Youth Producing Change: Young People Telling Big Stories with Short Films

By Guest Columnist Jun 22, 2009

By Miguel de la Fuente The Human Rights Watch Film Festival’s 2nd Annual Youth Producing Change screening, presented by Adobe Youth Voices, highlighted 10 short films from around the world, created by youth filmmakers who decided to take the ‘means’, and turn it on themselves and the issues that mattered to them the most. Some films were highly informative, such as Annalise Littman’s ‘Aquafinito’, a film about access to clean water and the environmental impact of bottled water, or “It’s Not About Sex," in which a group of young people surveyed city dwellers about their understanding on sexual violence. Other films detailed the lives of young people forced into harsh working conditions in order to provide for their families, such as the animated short, “Leila” produced in Burkina Faso, which focused on children sold into servitude, and “Sako”, produced in Armenia, which depicted a day in the life of boy working in a gravestone factory. Many of the films took on a very personal narrative, and engaged the audience with issues relevant to people of all ages, though told from a young person’s point of view. “Thoughts in a Hijab” and “Noe’s Story” both touched upon their unique struggles as immigrants in understanding, and adjusting to, the cultural norms of their new countries. Meanwhile, Lungsang and youth from the Tibetan Children’s Village seek to preserve their culture in “What Courage Means to Me." Alcides Soares’ film, “I Live in Mozambique," is his personal account of sustaining himself after both of his parents had passed away from HIV/AIDS. Several films addressed youth-specific issues through stories told in the first-person. “Just a Normal Day” collected accounts from youth in London mistreated by police during “stop and searches”. And “In My Shoes” told the stories of how two formerly homeless young people broke out of the cycle of poverty and now work towards creating a supportive community for homeless teens. I appreciated the refreshing honesty that comes from the unfiltered, youthful voice. While the films certain spoke for themselves, listening to the insights from some of the youth filmmakers present at the screening was especially poignant. I remember Alcides (who made “I Live in Mozambique”) say, “Being poor starts in the mind…” and it reminded me of my own experiences with formerly homeless teens and the kind of remarkable self-awareness some had expressed in verbalizing their struggles. Alcides’ words have stayed with me. He alluded to a very complex understanding of poverty and how those in the midst of it can define poverty for themselves differently. I’m reminded of the truism often told to storytellers: start with what we already know. For us young people, we certainly hope to have far more years ahead of us still, than behind us, and plenty more stories, then, to tell. In the age of texting and Twitter, we should keep sharing lives full of meaning in the smallness of our everyday moments. While I admit, I quickly buy into believing the difficulties behind creating effective, sustainable change, the world is actually working at a blistering pace towards creating the means that could make creating sustainable change much easier (did you follow?). Here we are, in a time when the tools for mass mobilizing, from texting to Twitter, are more accessible and far-reaching than it has ever been. Why not hand the tools over to the ones who will likely learn how to use them to their full capacity: young people. Lately, I’ve started to fear that the ‘Twitter generation’ has become far too equipped in busying itself with, itself. As every IPod-laden teen can tune out the world at will, then reel it right back in with the up-to-the-second Facebook status update, how easy must it be for today’s youth to devote all their time and energy to customize their world as they please and only filter in whatever feels cool enough to demand their attention. Being a young person myself, I acknowledge how easy it is to live with myself in mind first. We have educational goals, vocational goals, and creative goals to attend to, all of which require a steady, dedicated effort, especially if we won’t settle for less than attaining it all. Throw in the need for time and money into that equation and life really does start revolving around ourselves and what we want to do, now, doesn’t it? But we are also at an age when passionate ideas begin to take root within us, and our life-long convictions start to take shape. We need outlets to vocalize our deepest desires for positive change, and so here begins the partnership between the means, our technology, and the self, anchored by a common hope for something better, for all of us. At its best, I believe this ‘partnership’ takes the form of projects like Youth Producing Change.