Young Documentarians at Work in New PBS Series
There is a new documentary series on public television in which young people train cameras on their own lives to show some of their challenges and struggles.
The slightly ironic thing is that these young filmmakers live among a generation of teenagers and young adults who make videos of their lives all the time with their iPhones, camcorders, or other devices and have easy outlets with YouTube, Vine, and Instagram. Some of that vast universe of "films" or videos is poignant and worthy, but much of it is ephemeral, inappropriate, or just silly.
But the New York City young people in "Our Cameras, Our Stories," are trained in filmmaking, and it shows in their output. The TV show premieres this Saturday at 1:30 Eastern on WNET in New York City, and is available on other PBS stations nationwide.
Each of the two half-hour episodes I previewed feature three individual films. The topics included homelessness, gay pride, and coping with changes at home and a parent who is beginning to show the signs of Alzheimer's disease. One filmmaker lets the camera roll during a car ride as his gay brother verbally tussles with their father about his grudging acceptance of him. Another filmmaker shows how his family's dynamic has changed when his older brother leaves for college.
The films were largely serious and, to be frank, a bit glum. But that's life. Other topics in future episodes (there will be a total of 21 films over six weeks of the show) include gun violence, incarcerated parents, drug use, and weight issues.
The films aren't about education, per se, but they touch on the educational goals and aspirations of the high school and college students involved.
The students were trained at the Downtown Community Television Center in New York City.
The nation may be full of young people willing to bare their lives on YouTube. But we need a generation of future documentarians who will one day shift their focus from themselves and train their cameras on others. "Our Cameras, Our Stories" is a good start.