Breaking Boundaries

Osiris Castañeda, Youth CineMedia, and the Reeducation of
Wayward Kids

by India Allen

brooklyn1.jpg Like life, the path to learning is not
always straight and steady. Just ask Osiris Castañeda, founder of
Youth CineMedia, a program that teaches at-risk youth how to create
and develop mixed-media projects. Tucked away from the outside view
of La Colina Junior High, the small, fenced-in, and somewhat
neglected classroom is one of many La Cuesta continuation school
sites. With no flowers or grass and just a chain-link fence and
makeshift basketball court, the place looks more like a prison yard
than the exterior of a classroom. It’s hard to conceive imagination
taking flight here. But nevertheless, creativity soars with its
limitless faculties.

Officially started in 2003, Youth CineMedia’s mission is to
provide youth with the tools, knowledge, and relationships that
foster self-expression and the creation of media — namely films and
photographs — that promote dialog and positive social change. The
program teaches teens to work with Apple computers, Adobe
PhotoShop, Final Cut Pro, and other mixed-media computer software.
They also learn how to operate video and digital cameras,
camcorders, and lighting. The results are high-quality films and
documentaries that are often screened at the Santa Barbara
International Film Festival. The operation provides a much-needed
service to uninterested S.B. high school and junior high students,
and from the outside looking in, seems a simple enough formula for
success. But looks can be deceiving, and when the going gets rough,
the pressure falls on Castañeda. With chaos as his strategy and
disorganization his vice, he reaches these troubled youth on a
level that their parents cannot, exposing them to new technologies
and providing them with a safe haven from the streets.

ycm1.jpg“All right, guys — get to work and stop
playing with that basketball in the classroom,” says the
31-year-old, demanding the attention of two 17-year-old Latino
boys. As he runs his rowdy and noisy classroom, full of minorities
and disadvantaged youth, it is clear that Castañeda’s
unconventional teaching methods and close relationships with the
students play a role in the success of their projects. “I started
Youth CineMedia because I felt empowered as an artist and I feel
like I have a responsibility to my community,” Castañeda said. “I
thought to myself that there must be other Latinos who feel the
same way. Plus I used to be a student at La Cuesta and now I’m back
as an educator. It feels good.” Castañeda isn’t the only one
singing Youth CineMedia’s praise. “This program is awesome,” said
Mwei Banks, a teacher at La Cuesta. “It gives students the
opportunity to work and make their own video projects, which is an
opportunity that is not always available to this student

And slowly but surely, the program is working. One group of kids
at a time, Youth CineMedia continues to open the minds and hearts
of teenagers who may feel they have no alternative to the streets.
“I feel special because I have the support of Osiris and Banks.
Since they have faith in me, I feel like I have faith in myself,”
said Gonzalo Rios, a senior at La Cuesta. “I think the program is
helping me. I stay busy with my project and I don’t have time to
waste gang-banging or getting into trouble.” Adam Muñoz, another
senior at La Cuesta, said that the program allowed his father and
him to connect on a level they never had before. “Like everyone in
my family, my dad is an artist and we both worked on this project
together,” he said. “But he can’t tell me what to do because it’s
my show.”

The response is clearly overwhelming, and Castañeda is excited
about the program’s recent growth. In 2005, they received the
federal government’s $250,000 Community Technology Center grant for
La Cuesta, and have acquired seven G4 Macintosh computers, seven
video camcorders, nine digital cameras, and lots of software and
new staff members. With these improvements, the future is only
looking brighter for Castañeda and his students. And this summer,
Castañeda went to New York City to train with hip-hop culture
entrepreneur Russell Simmons’s Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation.
“The bottom line is this, these kids aren’t just telling stories,
they are presenting solutions to many of the problems they face,
and that is exactly what this world needs,” he said. “Youth
CineMedia is only a facilitator for their greatness.”


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