About the Project
Thirty of my students and myself have been working on "The Youth Violence Project" for three years. The first year we interviewed over 50 people who were involved in youth violence in some way (gang members, incarcerated teens, parents, teachers, psychologists, law enforcement officials, and social workers). The second year we created composite characters and storylines based on these interviews and produced a feature-length dramatic film for the purpose of creating a subjective ("inside the skin") experience for viewers. We shot in 15 locations using 80 volunteer actors. The third year we edited the original interview footage into a companion film allowing viewers to hear from the real people who experienced the events in our dramatic film. Now in our 4th and final year, we are using these films in workshops as part of a novel approach to youth violence education.
As filmmakers we know that we can't understand the actions of others unless we attempt on some level to experience their worlds. Film is a unique language that speaks to both youth and adults in a very personal way. We believe film is a practical tool for sharing experience and for rethinking who we are.
On the Road
We have recently returned from a cross-country tour where we presented our films in workshops. Our purpose was to give troubled kids and parents a reality check about where their lives are going and how they might choose another path. In addition, the workshops offered the project as a model to other communities in creating their own youth violence projects. Film was our tool, but any tool will do. We encourage others to use whatever tools are at hand (music, poetry, artwork, drama…) to try to bring about dialog which, in itself, can be the most powerful healing tool of all.
From the beginning, the many factions of youth violence have been involved in our work on every level. We have worked closely with violent kids, parents, teachers, policemen, and youth services providers. As we had hoped, they not only talked to us, but they talked to each other. We consider the making of these films as an exercise in creating a caring community -- an entity that can be effective in dissolving violence at its core. As we continue to conduct workshops across the United States, we hope that not only the product of our work, but the process itself will help other communities materialize their concerns for the safety and future of young people everywhere.