On Saturday, February 6, at the Victoria Hall Theatre, the SBIFF hosted a series of documentaries produced by local, at-risk youth. The documentaries were all produced and directed by Youth CineMedia (YCM), which is a nationally recognized nonprofit organization founded in 2003 that aims to help teens from low-income families in gang-related areas get off the streets and involved in film production. Mayor Helene Schneider was in attendance, and after the screening, founder and director Osiris Castañeda brought the teens onstage to answer questions and be praised for their hard work in producing the films and taking part in such an inspiring project. This unique screening brings a valuable asset to the Santa Barbara community and the Film Festival by educating kids, teens, and adults on the hardships that our youth face every day and showing what a group of dedicated people are doing to get them passionately involved in multimedia arts.
The screening started off with a documentary called Drama Kings, which details accounts from five boys who were sent to Los Prietos Boys Camp and Academy in Los Padres National Forest. The boys present extremely personal accounts of their run-ins with the law and what they are doing to turn their lives around. They not only are involved in Youth CineMedia endeavors, but they also perform at schools across the county, teaching kids not to go down the paths that they did, but rather “challenging them to succeed.” The boys wrote “letters to my younger self,” warning themselves to not go down the path of violence, drugs, and crime, but rather to learn how to respect and love themselves and be aware of the challenges that life will inevitably have in store. At Los Prietos, established in 1944, the boys are part of work crews, attend substance abuse counseling and aggression replacement training, and are motivated and encouraged to succeed in life.
The screening continued with a YCM-produced documentary entitled Finding Nemo, The Life and Death of a Cholo about the tragic death of a local teen whose life was taken in a gang fight. Nemo’s friends and family tell how hard its been after Nemo’s death and Noe Carachure, close friend of Nemo’s, tells of the life changes that he has made since the incident and encourages youth to leave the local gang scene.
Also featured were short documentaries like Fixing up to Ride Low about a local low rider bike club at La Cumbre Junior High, Laugh Now … Cry Later, a public service announcement on teen suicide and risk prevention, and Santa Ynez Valley Union High School’s presentation of Every 15 Minutes, a program that dramatically shows teens the impact of drunk driving. UCSB’s Art Museum hosted an opportunity for Youth CineMedia to work with award-winning photographer Zoe Strauss, which YCM filmed and documented, as she taught local youth how to “make a photo.” Strauss worked hands-on with the teens and taught them about the art of photography, the power of knowledge, and how to think through seeing.
Castañeda seeks to “create change through the lens of today’s youth,” and after the audience gave the teens a round of applause at Saturday’s screening, a teen onstage stepped forward and asked the other teens and audience to give appreciation to Castañeda for making this all possible. For more information on how to donate or get involved with Youth CineMedia, visit youthcinemedia.org.