Out of the Screening Room and into the Streets

It takes more than just showing up with a film and doing a Q&A afterwards if you want to make a deep impact with viewers—especially the local community. Young people need to go beyond simply making and screening a film. They need to learn how to engage an audience, present community issues for social change, and partner with affiliated organizations. They must effectively use their products as resources for education and action—an approach that fosters both the long-term growth of young producers and the youth media field itself.
This is what Youth Views does—it trains young people in using media for social change. Our activities seek to combine the power of media activism with skills in grassroots campaign building and innovative usages of technology to engage people and foster in them the spiritual and humanistic knowledge necessary to successfully work in marginalized communities.
About Youth Views
Youth Views is a project of the Community Engagement and Education department at American Documentary (AmDoc), a nonprofit multi-media arts organization that produces the acclaimed independent nonfiction series P.O.V. on public television (PBS). Building on AmDoc’s mandate to leverage independent media as an effective tool for social change, Youth Views works with organizations to engage young people in community building, cross-cultural understanding and leadership training using media and art. Our partners across the nation include grassroots community-based organizations, human rights groups, neighborhood associations, counseling centers, museums, student clubs, and youth media organizations.
For over 20 years, P.O.V. films have been known for their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues and presenting points of view rarely represented in mainstream media. Youth Views recognizes the power of independent documentary films to transform people’s understanding of the world. Youth Views provides P.O.V. films and accompanying educational materials free to organizations interested in incorporating independent media into their existing programs.
Partnering with Youth Media and Community Organizing Groups
One of the ways Youth Views trains young people to use media for social change is through partnerships with youth media and community organizing groups. For example, Youth Views provides the Listen Up! Youth Media Network, opportunities to expose young filmmakers to social issues, study the documentary form and gain hands-on skills in outreach and organizing. At times, these partnerships involve teaching youth media makers how to encourage and lead dialogue at screenings. Maureen Mullinax, Director of a youth media project at Appalshop (a multi-disciplinary arts and education center in Appalachia) stated, “Since 2001 it has been part of the curriculum for interns in the Appalachian Media Institute to produce P.O.V. community screenings. They see for themselves how media can generate lively discussions.”
In addition to partnering with youth media groups, Youth Views cultivates connections with young community organizers. For example over five years, Youth Views has collaborated with Project Reach, a youth and adult-run, youth organizing and crisis counseling center that has been committed for over 35 years to empower and engage New York City’s most marginalized youth communities. AmDoc has found that both types of partnerships are critical to our work because they foster in young people a commitment and passion for raising awareness about social issues with purpose.
These partnerships, in which films are used as a means to inform an audience of injustice through the leadership of young people, can be reproduced in both youth media and youth organizing fields. Both share goals of providing a safe space for young people to discuss their concerns and refine their communication and leadership skills. These partnerships support the efforts of young people—once equipped with necessary skills to use media literacy for social change—to see the power of using independent media as a tool in community-based work.
Using Film to Create Community and Social Change: Señorita Extraviada
Young people can use film to expand a community’s perspective and raise important issues regarding injustice. In one instance, Project Reach and their partners—the American Indian Community House (AICH) in New York, NY and the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center (EPJC) in San Antonio, Texas—participated in the Community Engagement and Education campaign for the film Señorita Extraviada by Lourdes Portillo. This film examines the disappearances of hundreds of young women in Juarez, Mexico. While the film was not youth-produced, young people have used the film to train, organize, and mobilize their communities.
For example, Señorita Extraviada was key to bringing communities together—such as border towns in southern Texas and migrant Mexican populations—together. Young people took part in assembling intergenerational teams to present community screenings; led dialogues that considered the connections between violence against women, the culture of machismo, poverty, and attacks against indigenous communities; and organized action in the U.S. and Mexico about the situation in Juarez. Overwhelmingly, the audience was relieved that the film responded to an ongoing tragedy in their community with respect, cultural understanding, and a critical examination of contributing factors. The film, along with skilled facilitators to manage community discussions and experts ready to share their analysis and resources, drove people to action.
In addition, Project Reach screened Señorita Extraviada as part of their Summer Training Series, which is a community-organizer-readiness programs that examined different forms of discrimination. Youth trainers were surprised by their peers’ resistance to examining their assumptions about the roles of power and its misuse in relationships. In response, youth trainers asked the group to separate into male-identified and female-identified groups. They then had men view Señorita Extraviada while women participated in an exercise where each was given an index card to answer the question “How have you been personally hurt by sexism?”
