Wilson Central High School student Isabelle Leonard is well on her way to a career in filmmaking.

The senior was recently named a National YoungArts Merit winner in film in the National YoungArts Foundation competition. The film she submitted, named “Perspective,” was about a Jewish girl in 1930s Poland. 

As a National YoungArts winner, Leonard is among 686 young artists from 40 states who were named winners in the visual, literary and performing arts, based their caliber of artistic achievement.

She entered the competition after her mom showed her an ad for the competition on Instagram. 

“I entered the National YoungArts competition because there’s scholarship money involved if you’re a finalist. Also, it’s always good to have accolades on your resume, especially for competitive film school,” the senior said.

As a Merit Winner in Film, “I will possibly get to attend a week-long regional conference in Miami, which the plane tickets, hotel, and meals are paid for. If too many people sign up for this, then they will choose who goes based on location and then a lottery system. However, there are only 34 film winners, so I suspect most film students get to go.

“I get to meet with a bunch of industry professionals who get to advise me in film and also I get career advising for my entire career,” she told the Wilson County Schools Board of Education at its December meeting.

Of the 34 winners in film, nine were Finalists, eight were Honorable Mentions and 17 were Merit winners. She was the only winner in the film category from Tennessee. She competed against others who were from arts schools, such as the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.

Leonard said she has been a filmmaker since she was a child.

“In early elementary school, I used to make ‘Scooby Doo’ movies with my grandmother’s camcorder and my cousins when we would meet up around the holidays,” she said. “We made around four to five. I took my first class in film — specifically, screenwriting — in the summer after eighth grade with Duke University’s Talent Identification Program Center Summer Studies courses.”

Over the years, she has made a number of films in different genres and styles.

“I’ve made comedies, dramas, experimental things and music videos,” she said. “I also have done interviews, news segments, anchoring and PSAs.”

Leonard has been a member of the WCHS audio/visual program for the past four years. She said she is “a student currently subbed into DeAna Duncan’s Audio/Visual Production 3 class. I act kind of like a mentor there to the current Audio/Visual students and her right-hand-man.”

She has also attended the Tennessee Governor’s School for the Arts in the filmmaking category, which, she admits, “changed my life.”

Leonard said she wants to be a filmmaker because “I love to tell stories. Also, I think that a lot of people’s stories aren’t being told, and I think that needs to change. And I love movies, of course.”

She plans to major in filmmaking in college and said her top-three school choices are the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, Chapman University in Orange, Calif. and Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla. 

“They all have a less than 10 percent acceptance rate for their film programs,” she said. “It is harder to get into USC’s film program than getting into Harvard, actually.”

With filmmaking as a major, Leonard said she wants to be a director of films or a showrunner for a television show. 

She noted that Tennessee needs to support arts programs more than it does.

“If Tennessee pushed the arts more in their education, we would have more people getting these opportunities,” she said. “Students don’t know about these opportunities because we don’t push (the arts). No one tells (the students). Ms. Duncan has told me about multiple competitions because she’s an awesome teacher.”

The National YoungArts Foundation was established in 1981. 

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