December 10 and 11, 2021, Washington, DC

2021 BitterSweet

Invitational Story Festival

A Celebration of the Anti-Blockbuster

On December 10 and 11, we came together in Washington, DC at the Twelve to celebrate and honor the official selections for the festival. It feels impossible to fully express our gratitude to all of you who joined us for our inaugural and now annual BitterSweet Invitational Story Festival.

What an honor it was to celebrate with our BitterSweet story-tellers, family, old friends, new friends, and of course, our Festival Finalists!

Congratulations to our first year winners Leah Judson, as well as Emmanuel Terrell and Joseph Ford.

Photography Winner | Morning Star

Photography by Leah Judson

    Leah Judson
    "There are still people who believe we are make-believe." Watson, a 16-year-old Native American, invited me to join a part of his Navajo family on the reservation in Red Mesa, Arizona. I had been on the road for a month at this point in September, crossing the United States in a renovated bus, documenting youth under 21 for my first season of Before We Could Drink. His invitation was unplanned and undeserving, but he wanted to have me intimately experience what life was like out on the reservation. We walked side-by-side, mostly while the sun was down as he taught me about the importance of waking up early to pray to the deities and spirits. Smoke and pride would permeate the air as we stood in silence together. He would be embarrassed of the piles of trash on the property, teaching me that access was limited whether it be water, trash pick-ups, to cell service. We shared hot soups for dinner, one that only comprised of celery and carrots; unsalted. Between sips, I'd ask what was the message that needed to be heard about Native Americans. "All of them." The family locked eyes and nodded in agreement. Environmentalism, missing women, lack of education, drug abuse...the list carried on for this community that was confused as to how they have been deprived of so many basic human rights. Watson, also known as "Morning Star," is dedicating his life to preserving Native American culture and teaching his incoming generation the importance of learning where we come from and how it gives us purpose. "All our stories are oral. As each one of our Elders dies, it's equivalent to a burning library. And if there are no stories to tell, then I do not exist." At the very least, I'm here to keep his story alive by capturing his essence, his heart, and showing that our Indians are not "make-believe." "Ahkameyimok," he would whisper. "What does that mean Watson?" "To not give up. To persevere. To keep doing."

    Film Winner | MTXE: Mental Toughness Xtra Effort

    MTXE is a film about two young men from the Eastside of Indianapolis, where poverty, drugs and violence are rampant, but they refuse to be undone by those odds. Wrestling teaches them the goodness of friendship, mental toughness and self-discipline, even when a life-threatening incident occurs.

      • Emmanuel Terrell Director
      • Joseph Ford Producer
      • Tim Hudson Director of Photography
      • Kin Yat Yeung Sound Recordist
      • Joseph Ford Editor
      • Emmanuel Terrell Editor
      • Emmanuel Terrell Associate Producer
      • Tim Hudson Colorist
      • Josh Bontrager Original Music
      • Emmanuel Terrell Graphic Design