Carl Kurlander / photo: Ben Filio

Carl Kurlander is a story-teller. He’s famous for his work writing classic screenplays like St. Elmo’s Fire and Saved By the Bell. But since moving back to Pittsburgh to raise his daughter in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Kurlander has shifted his focus to helping children develop their own storytelling abilities.

His nonprofit foundation, the Steeltown Entertainment Project, utilizes Hollywood expertise and connections to incubate the talent of local filmmakers. Building off the philosophy that “kids are digital natives,” Kurlander and the Kids + Creativity Network enable young, at-risk students to tell their stories on the screen.

Kurlander is energized about Steeltown’s latest initiative: The Take a Shot at Changing the World film competition, which helps western Pennsylvania students develop films connecting the Pittsburgh-based development of the Polio vaccine to current, worldwide efforts to eradicate this disease.

“Children are fascinated by Polio because it’s like a horror story for them,” says Kurlander.  “Our big challenge was that teachers don’t know how to teach students to make movies–but they don’t have to! Kids know how to make movies, and we just had to give them equipment, tell them about the contest, and help them develop their narratives while they secretly learned about Polio, science, and more.”

In 2011, 79 student films entered the competition and got 12,500 votes for a $5,000 grand prize (won by a student who developed a rap video about Bill & Melinda Gates).

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