After the screening the groups reunited, and each man received an index card to read out loud. Responses revealed that each young woman in the program had experienced some form of sexual violence. This startling revelation left the young men shaken, newly aware of the reality of sexism across transnational/cultural boundaries as well as on a personal level. As a result, participants in that session vowed to challenge sexism wherever they saw it and support the rights of women and girls.
Señorita Extraviada was also used on Youth View’s Talking Back program, with young people producing and airing video letters from across the country as part of the national PBS broadcast of the film, which reached over a million American homes. Video letters are still available for viewing online via P.O.V.’s website www.pbs.org/pov. The Señorita Extraviada video letters included responses from Amnesty International USA, Feminist Majority, activist Eve Ensler, and Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis (D-CA). Participating groups created a reel with an array of the video letters and also screened it to raise awareness about the Juarez murders and the range of activist campaigns to raise awareness and influence policy around the issue. This campaign was also presented to young leaders from around the world at the United Nations during the 49th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women illustrating of how young people can use independent media as a catalytic tool for social change.
Lessons Learned
The Señorita Extraviada campaign is an example of how film can provide opportunities for young people to lead community discussion and trainings while widening community perspectives and engaging community members to dismantle injustice. Some tips on using youth-created media to raise community issues include the following:
Using film as an ice-breaker: Film can be one of the best ice-breakers for groups to get to know one another and to raise awareness of community issues, as the Senorita Extravida experience shows. Discussing someone else’s experience is a safe way for people to begin sharing their perspectives and identifying solutions to ongoing issues.
Training in moving beyond the initial screening: Film educators and professionals in youth media programs can help by training young people to leverage the social issue content of different films to raise awareness and facilitate deeper understanding around the wide array of issues in their global/local communities.
Identifying appropriate audiences: To get films off the shelf and engage communities, youth must identify key audiences. If youth want to work nationally, identify which cities or regions have the highest populations of the groups represented in a film. Or, identify which neighborhoods in their own city are confronting similar issues.
Organizing an event: Young filmmakers seeking to engage community should consult with relevant community groups and suggest venues, times, and facilitators, as well as advice on how to best make an environment a “safe space” for sharing and learning. For example, the best format for a screening may be in a classroom with a trusted teacher or another affinity group that is tackling the issues raised in a film.
Mechanisms for feedback at screenings: At screenings, it is vital to provide opportunities for viewers to present feedback to the filmmakers. For example, AmDoc asks the audience to evaluate the film in writing to obtain further feedback and share contact information if they want to stay connected. It is also important that there be time for the community to discuss ways to get involved and share strategies and resources for addressing these issues.
A respect for diversity: A fundamental element that enables our staff and participants to work successfully with many different types of groups is that we deeply value diversity and respect for other cultures. We honor those values by participating in anti-bias awareness and education trainings and honoring historical and contemporary social justice movements. Staff working with young people at the Youth Views Training Lab encourages participants to identify their points of view and examine how it has been influenced by factors such as race, class, gender, and sexuality. Such intergenerational exchange helps young people understand what influences their perspective and how it impacts their interactions with others.
Through partnerships with youth media and youth development organizations, young people can strategically leverage the power of independent film to inspire community awareness, civic engagement, and inspire social change. Though each young person starts in a different place—whether it’s as a media producer, event organizer, facilitator, advocate, activist or educator—all young people can continue to be agents of change in their communities throughout their lives.
The process has revealed over time that youth engagement heightens their commitment to civic engagement and increases their understanding of civic and social responsibility. P.O.V.’s Youth Training has had this type of impact. The combination of increased personal awareness and sensitivity to the stories of other communities along with the development of skills in areas such as critical thinking, media literacy and community organizing has helped young people see how to make impact on communities large and small.
Being able to examine and use a film—in partnership with grassroots organizations—can be the very example young people need to build a more democratic society. From my experience as a youth media maker and community organizer, the youth media field is in a powerful position to support this larger goal for society.
Irene Villaseñor manages Youth Views at American Documentary, Inc. | P.O.V. She is a graduate of the Educational Video Center’s High School Documentary Workshop and Youth Organizer’s Television. For her first campaign, she joined her parents in advocating for the rights of immigrant workers. If you would like to get involved with Youth Views, contact Irene at villasenor@pov.org.