for five weeks over this last summer a bunch of individuals and institutions got together to make a difference in in the lives of eight foster youth by teaching them about art and filmmaking and in the process, we were to have a film that documented this project.
The Achieving Independence Center, an organization under DHS that helps foster youth who are old enough to be making the transition out of the system into becoming independent, worked with the Institute of Contemporary Art, a fine art museum that is part of the University of Pennsylvania to make the project happen. The ICA hired the Big Picture Alliance, a non-profit video production company who hired me, David Kessler, to direct the film and Esther Rosa to produce the film. The two of us were also to be filmmaking teachers and make decisions as to how to have this be both a class as well as a film shoot.
The fulcrum in this was Zoe Strauss, an artist, who at the time had work up at the ICA and who was chosen to be the subject of the film. Hoping to unveil the unique perspective that the kid's had to Zoe's art, I decided that that the film would also have to be about them and their stories.
Through those five weeks the kids were exposed to art, people, skills and ideas that they would not have otherwise and because it would take so long to write specifically what those were, I'll skip it and just say that that is what the film was for. But I will say that the connection between the lives of these kids and to Zoe's artwork was deeper than we could have imagined and through understanding her work they began to be able to see their lives differently and through understanding the kid's lives and their perspective we were able to look at Zoe's art differently. Also, an additional result of this project was that real lasting bonds were made. The film then, was to be something that the kids could hold onto and feel pride in.
It took me about 6 months to edit the film, all the while trying to channel the kids though the process in order to create a film that best represented them and their project.
The editing process was decidedly open. This, I must admit, was especially hard for me to be comfortable with because I do believe that I film is not the work of a committee but must be formed out of a single mind balancing all the interests and where others might have ulterior motives for their suggestions based on institutional initiatives, my only motivation was to make the best film I could and to accurately represent the kids, this project, Zoe Strauss and her artwork. However difficult it was, the parties involved were fair in their suggestions and offered them as such and not as directives, which I was very appreciative for and in the end these suggestions proved to be highly valuable.
The final edit, excluding some audio work and the soundtrack was finished a couple of weeks ago and was entered in the Philadelphia Film Festival. We were planning on finally showing the film to the kids and getting any suggestions from them before we considered the whole thing finished, but that was not to be the case.
Shortly after submission, the AIC was "tipped off" to possible concerns that they might have with the content of the film. Pandora's Box was wide open. AIC, being part of the larger DHS, a government institution already faced with scores of bad press in the past year for allowing a shocking number of kids to die under their watch, jumped into action and directed that the film be withdrawn from the festival and that no one, including the kids were allowed to see it. The issue was passed up the DHS ladder until it got into the hands of one puritanical tyrant, who may or may not have seen the film but condemned it almost completely, berating everyone in the room responsible for the project including the ICA, Zoe, and her own coworkers at the AIC, claimimg that among other things, that Zoe's art was not suitable for minors. Let me add here that all but one of the youth are 18 and over now and this was shot only 6 months ago. That one under 18, is 16 and I can say that she is mature enough to be able to understand the difference between art and pornography, which is aparantly something this woman is incapable of.
that brings us to today. We are waiting on orders from DHS lawyers as to what content is suitable and what is not. I should not try to guess what those orders will be but I am pretty sure that they will be devastating to the film and will strip away the openness, truth and respect for the youth's own voices.