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With our CineYouth Festival just over a week away, CineYouth Festival Director Rebecca Fons and Free Spirit Media’s Founder and Executive Director Jeff McCarter talk about the trends, challenges and triumphs in youth media making. Be sure to check out some of Free Spirit Media’s youth-made films at CineYouth!

Rebecca: As someone who watches a lot of youth and student made films, I’m amazed by how these students aren’t afraid to, for lack of a better phrase, GO FOR IT. They are emboldened to tell stories about themselves, their communities, their futures and their families. I really love seeing how these filmmakers incorporate things like poetry and music into their filmmaking. They are using film as a form of communication, another way to express themselves. Picking up a microphone, a pen and paper, a camera - it’s about finding the medium that helps you find yourself. Jeff, what other trends are you seeing in youth media making and expression?

Jeff: I think that youth media is always about finding one's voice and using it.  This can take many forms.  Because adolescence is a critical time of life, when teens are questioning everything around them, their work is often about challenging the status quo and suggesting alternatives.  Lately, I have been encouraged by the variety of topics that young people are exploring; awareness and information about issues is easier to come by in our digital age.  I see a lot of youth media striving to expose injustice, often that the media maker has experienced or witnessed his/herself, and promoting a more peaceful and equitable future.

Rebecca: Making video projects/art is so much “easier” these days because of camera phones, tech savvy younger generations and the accessibility of YouTube and Vimeo. Because of this, I find that sometimes students are both encouraged and frustrated by this landscape. Our CineYouth Festival and Free Spirit Media strive to provide young filmmakers with a platform to have their film seen. Jeff, how do you enable and encourage them to take advantage of these opportunities to express themselves?

Jeff: We are living in a very exciting time when it comes to technology -- both in terms of production and more so in terms of audience engagement.  Still, though production technology is more accessible, I still stress timeless fundamentals, like the importance of storytelling and technique (the creative use of images and sounds).  While it is easier to make whatever today, whatever isn't necessarily effective media. The ability to share work and dialogue with viewers has so much potential to inform and improve our society, but the ability to entertain is still a major factor in any dissemination platform.  

Rebecca: The lineup at CineYouth this year is one of my favorites. The films we are screening are truly a great representation of young filmmakers today. We have films from as far away as India and as close as the south side of Chicago. As I get older I joke about being out of touch with “kids these days” but watching CineYouth films and interacting with these filmmakers zaps me right back into their world and their experiences. Jeff, what do you like most about working with youth media makers/youth filmmakers?

Jeff: I love seeing young people's minds at work and witnessing them becoming independent and creative thinkers.  I love pulling the curtain back behind how and why media is made; media literacy skills are like a light in the darkness.  I love watching young people's skills grow, and not just media-making skills, but life skills -- like how to work as a team or how to overcome a challenge.  Helping to empower young people to step with confidence into a big world is very fulfilling.

Rebecca: As someone who works with young filmmakers every day, what advice would you give to a young person who wants to express themselves through film?

Jeff: To an aspiring filmmaker, I would say:  be both driven and patient.  Explore stories, young own and those of others.  Study techniques and develop your own.  Work hard, and see both the big picture and the details.  Take time to iterate -- to hear feedback and refine your work.  Successful filmmakers always have a can-do spirit; effective filmmakers enlist and empower a team.

Rebecca: I’d follow that up by saying: get your films seen! Show your work to your friends, your family, your classmates. The feedback you’ll get and the encouragement they will give you is vital -  you learn more about yourself and your work every time an audience sees it. 

For the full CineYouth schedule, click here.
For more information about Free Spirit Media, click here.