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KIDS FROM HERE: Hendersonville student’s documentary wins national honor

Luke Morris Luke Morris

As a student at Hendersonville Middle School, Luke Morris had an interest in the environmental movement and how it came to be.

“So in eighth grade I started researching John Muir,” he said, reasoning that the conservation story is “one that is still relevant today.”
Luke’s deep-dive research spanning his eighth-grade year in Anne Boyette’s English class led to his nine-minute and 59-second documentary, Hetch Hetchy: Constructing the Framework for Modern Environmentalism, which won third place nationally in a competition organized by documentarian Ken Burns’ nonprofit to promote young people’s films.

Spanning more than 60 years, the documentary highlights one of the first effective uses of grassroots lobbying in America, in which thousands of citizens wrote to local and national leaders to save the Yosemite Valley. Although the battle ultimately was lost — the Tuolumne River was dammed to create the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir — the fight helped to birth the modern environmental movement.

“Despite the inundation of the valley under 300 feet of water, the budding environmental movement had found a common goal,” Luke, now a freshman at Hendersonville High School, says in his narration of the film.

Muir’s newly formed Sierra Club went on to save other epic landmarks, including Grand Canyon National Park and Dinosaur National Monument, and national leaders took a broader view of preserving and protecting national public lands.

“One of the main points we actually prove in our project is how it affected the world when it happened but how did it play out on the world stage,” Luke says.

After winning the regional and state competitions last spring, his film went on to the nationals.

“I think I found out on a Sunday morning,” he said. “It was pretty amazing. I guess I did not necessarily expect that. But I also thought of it as a gift from God that I could make it that far. I was so happy not only to win the award but to have gone through that process of learning how to make a documentary. It was really cool.”

On Oct. 20, Luke sat alone in a classroom at HHS and participated in the third annual Next Generation Film Festival, which showed his Hetch Hetchy film and other winning documentaries in the junior and senior high competition. 

Burns’s nonprofit, the Better Angels Society, is dedicated to educating Americans about their history through documentary film. The competition that honored Luke’s documentary drew competitors from all 50 states, China, South Korea, American Samoa, Guam and Singapore. During the two-day mentorship program and virtual film festival, a host from the Library of Congress interviewed Luke and the other young filmmakers.

The son of Laura and Andrew Morris, Luke recalls that as a little boy he wanted to be an astronaut, then in the sixth grade aspired to be a doctor. Is documentary film maker on the list now?

“I’m not sure about that but I am definitely sure that all of these skills that I have learned in this process will definitely be put to use,” he says. “I think there was definitely a reason that I did this and I’ll use it later in life and, who knows, I might end up making other documentaries, too.”

We asked Luke if there was anything else he wanted to mention.

“If there’s one thing I could add,” he said, “is I want all this to be to the Glory of God and to show the world who he is.”