love the fact that I’m actually not just doing something creatively and bettering myself as a filmmaker, but doing something toward a very important cause,” Cohen says. “Millions of people go to bed hungry every night, and it’s great to think that just the 30 seconds I’m contributing could help make a difference in all those lives. It’s just not about the contest, but knowing that as a filmmaker I created a successful commercial that had a powerful impact to raise awareness of world starvation and hopefully aid in ending this global epidemic.”

Cohen says that while making the video under the guidance of Professor Kristen Palana, he discovered a key to issue-oriented directing. “I’ve learned the importance of trying to intrigue people,” he says. “You always see those videos of the celebrities walking through towns in undeveloped areas, and you almost get depressed from watching it. I feel that’s not the way to go about helping this problem. We wanted to do something that provoked thought in people — not make them feel depressed, but to make them think about the subject and to actually make them realize what they could possibly do to help.”

In addition to the attention from the contest, Cohen’s commercial has also drawn interest from the WFP’s parent organization, the United Nations. A representative from the headquarters in New York City has requested high-resolution copies to distribute to television networks PBS and CNN.

Cohen, a media studies major, has accepted two internships for the fall semester, one as a digital media intern with Sony BMG Music Entertainment and another as a media research and production intern with Embassy Row Productions. After graduating in the spring of 2009, he plans to attend graduate school to pursue an MBA in media management.

Cohen hopes to one day work with a production company or in the music industry in Manhattan. Whatever his ultimate career, he says that the experience of producing the HungerBytes video will have a lasting impact on his aspirations. “No matter what field I go into, I would like to also be able to give back,” he says. “It’s a great feeling to know that you’ve been able to help someone.”

Dr. James Castonguay, associate professor and chair of the department of Media Studies and Digital Culture at Sacred Heart, says that he’s proud of Cohen’s achievement. “Shawn represents our departmental philosophy to prepare students for a competitive job market in the digital media age, while also emphasizing the ethical implications of producing mass-mediated messages and the profound social responsibility she or he has as communication professionals,” Castonguay says. “That focus, grounded in SHU’s broader mission and the Catholic intellectual tradition, is what makes our program distinctive.”