Youth film festival in Richmond highlights new voices

The teenage filmmakers are ready to debut their work. (Photo courtesy of Gemikia Henderson)

The teenage filmmakers are ready to debut their work. (Photo courtesy of Gemikia Henderson)

A youth film festival in Richmond easily dispels any doubt about the potential

A quarter of the student filmmakers won the People's Choice Award for their musical short. (photo courtesy of Gemikia Henderson)

A quarter of the student filmmakers won the People’s Choice Award for their musical short. (photo courtesy of Gemikia Henderson)

filmmaking skills of teenagers.

The 2015 RYSE Film Festival debuted last Friday at the East Bay Performing Arts Center. The goal of the festival, according to the program, was to “highlight and empower youth voices and visions through film.”

This is the first film festival for RYSE, and the inaugural theme was “Truth Be Told Justice Through My Eyes.” The festival was organized by Richmond’s RYSE youth center and is geared toward youth between the ages of 13 and 24 who are interested in social justice issues.

“We started doing screenings of outside films that had something to do with social justice issues impacting young people and then we decided to showcase our own young people’s films. That’s where this [idea] was born,” said RYSE Youth Justice Director Stephanie Medley.

Eight films were featured at the festival.   Three others were included with honorable mentions. The films tackled issues ranging from street harassment and sex trafficking to youth activism and moving past one’s limitations.

The production values were far and beyond what one would expect for teenage filmmakers. The editing, cinematography, and original music were professional quality.

One of the main reasons for this success was an organization called BAYCAT, based in San Francisco, which teaches media production to youth and young adults from underserved neighborhoods. The BAYCAT production teams assist youth from the planning stage to completion of every media project.

“Our digital music production crew will come up with a song, do the beat, write it and the filmmakers come up with the concept for the music video and they edit the video. They all work together to finish media,” says Katie Cruz, vice president of programming and operations.

The theme for this season at BAYCAT is “The Future Today,” which asks young men and women to makes films that ask what their hopes are for the future. The children create their own track to exemplify what the future of media should look like. “The media that they see right now, they’re not happy with. The deeper meaning isn’t reflective of their perspective,” says Zara Ahmed, program manager and lead instructor of BAYCAT.

The winner in the 13- to 18-year-old age group for Music Video and the People’s Choice Award went to Take a Look at Yourself by Becky Choi (director), Amirah Battle (editor) and Nailah Reynolds (director of photography). Their eclectic musical short was visually stunning, with images of youth on a basketball court espousing the virtues of self-esteem. The goal of the short, according to the 15-year-old director, was “to examine the mainstream media and its flaws with relation to inner city youth.”

“I see that stereotypes happen in movies and TV shows and everywhere around me in general,” she said. Choi came up with the initial concept of the film and worked with producers at BAYCAT to bring it to life.

Choi plans her next film to focus on the intersection of unfair laws, politics, and the police. “I want to focus on how the police view the community and the community views them,” she said.

Director Julia Retzlaff, 18, won the Grand Jury Prize and the Best Narrative Award for her sobering examination of street harassment in STOP. The film follows a young woman as she encounters daily harassment on the urban streets. “I think the issue of street harassment experienced by young girls is a very universal story and I wanted to convey that through these young girls who are all telling the same stories,” she said.

Retzlaff was approached by Hollaback!, an organization based in New York City that fights street harassment.

“Street harassment shouldn’t be taken lightly,” Retzlaff said. “For a lot of girls it’s become a culture of fear and it bars people from moving freely from one place to the next.”

Retzlaff wants to continue the work she began with STOP. “My dream job would be to travel around the world documenting radical communities and struggles that aren’t being seen but should be—the privatization of education, the struggle of refugees, and the struggles that go under the radar in media,” she said.

Medley hopes the film festival will continue to grow and be a lifeline for young filmmakers in the area.

“I think there’s a lot of talent in Richmond but maybe some haven’t tapped into that potential yet,” she said.

She encourages youth to step forward and sign up for classes offered by RYSE. “There are so many different places where people and especially young people can go and learn about how to make a music video, documentary, short film and a narrative,” she says, “RYSE is one of those places you can do that.”

The website for RYSE.

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