Heading off to a lakeside vacation, most girls probably would pack a swimsuit and suntan lotion. But Madeline Bowne is not most girls. Last August, with her family bound for New York's Finger Lakes, the middle schooler put her camera bag, filled with audio and video equipment, atop her "don't forget" list.
Nearby her family's vacation spot was Seneca Falls, home to Women's Rights National Historical Park — the perfect place to shoot some footage for her documentary on the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which won women the right to vote. She planned to enter it in "StudentCam," C-Span's annual video documentary contest.
Bowne's forethought paid off. The eighth grader at John A. Carusi Middle School in Cherry Hill was named one of eight second-prize winners in the 2012 national competition, one of 148 winning students from across the country. Her video earned her $1,500.
The competition was stiff.
"Every year, the kids go above and beyond the year before," said Tamara Robinson, a C-Span spokeswoman.
This year, the contest's eighth, attracted a record number of 1,203 videos created by 2,019 students from 43 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The grand prize for capturing this year's topic, "The Constitution and You," went to a ninth grader from Honolulu whose video explored due process and the Japanese American internment during World War II.
"We try to really tailor the topics to help the students address things that are important to them," Robinson said.
The competition is open to students in the sixth through 12th grades. Videos must be five to eight minutes long and contain some content from C-Span. This year, the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech, the press, religion, and the right to assemble, got the most entries. The Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, was next, Robinson said.
A member of Carusi's journalism club, Bowne, 14, thought about focusing on the First Amendment. She and a friend started a student newspaper at her old school, Clearview Middle School, when she lived in Mullica Hill. Instead, she decided to take advantage of that family vacation to shoot on location. In her video, Bowne appears on camera; her father and a tripod assisted in those scenes.
This was hardly her maiden journey in videography. "I guess I kind of started messing around with it in the fourth grade," Bowne said.
Last year, she took a third place in the C-Span contest and won $750. Most of it went toward college savings, but she used some to upgrade her photo equipment. Also last year, she won an award for a music video she made with her younger sister in a contest sponsored by WHYY TV12.
Her favorite filmmakers are James Cameron, director of Avatar and Titanic, and Ken Burns, who makes historical documentaries. She is partial to journalism, but she considers it more of a hobby. The daughter of two teachers, she likes math. She is thinking about using some of this year's prize for a new computer and a video editing program. And she plans to enter the C-Span contest again next year.
Her advice to would-be videographers? Just do it.
"I would say get yourself out there," she said. "And don't be afraid to enter contests."