Volume 21, Number 49 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | April 17 - 23, 2009
“Off and Running,” a festival selection by Tribeca Film Institute alum Niclole Opper
Making filmmakers out of the digital generation
TFI Youth Program instills skills, nurtures talent
BY ELENA MANCINI
To many of its casual fans (and occasional attendees), the annual Tribeca Film Festival represents an occasion to view the latest indie and mainstream film productions — and the prospect to participate in a Q & A session with a famous or emerging film director. Founded in 2002 with the intent to reinvigorate the spirit of lower Manhattan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the festival has become not just a rite of spring, but an homage to the vitality of New York City. Having screened over 1,100 films from over 80 countries since its inception, the festival also represents an important vehicle for independent filmmakers to make their debut. In addition to the image boost and the platform for new talent, the festival has generated over $530 million in economic activity.
But amid the art, commercial activity and fanfare, the Tribeca Film Festival also creates concrete opportunities for New York City’s youth — thanks to the commendable commitment and efforts of the Tribeca Film Institute’s Youth Program.
Since its inception in 2005, the TFI Youth Program has been reaching out to New York City high school and middle school students (especially from the outer boroughs) to not only introduce them to films they might not otherwise have the opportunity to see, but also make them aware of the art of telling stories through film. Now entering its fifth year, the TFI has expanded its youth programs from two to five and engages 5,500 young people through film training, mentorship and film screening programs.
Tribeca Film Institute’s Director of Youth Programs, Lisa Lucas, describes the impact that the TFI Youth Programs hope to have on young people as empowering them to, “develop media literacy to think about college and jobs through college and school…to get them to think about how to tell a story with film and tell their own stories. The idea is to get them thinking like medium makers rather than medium receivers.” TFI also introduces students to equipment that they may have never previously handled or seen before — and shows them that not all film equipment is out of cost or out of their reach. Through its fellowships, workshops and educational programs, TFI presents its participants with more affordable media such as hand-held cameras.
The Tribeca Film Fellows program brings twenty NYC high school students to the Tribeca Film Festival and grants them a behind-the-scenes look at the film industry and the art of making films. The fellows are divided into teams and assigned the task of making a film on their neighborhood as part of the “City Scapes” project.
Tribeca Teaches Film in Motion is an in-school art-education program proving students and educators with the resources to create documentary films, gain exposure to independent filmmakers and use film as an educational resource.
The Summer Arts Institute Filmmaking Workshop (co-offered with the NYC Department of Education) is an intensive, tuition-free, six-week filmmaking course that gives NYC public school students filmmaking training, access to the state-of-the-art equipment and a platform to express their ideas in new ways.
Our City, My Story is an annual event showcasing New York City youth-made media. It aims to bring attention to the work of the city’s young filmmakers.
Long after the festival has screened its last film, the year-round Tribeca Youth Screening Series brings students to free screenings of studio Films, youth-made media and relevant programming. TFI creates study guides for each film and produces panel discussions following each screening—where curious students can grill the filmmakers in a Q & A session.
The programs are as much about giving students the opportunity to gain more intimate insights into their own community as they are about granting access to film media. Tribeca student filmmaker Riaebia Robinson, 17 and a junior at Brooklyn Community Arts and Media High School, explained that what most appealed to her about the Tribeca Film Institute was that it provided “a free program for youth filmmakers that offers so much in the big city.” When asked how the experience has changed her, she offers, “You learn so much about your city — NYC — that you didn’t know even after living here your whole life.”
As a part of the “Our City, My Story” program, students are instructed to address stereotypes about their own neighborhoods and communities through film. The recent South Bronx project allowed students from this community to confront commonly held beliefs like: “People from the South Bronx are poor,” and “young people from the South Bronx don’t go to college.” Lucas explained that this assignment was presented to the students with the premise that “It’s time for you to speak out against these stereotypes.” The exercise empowered these young people to counter negative stereotypes and replace them with alternative narratives. This year’s Our City, My Story theme is open. Students are encouraged to address what it’s like to experience their community as an immigrant or for someone with an immigrant background.
The idea behind the program is to show students who live in the outer boroughs that the Tribeca Film Festival and the borough of Manhattan belongs to them, too. TFI’s outreach to New York City schools is done through the Department of Education Arts and Special Programs and the Teach for America network,. The word also gets out through youth media organizations, the Internet, social networking tools and traditional flyers. The application processes for these programs generally consist of a treatment, screenplay or film.
Lucas notes that Tribeca fellows receive mentorship and remain affiliated with the institute throughout year. Tribeca fellows have gone on to work as graduate assistants, interns and student videographers for the Tribeca Film Institute (after their fellowships expire). Although the program allows for direct contact with filmmakers and film professionals, a notable name that has been particularly active with the youth programs is Jamie Hector — who portrayed Marlo Stanfield in the HBO series, “The Wire,” and is currently starring in the NBC series “Heroes.”
Commenting on TFI’s impact on young people, Lucas says “We are bombarded with images. We teach them [students] how to make media and give them a chance to create their own representation. We also give them a place where they can see positive images and stories that are inspiring and educational.”
Lucas, who has a background in arts administration and working with young people through theater, explained that while the medium of theater has arts instruction built into it, it’s possible to go even further with film — since it allows young people to “speak a language that they want to speak.”