This weekend, HRWIFF presents: “Youth Producing Change”

“I guess I just want people to know what it’s like.”

It’s a sentiment that I heard repeatedly from the filmmakers of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival’s Youth Producing Change.

The program is somewhat, well, as advertised: it showcase young people (around senior-age in high school) who have made projects demonstrative of human rights issues in their community, personal expressions, or experiences that for them are definitive.

“In Iran, no one blinked if I wore the hijab. It is not a restriction,” one filmmaker told me. “But here, it is not that way. People look at you differently. People assume.”

That filmmaker, Sahar Shakeri, was a recent immigrant from Iran, having accompanied her mother, a schoolteacher, on her path to get her Ph.D in Englsh Literature. Encouraged by her teachers, she turned her feelings about the contradictions inherent in wearing the Muslim veil into a short 7-minute film, “Thoughts in a Hijab.”

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Another filmmaker, Jessica Cele, already worked at an educational video center when she asked them if they would help her make her film.

“The center I worked for already released public-safety information, doing their own stuff,” she told me. “But I wanted to see, you know, how we’d do it. How youth could do it.”

Her film, “It’s Not About Sex,” explores issues of sexual violence in society, discovering that while it is tragic, an antidote is talking about it in public.

“In my eyes, it’s only when you talk about it, hard as it is that things can really start to change,” Jessica said.

Clevins Browne, the filmmaker of “In My Shoes”, was also on message when it came to dialogue.

“You know, my film’s about youth homelessness in New York City,” Mr. Browne told me. “When I tell most people about that, they act surprised as if they didn’t know it existed.”

But that’s what the Youth Producing Change showcase is all about: giving voices to those people to whom voices were once stifled before.

When I asked him why he wanted to make movies, Mr. Browne’s answer was simple, his smile broad and confident.

“Because people don’t know,” he told me. “And they should.”

-Nicholas Feitel, Contributing Editor

Explore posts in the same categories: festival dispatches, Filmmaker interviews, hidden gems, on @ the walter reade, quotables, what's on

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