Amplifying Teen Voices Through Film

A global pandemic, state-mandated shutdowns, an ongoing fight for inclusiveness, and a tumultuous election season. The year 2020 has been a difficult one – for adults, but also for children and teens.  It has challenged many to look inward, understand their priorities and think about themselves as part of a larger global entity. That’s a lot to process. Now, several local arts groups are encouraging teens to think more critically about topics that are important to them and express their voices through film.

Through its new “Quaran-Teen” program, YoFiFest’s Digital Media Art Center is asking teens to submit short films of three minutes or less.  The films, to be submitted by December 1, will allow teens to share their feelings and stories about how COVID-19 has affected their lives. The expansive variety of formats accepted, from documentary and animation to dance and spoken word, provides a broad platform for expression. The movies will be screened online, and possibly in-person once conditions allow.

At Westchester Community College’s Center for Digital Arts, a Digital Filmmaking class for teens aged 11-17 is a calendar staple, having been offered since 2005. Students produce movie shorts, often 30 seconds to one minute long. This year, the pandemic presented new challenges for instructor Chris X. Carroll.

Carroll explains that the benefit of an in-person class is equipment that is typically available from the tech department, but they adapted: “[Students] not only have high quality cameras in the form of cell phones, but [are] completely comfortable and savvy about how to exploit every feature… Though Zoom seemed like a barrier at first, we quickly got past it, ignored it as much as possible, and carried on with the filmmaking.” The class will be offered again next summer with two two-week sessions.

Meanwhile, Irvington Theater is in its second round of “Videos for Change,” an online filmmaking class for teens in grades six through ten. Participants research a social justice issue that they care about, and then create, edit and promote a one-minute film about that topic.

Says Shana Liebman, one of the Theater’s commissioners: “There are so many crucial social justice issues exploding all around teens… [They are] eager and capable of acquiring the skills to make change happen.” In the class, a teacher explains filmmaking styles and techniques over Zoom, and then students work independently online.

Thirteen-year-old Frieda Belasco, a “Videos for Change” participant, explains: “The program helped me to explore and talk about important issues by making me think harder about the problems in the world and how I, as a student, can help fix them.” Belasco’s film, Reducing Your Carbon Footprint, spotlights activities that are harmful to the environment, as well as positive alternatives.  Another student shines a light on an LGBTQ teen’s struggle with coming out to family and friends. Two sixth-grade boys describe how humans can stop pollution. Others focus on bullying, police brutality and gender equality.

Liebman says the theater plans to have an in-person festival of the films as soon as they can reopen. A third round of the class will also be presented in the near future.

A version of this article first appeared in the November issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNewsis distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.

About ArtsWestchester

For more than 50 years, ArtsWestchester has been the community’s connection to the arts. Founded in 1965, it is the largest private not-for-profit arts council in New York State. Its mission is to create an equitable, inclusive, vibrant and sustainable Westchester County in which the arts are integral to and integrated into every facet of life. ArtsWestchester provides programs and services that enrich the lives of everyone in Westchester County. ArtsWestchester helps fund concerts, exhibitions and plays through grants; brings artists into schools and community centers; advocates for the arts; and builds audiences through diverse marketing initiatives. In 1998, ArtsWestchester purchased the nine-story neo-classical bank building at 31 Mamaroneck Avenue which has since been transformed into a multi-use resource for artists, cultural organizations and the community. A two-story gallery is located on the first floor of ArtsWestchester’s historic building on Mamaroneck Avenue. artsw.org

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