SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Red carpet events are typically reserved for celebrities, but that wasn't the case Thursday afternoon at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido.
For the fifth annual Directing Change Screening & Award Ceremony, young filmmakers were challenged to create films to change the conversation about suicide prevention and mental health at their schools.
"When you think of the social norms of high school, you're supposed to wear a mask every day, looking happy, no one can know the inside of you," said Nick Meraz, a junior at Torrey Pines High.
Meraz and his two friends, Jose Becerra and Christian Aragon, worked together on their film "Light at the End of the Tunnel."
"At my old school, I had a friend who committed suicide," said Meraz. "It was a really big deal for me."
Many of the students have been touched by mental illness in some way.
"This video is so important to me because, like Nick, I lost a friend two years ago in high school; he was really close to me, like a family member," said Becerra.
Supporting the team was their teacher, Donald Collins.
"Helping kids have real conversations about things that matter and reducing the stigma of mental illness or mental health, those are important issues," said Collins.
While the team didn't win an award at the state level, their video took first place in the region.
"I wanted to do that for him," said Becerra. "Knowing I won that video brought tears to my eyes because it reminded me of him saying, 'Jose, you're very important to me. I know I'm somewhere else but I'm right behind you every step of the way.'"
The three boys are a part of the Peer Assistant Listeners Program (PALS) at the high school. It's a service-oriented, project-based course created to promote student well-being and facilitate student connections.