The Ashland Independent Film Festival is offering a $500 prize for the best student-made film that speaks to the LGBTQ experience.

The Ashland Independent Film Festival is offering a $500 prize for the best student-made film that speaks to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning experience.

Films must be less than five minutes long. The submission deadline is Jan. 15, so now is the time for students to start planning and filming. There is no entry fee.

The PridePrize contest for the best LGBTQ-themed film was made possible by a donor who is offering the $500 prize, said Ashland Independent Film Festival Communications Manager Candace Turtle.

The donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, has worked with LGBTQ adolescents who have become homeless or moved into foster care because they were rejected or abused by their families due to their sexual orientation.

This rejection during early formative years has long-lasting consequences on how young people view and value themselves, the donor said.

The PridePrize is an attempt to encourage students to share their stories about LGBTQ issues in film. It offers an opportunity for positive self-expression through a medium that resonates with young people, the donor said.

"The goal of the PridePrize is to give people of all types and stripes, gender or sexual orientation, the ability to express themselves at a young age and to feel good about who they are," the donor said.

The PridePrize is open to student filmmakers in grades nine through 12 as well as college undergraduate students. Students must live in Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Douglas, Coos or Curry Counties in Oregon or in Del Norte or Siskiyou Counties in California.

PridePrize films can be about youths or adults and the issues — social, political, contemporary or historical — that affect the lives of individuals, groups, their communities and society at large.

The new PridePrize contest is part of the Ashland Independent Film Festival's LAUNCH student film contest, a wider annual contest for student-made films on any topic or genre, including animation, claymation, documentary or narrative.

The LAUNCH contest is open to students from kindergarten through undergraduate college. Entrants can be from the same Southern Oregon and Northern California counties as entrants in the PridePrize contest.

The LAUNCH categories are grades kindergarten through fifth grade, sixth through eighth grade, ninth through 12th grade and college undergraduate students for the open competition, plus ninth through 12th grade for the PridePrize.

Winning LAUNCH and PridePrize films will be shown during the Ashland Independent Film Festival, which brings more than 90 films to audiences at the Varsity Theatre, the Historic Ashland Armory and Ashland Street Cinema each April.

Every student who submits a film will receive two movie tickets for the festival, which will run April 7-11 in 2016.

Winning students will receive a Filmmaker Pass to all 90-plus films and special events. They will also have opportunities to meet and interact with filmmakers from around the world and participate in question-and-answer sessions after film screenings.

Winning LAUNCH student films from previous years can be seen at the Ashland Independent Film Festival's website at www.AshlandFilm.org.

For more information about rules and how to submit a film, visit the festival's website and go to the "Submit" section.

A fun, inspirational short video about how to make and submit a film can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jj8dH2genps.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.