Truth is the star in teen film festival
Movies about underage sex, child abuse and teen violence, homosexuality and sexually transmitted diseases — the kinds of things that must be hidden from the view of young people.
In the case of the Do It Your Damn Self! film festival, though, the movies were made by some of those very same young people.
The 10th annual DIYDS National Youth Video and Film Festival, shown Saturday at the Brattle Theatre, in Harvard Square, had lighter moments and less controversial themes, but it was the unblinking looks at the taboo topics that most struck the audience at the sold-out event.
“The honesty in it,” Harvard University graduate student Debby Saintil said. “They were witty, they were honest — those are the things that stuck out.”
“It was uncensored. I felt the films were capturing what’s going on in young people’s minds in an unmediated way,” Cambridge resident Britt Wahlin said. “Adult films have that censor … they’re sanitized in some way, and I didn’t feel these films had any constricting framework.
“I thought that was amazing,” she said.
Though based out of Cambridge’s Community Arts Center, on Windsor Street, and run by and featuring city kids mainly from Area 4 public housing, the festival has always been national in scope. This year there were 72 films submitted from around the country, chopped to 30 and finally to the 11 shown Saturday. The Cambridge kids gathered after school for two hours a day for three weeks to decide which made the final cut.
In the end, there were five from New York, including the brave “Prom Night,” about a high schooler coming out to his best friend; one each from Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis and Espanola, N.M.; and two from Boston. Many producers came to Cambridge for the screenings, entertainment featuring Cambridge’s Teen Media Program kids and a reception at Harvard University’s Rosovsky Hall.
Perhaps the major disappointment of the night was that Shakademic and Glenn Scott couldn’t make it to Cambridge to appear with their “Battleground Minnesota,” in which they met with the state’s governor, senators and Democratic eminence grise, Walter Mondale, to talk politics — and “secretly cast the politicians in a music video.” In the film, Shakademic acts as a sharp and charismatic inner-city Michael Moore, showing up at a Bush-Cheney house party with a lemon cake and asking national-level politicians to “tell me how to pimp the game.”
“Money,” said festival coordinator Monika Navarro, explaining why the filmmakers didn’t appear. “All their resources were depleted. We did our best to get kids from everywhere to come, but all these filmmakers have very little resources.”
She hopes to eventually offer winning filmmakers a stipend so they can attend the festival.
The Boston entries shared a quiet, defiant strength. Janine Quarles’ “Portrait of a Black Girl” was a video poem about rejecting stereotypes; “Bittersweet,” by Lianne Davis and Kerry Molloy, suggested there’s “so much more than just bad in the world,” as Molloy said during the after-show question-and-answer period, mainly the importance of “family and love and friends — just to have that.”
Molloy, 17, a senior at Boston Latin Academy who contributed through the Institute of Contemporary Art’s Fast Forward program, has made four films over three years and acted in “Bittersweet.”
“I was just trying to see where I can express my art, and I think I finally found it in film,” she said.
Getting into the festival, she said, was “the coolest thing ever.”
Quarles, 18, has moved on from Boston Latin and the ICA to the Bennett College for Women, in Greensboro, N.C., but she returned for the festival. Her film got into the festival in her first year in the program — she even turned in her application a day late. But she’s decided to be a mass communications major and is “finding a way to get access to equipment so I can continue ‘Portrait of a Black Girl.’
“I felt kind of honored to be included,” she said. “I thought the films were phenomenal. All the young people were so talented.”
That conclusion was shared by Lisa Cortes, an assistant on “Monster’s Ball” and producer of the 2004 Kevin Bacon film “The Woodsman” and this year’s upcoming Cuba Gooding Jr. vehicle, “Shadowboxer.” Cortes was recruited to speak at the festival by Melina O’Grady, who spotted her working with other kids at a Philadelphia conference. For Cortes, flying to Cambridge for the festival is a bit of “karmic yoga,” but she was impressed with the teens’ work.
“This is a wonderful search for meaning. They are trying to put all the troubles they, as young people, should not have to deal with, in context,” Cortes said. “When I was a kid I wasn’t that sophisticated.
“I was so impressed by the level of acting, directing, editing, scoring and the subjects, such great raw talent,” she said. While Cortes wasn’t ready to offer any of the young filmmakers or actors Hollywood contracts, “you never know what you’re going to find,” she said. “I’m not averse to learning from 17-year-olds.”