WASHINGTON (AP) - Two days before the Oscars, President Barack Obama recognized the best of nearly 2,500 films made by K-12 students after the White House asked them for short videos on the role technology plays in their education.
It's one of the president's favorite subjects.
"Today the Oscar goes to all of you because, among all the incredible videos we received, yours stood out," Obama said in the East Room, where two large screens were lit up to show the 16 films he said "are awesome."
"Like all great movies, yours do something special. They tell a story, they help us understand, in this case, the amazing things that are going on in classrooms and how technology is empowering our students and broadening their imaginations, challenging them to dream bigger and reach further," he added.
Obama wants virtually every classroom to have high-speed Internet by sometime in 2018.
At the festival, he announced $400 million in new pledges to move the project along, including donations from the software companies Adobe and Prezi. That's on top of $750 million in commitments he announced last month from Apple, Verizon, Microsoft and other companies. That brings to more than $1 billion the amount of cash and goods committed to the ConnectEd initiative.
The Federal Communications Commission also pledged $2 billion to connect 20 million students in 15,000 schools over the next two years.
Obama says the absence of high-speed Internet in classrooms hampers learning and affects U.S. competitiveness.
To that end, the festival was dreamed up to spotlight how technology helps students learn and to highlight Obama's proposal.
"The Academy Awards are not until Sunday, but, as you can see, we've brought the Oscars to the White House a little bit early," Obama said. "We've got the red carpet, we've got the big screens. ... The only difference is nobody asks what you're wearing."
The videos were limited to a maximum of 3 minutes, and each one was viewed multiple times by an "academy" of judges that included White House officials.
Sixteen were named "official selections" - no winners were declared - for the screening that was held in collaboration with the American Film Institute. The films were grouped into four categories - Young Visionaries, Future Innovators, World of Tomorrow and Building Bridges - and were presented by actor Kal Penn, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye the Science Guy and AFI President and CEO Bob Gazzale. Late-night comedian Conan O'Brien addressed the gathering by video.
The filmmakers range in age from elementary to high school and come from 12 states and the District of Columbia.
Seventeen-year-old Shelly Ortiz, of Phoenix, who introduced Obama at the festival, said she became interested in filmmaking after she started at the Metropolitan Arts Institute in the eighth grade. In her film, "Technology, Documentary, My Dad and Me," she talks about how technology helped her discover her passion to be a filmmaker and use her skills to tell the stories of people she cares about.
"Without the technology given to me, I would never have been able to develop the relationship with my father that I have now," Shelly said in the film. "Some people think technology alienates you from others. But the truth is that depends on how you use it."
No gold-toned statuettes were handed out but, along with the White House recognition, the finalists will be given an exclusive look at the first episode of "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey," a new TV series by Fox and the National Geographic Channel on the importance of science, technology, engineering and math that is set to premiere on March 9.
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White House Student Film Festival: http://whitehouse.gov/filmfest
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