Baltimore middle and high school students were joined by youth from across the country at the Creative Alliance on March 15 to showcase their photographs and short films at the opening night of the 8th Annual Wide Angle Film Festival.
The annual event looks to challenge the negative stereotypes and perceptions about Baltimore highlighted in productions such as HBO’s “The Wire,” said Susan Malone, executive director of Wide Angle Youth Media.
Since 2001, the non-profit organization has provided middle and high school age students in Baltimore with media education and production skills to tell their own stories and dispel the myths of growing up in the city. Wide Angle offers several different project tracks and partners with local organizations such as the Enoch Pratt Library and M&T Bank.
One of the youth festival curators, Le’Ez Simmons, a 16-year-old sophomore at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, said that while he does not have an interest in being a media creator, he feels he making a difference by helping organize the event.
“I don’t like that we are portraying so many negative images in Baltimore,” said Simmons. “I joined so I could associate with new people and make Baltimore a more positive place by challenging stereotypes.”
Students come to Wide Angle with varying interests in media and technical skills. Projects created by more than 200 students from 40 schools and 10 after-school programs were shown during the exhibit, set to run at the Creative Alliance from May 15 to May 24.
The upper floors of the Creative Alliance house the student’s photographs, which cover a range of subjects and ideas. Some photographs show students making silly faces or jumping from swing sets, while others cover more serious issues such as sexual orientation or the perception of Black males and street gang culture.
“We’re about supporting the gap between arts and education in the school system,” said Malone explaining the organization teaches students based on the National Digital Literacy Curriculum. “We’re giving students an outlet to talk about what they are going through– gang violence, youth unemployment, immigration.”
In the Marquee Lounge, students screened a variety of short films ranging from between one to 10 minutes long. Some of the films shown came from students at a partner organization, Ghandi Brigade, a youth media organization based in Silver Spring which also teaches students in the San Francisco Bay area in California.
Mona Yeh, program director of Ghandi Brigade, said many of her student’s films address immigration issues. She said the organization strives to teach students to tell their stories and have an interest in the media.
“A lot of our youth come from a household with a more traditional view of what a career is,” said Yeh. “We want to expose them to more unconventional paths as well, like media.”
Wide Angle also tries to incorporate younger youth who are not old enough to join the program as full-fledged videographers and photographers.
Peyton Williams, a 9-year-old fourth grader at Monarch Academy Public Charter School, is the youngest youth reporter for Wide Angle. During the festival, Peyton walked around the venue with her clipboard reviewing the photographs and films in the exhibit for Wide Angle’s blog.
“I like writing because I get to express myself without really talking,” said Peyton. “It makes me feel more confident.”
Williams spent some time reviewing a photograph titled “I am Judged Because I am Gay,” by Savannah Tobash, a student at Western High School in Baltimore.
“I believe everyone should have the same rights, I don’t understand why anyone would not be liked because they are gay,” Williams said of the piece.
Peyton’s dad, Jonathan Moore, 43, is the founder and CEO of his own media company. He said Peyton became interested in media after hearing discussions they would have at the family dinner table.
“Working with Wide Angle gives her a ton of confidence,” said Moore. “It’s good for her to be around other students who think the way she thinks and speaks the way she speaks. It’s always interesting to see how she visualizes something.”
Malone said the photograph exhibit from the festival will also travel around Baltimore and the surrounding areas, and will be displayed at farmer’s markets and train stations.
“We’re bringing the work to them, instead of asking them to come to us,” said Malone.