By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO

Janice Murphy remembers what it was like to miss out on summer camp when she was growing up.  After her parents divorced the family couldn’t afford the extracurricular opportunities that expose children to culture and can lead to an appreciation for the fine arts. Now the organization she started, Light The Way Foundation, is giving kids from the DMV a platform to be creative and tell their stories through film documentaries.

For the past three summers the Light The Way Foundation team of volunteers turns the silver screen into a space that allows for a group of adolescent students to grow from the experience of creating documentaries that offer a window into their souls based on their lives. With a red carpet world premiere at AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, this year’s group of aspiring of young filmmakers debuted their collaborative effort called “15 Scenes.”  The documentary shares their inspirational voyages trying to navigate the waves of a constantly changing world.

Light The Way Foundation campers share the red carpet during the premiere of their film debut “15 Scenes” at the AFI Theatre in Silver Spring. (Courtesy photo)

The students used the basic filmmaking skills learned during the week-long program to tell the story of the challenges each has faced in their life while growing up. In five days students learn how to produce individual segments that combine to enlighten, inspire, and uplift in just under 15 minutes.

With raw unfiltered emotion 15 students – between nine and 12 years old – tell real life stories of how they are dealing or have dealt with adversity.  The campers are candid in subjects ranging from bullying to divorce.  They were trained in how to write scripts, shoot video and tell their stories on screen using technology ranging from state of the art video cameras to smart phones.

Collaboration began immediately when facing a deadline of less than 30 hours to complete the projects. The junior filmmakers found a common ground on what subjects they would discuss and how they could seamlessly tell the story. By the second day of camp the scriptwriting and shooting had begun.

“This is how the kids are telling their story these days,” LTW Founder Janice Murphy told the AFRO.  “It’s an extension of the learning process. We want to expose them to the skills needed to produce films one day”.

The documentary instruction is an extension of LTW’s original camp enrichment program. Since the foundation’s inception it has sponsored summer golfers with equipment at Langston Golf Course and piano, tap, and ballet classes at Mother Dears in the District.  LTW has recently started a boy’s mentoring program at Mattawoman Middle School in Waldorf. Howard University is home for the instructional portion of the camp and serves as the set for the interviews that comprise this year’s documentary.

There is an ironic charm to “15 Scenes” which makes the stories being told by the kids so riveting.  The innocence of the way the kids share their tales of life with little scripting brings their messages to the audience in a manner that blends to offset the basic production value of the film.

However, opening night marked the first time many of the campers had ever been the focus of so much attention. Following their initial walk down the red carpet they had the chance to watch themselves during this private screening of the film. They also returned afterwards for a question and answer session to interact with an audience comprised of family and friends.  For at least one evening these campers were celebrities who were experts at the craft of filmmaking.

“They were excited to explain to the audience what a boom is,” Murphy said. “It was exciting just to watch them be excited”.