IT'S THURSDAY, 4:30 p.m. Time to skateboard, to put off homework, to submerge yourself in the complex social interactions of teenagedom at the coffee shop where anyone who's anyone goes to get noticed. This time of day, Camila Davila, Lech Lors, Marty Marosi, and Innokenty "Kesh" Zavyalov, aged fifteen to eighteen, should be crashed on a sofa in the family rec room, Mountain Dew cracked open, bag of Doritos spilled between cushions, thumbing a text message with one hand while the other navigates the cable universe via remote control. Instead, the four crowd in a windowless room at the Walker Art Center.
"You guys ready?" asks Witt Siasoco, program manager of Teen Programs at the Walker. His easygoing manner nevertheless suggests a certain urgency about getting this show on the road. He carries a stack of DVDs to the table. One by one, the teens settle in. The small talk ceases as Witt reminds them why they're here. "This is an important part of the process," explains Witt. "We can say we don't like a film or we do like a film, but there's got to be reasoning that goes behind our decision."
Camila, Lech, Marty, and Kesh are here to finalize the lineup for the 4th annual All City Youth Film Showcasea teenaged Sundance, limited to filmmakers 18 and younger. The program will screen 3 p.m., Saturday, October 25 at the Walker, at which point the films will have been neatly packaged for an audience whose only responsibility is to sit back and turn off their cell phones.
But from now until then, it's sweating-bullets time for the youth curators, who have the responsibility of fighting through a stack of 60-100 film submissions to come up with the line-up for this year's showcase. The jurors have already logged 11 hours and, tonight, they are here for yet another night of staring at the small TV.
From now until the October 25th screenings, it's sweating-bullets time for the young curators who have the responsibility of fighting through 60-100 submissions of films from area youth.
"Your brain gets soggy after a while," admits Kesh, a student at Perpich Center for the Arts. Perpich and the Walker are two of sixteen organizations making up the Twin Cities Youth Media Network (TCYMN), the festival sponsor.
"TCYMN is a coalition of youth media organizations that have come together to share resources and raise awareness for youth media," explains Joanna Kohler, TCYMN's sole employee and acting liaison between member organizations. She has one of those jobs that can be done anywhere, as long as anywhere is on the road and on the phone. Joanna's life epitomizes American busy. She juggles TCYMN duties, documentary filmmaking, and radio production. But she can always find time to spread the word on TCYMN because, as she says, making films "is a way for youth to find a voice when other channels are closed. Young people can't vote. They don't have a legal say in a lot of things. They're marginalized and stereotyped."
Like the stereotype of the youth sacked out on the sofathere's a couch in the Walker teen room. No one uses it. Instead, the jurors attentively crowd the table, discussing the festival's parameters: It's a film showcase, so should broadcast entries be allowed? What about younger entrants, 12 and undershould they be included in what is to be a largely teen festival?
There's no problem including pre-teen entrants, say jurors Camila, a crew member on the St. Paul Neighborhood Network, and Lech, who recently produced a film on the Iraq war. Walker Teen Arts Council member, Marty, chimes in: "We have three criteria to judge filmsoriginality and creativity, clarity of message, and technical quality. If they satisfy those criteria, they're probably in."
"Having youth curators is part of the mission of developing young leaders," says TCYMN coordinator Joanna. "That means they're curating and having conversations to reach agreement on what films are going in the festival."
The jurors have already agreed to include director Meng Xiong's Push Pencils. Smart and technically savvy, Push Pencils is an action short that guns to the finish line, and then hits the brakes for a surprise ending. Xiong comes out of North High School's media partnership with IFP, another TCYMN affiliate.
Another selection for the 2008 All City Youth Film Showcase is Writing Backwards by filmmaker Jack Anderson, Minnetonka. "Jack showed in last year's festival," says Witt. As the Walker Teen Programs manager, Witt has overseen the development of the film showcase and its young filmmakers. "You can see Jack progressing as a filmmaker. That's what's so great about the annual festivalyou see how much they grow in a year." Writing Backwards begins with the question "What is a story?" Jack's film reflects the maturation of a filmmaker's voice, starting with plots torn out of superhero comics and then discarded through a series of creative dead ends and detours. Jack concludes: "I am the story. I am my movie."
"We have three criteria to judge filmsoriginality and creativity, clarity of message, and technical quality. If they satisfy those criteria, they're probably in."
Jeanne Peirce, Minneapolis, calls her ten-minute documentary Our Story. Our is Jeanne and her mother, and their story begins where the mother's leaves off. "My mother died when I was three," narrates Jeanne over still photographs of her mother, "a bright light. But she couldn't knock the alcohol." Jeanne was born with fetal alcohol syndrome. This soul-searching documentary is one in a series of films Jeanne has produced with the assistance of TCYMN organization In-Progress, which has helped develop youth media programs throughout Minnesota. Our Story offers a powerful message that belies the director's youth. As Jeanne makes clear, she too is struggling with alcohol. "I know I have to change or I'll end up dead," she tells her audience, but then carries them forward on a tide of hopethe theme not only of the film but of her life. "I would like to thank the Creator for a second chance, and for my family who loves me very much."
"Can film change their lives?" wonders TCYMN coordinator Joanna. "Absolutely. And young people are a lot less attached to the finances of the industry. They're not trying to make a marketable film. So for them to dedicate their time to make a film, you know they really have something to say."
About the author: Britt Aamodt is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis. She loves the arts, meeting new people, and grocery shopping.