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Ex-dropouts at Chicago Public Schools win honors in film fest

Miles Johns19 grew up Englewood will be an honoree Chicago Film Office-sponsored festival running Wednesday Chicago Cultural Center. Provided Photo

Miles Johnson, 19, grew up in Englewood, will be an honoree at the Chicago Film Office-sponsored festival running Wednesday at the Chicago Cultural Center. Provided Photo

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Updated: July 6, 2012 9:23AM

Like many of the teens behind the films in this year’s 5th Chicago Youth Community Film Festival, 19-year-old Miles Johnson has struggled all his life.

“I grew up without a mom. She left me when I was 3, and my father, well, he wasn’t there. He was in the streets,” the Englewood youth said.

Today, Johnson and some of his peers — Chicago Public School dropouts who found their way back through the Alternative Schools Network — are using film to tell their stories of struggle and redemption.

Twelve winners in the film fest — sponsored by the network and the Chicago Film Office — will be screened Thursday at the Chicago Cultural Center.

“These are kids who didn’t do well in the public schools, or were asked to leave, and were on the streets before deciding they wanted an education,” said Jack Wuest of the network, which operates 23 schools serving 3,500 students citywide. “They share in their films about the issues they live and face every day.”

Johnson, who dropped out in 2010, was raised by his grandmother. He ran with the wrong crowd, had a brush with the law and decided to turn his life around. He graduates next month and plans to go to Harold Washington College.

“Music and Peace,” the short film Johnson directed with another student, Stephanie Lewis, was named winner of the Global Filmmaking Challenge sponsored by Facets Multimedia and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

“It’s about a group of people at a house party, playing two different kinds of music, and it comes to a point where they have to come together and compromise,” he said. “It’s about music and peace, but it’s about life.”

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