5PointVoices presents safe space for student self-expression through filmmaking

Ten senior students at Bridges High School in Carbondale created a short film documenting their lives for a capstone project. Adam Carballeira, an English teacher at Bridges, taught the class along with teaching artist Cassidy Wiley in-person when COVID-19 precautions allowed.

“We’re creating person-to-person, not screen-to-screen. …I think the filmmaking project could be accomplished online, but the fact that we were able to all get together I think strengthened it,” Wiley said.

The film is just under 10 minutes and a compilation of videos shot by the ten students and interviews where they share details about themselves and their lives one wouldn’t know just by looking at them.

“My goal was … to show the world that teenagers are amazing and have rich thoughts. For me I think, and adults, it gives us hope for the future, you know, because there are these young people out there who are just so powerful and passionate about creating a good world,” Carballeira said.

The capstone course was made possible by 5PointVoices – a collaborative effort between two local nonprofit organizations that wanted to use their goals of celebrating art and enriching communities to give underrepresented students a platform.

Regna Jones, executive director of 5Point, said she thinks young people are frequently underestimated or perceived inaccurately. She said the short film gives anyone who chooses to watch it a chance to gain a better sense of who these students are.

“I think by having it be so student-centric and for them understanding that from the beginning really helped them to open up in ways maybe they wouldn’t have if they felt like they didn’t have a say in how it was going to be presented,” Jones said.

She also said that while the main idea for the course was planned out, most of it wasn’t structured with a binding format to begin with. The educational aspect of the course that focused on technical elements of shooting video wasn’t the only lesson that students or coordinators walked away with after the six weeks.

“There was so much learning within the group as a whole and I think being open to that idea that education is something that comes from within, it’s not like this top down experience. Great mentors and educators are the ones who also see students as teachers,” Jones said.

Renee Prince, the executive director at Voices, said the idea behind the project was to allow it to evolve as time went on. While the course had dedicated teaching artists, in-person and virtually, the intention was for it to be a student-led course; something adaptable depending on who the students are and what would serve them best.

“The creative process demands that we are all learning and taking real risks and putting ourselves outside of our comfort zone; the adults and students in the room. We’re all doing that because we’re creating something new that wasn’t there before,” Prince said.

Opening up a space for new connections to be made was also a goal behind the program. Closer relationships formed between students and with the teachers based on classroom activities and conversations where vulnerability became the norm. Prince said she didn’t realize how soon a sense of community could be formed, especially with a large part of the course happening virtually in the beginning stages.

“I think everyone was surprised by how quickly you can create community within a group of people through the creative process,” Prince said.

The film “premiered” on Dec. 14 in a virtual screening for students, teachers and program coordinators. In a conversation after watching for the first time, student Matt McComb commented on his emotional reaction to seeing all the footage put together in one final product.

“The last scene of the whole entire film made me start crying … What Angie said was so powerful … about how you can never just be satisfied with doing something and you should always go for more,” McComb said.

The consensus of the students was that everything was edited in a way where they all were able to present themselves. Student Angie Ramirez said she was thankful to all the teaching artists and coordinators who made the project possible. The combination of the students’ points of view in one autobiographical film layered perspective in a unique yet harmonious way.

“I feel like seeing and hearing what everyone else wanted to say, it gives you a different point of view in life and makes you see things in other ways. I saw the way Grace thought, Bailey and Parker and everybody … you can apply that to your own life. If it wasn’t for you guys we wouldn’t have that chance or opportunity to see it,” Ramirez said.

The film can be viewed by anyone at this YouTube link and Jones said 5Point plans to incorporate it into the student program section of the nonprofit’s annual film festival. The teamwork between 5Point, Voices and Bridges High School will continue this spring and ideally in the years to follow to keep creating a space for self-expression amongst students about to leave high school and forge new paths for themselves.

“I felt so invigorated and so inspired by being with these kids. They are hopeful, they’re not jaded, they’re kind to one another, they’re curious, and I think just to see the world for ten minutes from their perspective, especially in these times that feel so dark and heavy so often, I think it’s going to be really refreshing … I think they’ll gain a new sense of what makes kids so special,” Wiley said.

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