Johns Hopkins filmmaking effort will put cameras in hands Baltimore youth

Program funded by Mellon Foundation grant will include workshops on moviemaking and photography, technical skills training

Young people in Baltimore City will have a chance to express themselves creatively and build their resumes with the launch of Johns Hopkins University's youth filmmaking program.

Made possible by a $1.6 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Baltimore Youth Documentary and Film Arts Program will allow students and young adults from neighborhoods across the city to document their world on film. Through workshops on moviemaking and photography, students will create art while they learn technical skills and get professional experience that could lead to long-term jobs.

"Video is such a powerful contemporary medium for people to tell their stories and share their ideas," said Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels. "Our city suffers from so many different solitudes that do not connect to one another. We believe that by giving cameras and skills to our kids, we create an avenue for empowerment and a foundation these young people can use to help unify our city."

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The workshops, which start this spring, are designed for Baltimoreans ages 16 to 29, including ex-offenders. Johns Hopkins and Peabody Institute faculty, Baltimore filmmakers, and artists will teach the courses, along with faculty from Morgan State University and Maryland Institute College of Art. Students at all three universities will be teaching assistants. Baltimore City Public Schools as well as community arts organizations and ex-offender programs are collaborating and will make sure interested young people are informed of the opportunity.

Classes will take place after school, in the evening, and on weekends in city neighborhoods so students can access them easily.

Possible workshops include documentary photography, in which students tell stories through photos; guerrilla filmmaking, which will allow students to create an entire film, start to finish, in just a few days; and an oral history of incarceration, in which students interview former prisoners about life behind bars and how it affected their lives.

With each workshop, students may also visit museums and galleries and screen a range of films to give them exposure to other artists.

"The goal is not only for these young filmmakers to become briefly visible or briefly audible, but also for them to produce something that is lastingly intelligible and effective," said Lucy Bucknell, a senior lecturer in Johns Hopkins' Film and Media Studies program and principal investigator for the project.

As the young people explore their creative side, an equally important goal of the program is practical—making sure they leave with fundamental skills that will help them find work. In every workshop, students will learn transferrable technical skills like how to work a camera or a light meter, how to compose shots, or how to apply for film shoot permits. And they'll also get real work experience—workshop participants will receive stipends for their time.

The hope is that young people will make connections during the workshops that could lead to other work. For example, a student who excels at a workshop might be invited back to help teach the class. Or a student who shows interest in set design might get an introduction that leads to a job in that field.

Creations from each workshop will be archived online and showcased in periodic public exhibitions so that the participants know that Baltimoreans want to see and hear what they have to say.

"We really feel this is about teaching them how to be artists and how to document their reality," said Linda DeLibero, director of the university's Program in Film and Media Studies. "We know they will discover something about themselves and make something extraordinary."

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