Leo Pfeifer, a Seattle middle-school student, has won a first-place award in a national C-SPAN competition for a video that asks: "Who Owns Free Speech?"

A year ago, when Leo Pfeifer, then 13, won a second-place national prize for making a video on homelessness, people asked what he’d do with the $1,500 prize. The Seattle middle-schooler’s answer was straightforward:

He’d get better equipment so he could come back a year later and win first place.

And that’s exactly what happened.

On Friday, Pfeifer, a student at Salmon Bay School, was honored at a school assembly for taking a first-place award in C-SPAN’s national student video competition.

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His 7-½-minute video, “Who Owns Free Speech?” won first place among middle-schoolers in the annual competition, which drew a record 1,203 entrants from across the country. His prize money: $3,000.

“I’ve always had a passion for storytelling,” said Pfeifer, who started taking photos with an old film camera when he was 3 and had his first video camera at 9. “Becoming a documentary filmmaker is my ultimate goal.”

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and Seattle Times Executive Editor David Boardman, who were among the newsmakers and journalists interviewed in Pfeifer’s video, were on hand for the Friday presentation by C-SPAN representatives.

Grand prize in the competition, drawing a $5,000 award, went to Matthew Shimura, a ninth-grader in Honolulu, for a video presentation on the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

In this year’s C-SPAN competition, students from grades six through 12 were invited to submit videos of five to eight minutes on any aspect of the U.S. Constitution and its importance. Seventy-five winning videos won a total of $50,000 in cash prizes.

Pfeifer chose the First Amendment, which he, as the video’s narrator, describes as “one of the most cherished freedoms that Americans have.”

Speakers in the video discuss the challenges that freedom faces in an era of instant, sensational and often polarizing news coverage.

“What kind of news media do you want in this country?” Pfeifer asks at the video’s conclusion. “Your answer may very well dictate the outcome.”

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

Watch Leo Pfeifer’s winning video: http://studentcam.viddler.com/videos/watch.php?id=2620cb29