PNE film festival gives a voice to First Nations and immigrant youth

August 28, 2017

By Patrick Johnston, Vancouver Sun |

While you munch on a snack at the PNE food court, take note of the action on the big screen at the Celebration Plaza.

Three times a day, a series of short films portray how young people feel “about living in Canada and their vision for Canada,” the film festival’s director said Tuesday.

“We really encourage the youth to make the films about what they care about,” Zoe Miles, programs manager for Reel Youth, said.

“(The films) are simple but they’re really lovely.”

Reel Youth is a Vancouver-based media arts project that teaches filmmaking and programming to marginalized youth. This is the third year they’ve run a film festival for the PNE.

This year, about 50 teens from First Nations and immigrant backgrounds took one-day stop-motion animation programs. In all they produced 14 films, which screen three times a day.

With this being Canada’s 150th birthday, finding a focus for the program was easy.

“There’s a lot to celebrate about being here,” she said. “And for kids who have grown up here, there’s a lot to improve.”

“We partnered with organizations in the city to reach a number of youth who wouldn’t normally have access to equipment,” Miles explained.

“We see a lot of media that’s produced for young people as the audience but that’s created by adults,” she said of the motivation behind Reel Youth. “Here’s a chance to put cameras in their hands.”

And the point is giving voice to youth more than just teaching filmmaking, she said.

A film made by a trio of teens — a recent Mexican immigrant, another of Indigenous heritage, the third a first-generation Canadian — focuses on how important it is for young people that Canada keep First Nations culture alive.

The spirit of group represented the overall attitude of the productions.

“There’s some really nice surprises, they’re very heartwarming,” Miles said. “They’re very positive and very affirming.”

Another film, made by a group of young immigrant women, looks at the challenge of learning English.

“The story of their film is how hard it is to move to Canada from a really violent, war-torn country,” she said. “That was something they wanted to share with the world.”

Each film is about a minute to a minute and a half long and were produced in June.

Once the group is assembled, Miles and her colleagues drive the kids towards topics suitable for storytelling.

Then, “they form groups based on shared interest.”

“Sometimes you end up with a diverse group and sometimes it’s a less diverse group,” she said. “It’s really encouraging to see young people speaking out.”

Viewers can vote for their favourite film via text message; there are cash prizes at stake. The filmmakers get really in to the competition and bring friends and family along to vote.

Once the PNE film festival is over, the films will migrate to Reel Youth’s online home.

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