Two Lodi brothers created an original rap song and film to teach the public how to live safely in black bear country, and now have $500 to show for it.
"This one goes out to all my homies in Lake Tahoe," blares the film's opening line.
Joey and Sam Hickmann of Lodi High School submitted a short film to the first-ever "Bear Aware" Youth Film Contest sponsored by the California Department of Fish and Game. They won first place and the public choice award to earn the cash prize, plus a $100 gift card to REI and a unique opportunity.
Next spring, the pair will tag along to participate in a rehabilitated bear cub relocation.
The brothers learned about the contest through Jerry Pike's film production class.
"One of the ways I tried to win was to make something catchy that would stay with it," said Joey Hickman, 18. "I really enjoy the environment and I think bears are really cool animals. It's sad to see them subjected to what they deal with."
Students used video and photos gathered by DFG of black bears getting into garbage cans and wandering through driveways. Their job was to edit those images into a clear and catchy message to keep people safe and bears wild.
The top six videos went head to head for another award: the public choice.
When Joey and Sam Hickman's film made the cut, they turned to their classmates to get the vote out. Joey Hickman's entire first period class voted for the film. But they watched all six first, to make sure they were voting for the best one.
Hosting a film contest turned out to be a really effective way to spread public awareness. Filmmakers encouraged their friends to watch and share their videos to get the most votes. That way, the core message on bear safety was willingly shared through Twitter and Facebook.
"We wanted to raise youth awareness, and start with the young folks. Start with the next generation of conservationists," said Carol Singleton, of the DFG. "People don't think about it until it's a problem."
The top films will be broadcast across Northern California as part of a larger public outreach campaign.
The Hickmann brothers will receive their prizes in April.
Nick Garner from Woodcreek High School in Roseville won second place and will receive $300. Reece Maginn, also from Woodcreek High, earned third place and will receive $200. Three other films were given honorable mentions and will receive $100 each. These went to Edward Khoma, Woodcreek High School; Devin Castillon, Woodcreek High School; and to a team of Colfax High School students — Amanda Schafer, Maryssa DeVille and Erin Bresnahan.
"We were encouraged to see these youngsters' dedication to the conservation of California's wildlife resources," said DFG black bear program coordinator Marc Kenyon. "They masterfully combined artistry with ethical conservation messaging to educate the public how to live among black bears. We were so impressed that we are now planning to expand the film contest to other parts of the state and include other wildlife species."
Joey Hickmann is already making plans to enter future contests to spread the word on living safely near coyotes or mountain lions.
Maybe a whole album of wildlife awareness rap is in his future.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.