The former Nickelodeon President of Entertainment talks about his non-profit documentary studio’s second annual Children’s Resilience in Film Awards, which recognizes films and filmmakers that highlight children’s strength in the face of adversity; ceremony set for October 3, with supportive events and screenings beginning today, September 28.
Albie Hecht’s journey began like many animation creatives: Saturday morning cartoons and performing ideas from his six-year-old imagination in the living room. The Rocky and Bullwinkle enthusiast eventually graduated to writing and directing MTV music videos, then went on to co-create and produce Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards and the action sports competition series GUTS. When asked to come aboard as Nick’s President of Entertainment, Hecht soon found himself overseeing the development and production of SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer, Blue's Clues, Jimmy Neutron and more classic kids’ series that made the network famous.
“I think what I enjoyed most was all the possibilities,” remembers Hecht. “I worked with incredibly imaginative and creative people who were given the power to bring any crazy idea they could think up to life. The animation field as a whole has an unparalleled foundation of creativity and collaboration, and it was always extremely rewarding to bring our ideas to life.”
Hecht was living his childhood dream, at the forefront of primetime success, but his heart began to pull him in an unexpected direction: documentary filmmaking. Shine Global, founded by Hecht and his wife Susan MacLaury in 2005, is a non-profit renowned for its impactful documentaries like 1 Way Up, Dancing in Jaffa, and The Eagle Huntress, that tackle important social issues affecting children.
On Tuesday, October 3, Shine Global will host its second annual Children’s Resilience in Film Awards in Los Angeles at Paramount Pictures to recognize and celebrate the films and filmmakers that highlight the resilience and strength of children in the face of adversity. Events surround the awards begin today, September 28, with film screenings of the nominees in New York City leading up to the awards ceremony.
“Children are the most overlooked and neglected population in the world,” says Hecht. “It’s very inspiring to know that there are so many other filmmakers around the world who are dedicating themselves to this work. It makes me feel more hopeful. We actually started the awards because there are only so many films we can produce ourselves, but there are so many more stories to be told. We jokingly call this the, “‘We wish we had made that movie’ Award.”
After Hecht and his team spent hundreds of hours sifting through submissions from over 30 countries, the finalists are as follows:
- Aurora's Sunrise – Directed by Inna Sahakyan (2022, Armenia, Germany, Lithuania)
- Bigman – Directed by Camiel Schouwenaar (2022, The Netherlands, Germany)
- Children of Las Brisas – Directed by Marianela Maldonado (2022, Venezuela)
- Name Me Lawand – Directed by Edward Lovelace (2022, United Kingdom)
- The Ordinaries – Directed by Sophie Linnenbaum (2022, Germany)
“Between my time going from Nickelodeon to Shine Global, I created Spike TV and started a documentary division there,” shares Hecht. “That’s what really sparked my interest in documentary filmmaking.”
He continues, “Around 2002, filmmakers were starting to explore new innovative formats in feature documentaries and audiences were turning out to see them. When I started producing documentaries at Spike, including the award-winning State of American Fatherhood narrated by Bruce Willis, I saw firsthand the impact that documentaries can have.”
A number of Shine Global’s documentaries also incorporate animation, Hecht’s first love, including the award-winning film The Wrong Light, directed by Josie Swantek Heitz and Dave Adams, with animation by Jonathan Ng and Grace An, which explores the exploitation and misrepresentation of young girls in Thailand; as well as Liyana, directed by Aaron and Amanda Kopp, with Shofela Coker serving as art director, which is a doc-animation hybrid featuring graphic novel designs to illustrate an original African tale written by orphaned children in Swaziland.
Home is Somewhere Else, directed by Carlos Hagerman and Jorge Villalobos, with Marec Fritzinger serving as art director, which just won the Mexican Academy of Film’s Ariel Award for Best Animated Feature, is an “animentary” from Shine Global using the voices of the real subjects combined with different creative animated styles to match their stories. The film also recently screened in Washington, D.C. at the Capitol Hill Visitors Center with Representative Veronica Escobar.
One of this year’s nominees at the Children’s Resilience in Film Awards, Aurora’s Sunrise, is the first-ever animated documentary film made in Armenia. The film follows the life of Aurora Mardiganian, who survived the Armenian genocide, escaped to America, and became a star in Hollywood by telling her story.
“It gives the storytelling a unique twist,” says Hecht, referring to animation. “I would like to find the funding to do a full CG animated documentary, which I think would have a powerful appeal to audiences.”
While a love for animated storytelling has always coursed through Hecht’s veins, he says it was his time at Nickelodeon that really planted the seeds of pursuing a career in advocating for children.
“At Nick, I and the amazing Marva Smalls created The Big Help, a program to inspire and enlist kids in community service,” shares Hecht. “The campaign launched in 1994 and soon became more recognizable than the global network, Points of Light. I was also inspired by the compassionate work with teens that my wife and co-founder was doing. Susan has a PhD in School Health and a master’s in social work, and combining her knowledge of psycho-social issues of kids with my storytelling became a compelling idea for us.”
Hecht admits that “going from SpongeBob to Sundance” had its challenges, especially producing films that cover serious topics about the most innocent in a corrupt world, and certainly don’t shy away from any of the horrible experiences children around the globe endure.
“And yet, no matter whether they are subject to poverty, discrimination, disabilities, even genocide, given even a small ray of hope, children are resilient and can triumph,” says Hecht. “Ultimately, the stories we tell focus on resilience and hope. We aim to have audiences leave the theater feeling inspired and empowered through impactful storytelling, which is the same goal I have always had for all my work.”
When deciding on the awards finalists, Hecht says he looked for films that not only made children the main voices, but that would also leave audiences feeling inspired at the end. “Even though these children had to overcome some really serious obstacles, they still came through with hope and not only survived but thrived,” says Hecht. “My mission has always been to entertain with impact, to create content with values, and to keep people laughing along the way! I hope Shine Global’s films can give people a ray of hope on a bigger scale, in fiction films, in online conversations, and in the halls of Congress.”
In addition to showing off their film finalists and spreading the messages of their films, Shine Global will also spotlight Margie Cohn, President of DreamWorks Animation, as the Titan Honoree, Former NFL Player and Philanthropist Marcellus Wiley as the Children’s Champion Honoree, and Graceyn Hollingsworth, the voice of Gracie on Gracie’s Corner, as the Youth Activist Honoree.
Tickets for both the film screenings in NYC and awards ceremony in L.A. can be found on Shine Global’s website here.