North Philadelphia: The Village Teaches Digital Media

Student filming
Sherrieff, a student at the Village, works the camera.

Student filming
Sherrieff McCrae, a student at the Village, works the camera.

The colorfully painted walls at the Village of Arts and Humanities in North Philadelphia allow the students to forget their day’s troubles and concentrate on their creativity.  Before class begins students sit around sharing the latest gossip and bragging about their day.  The smiles on their faces and the energy of the room prove that the kids are enjoying themselves and the Village.  There are many classes and activities for the students to get involved in ranging from fashion design to gardening.

“I’ve been coming here for five years,” Leon Sanford, 18, said. “It keeps me sane and out of trouble.”

The Village also has a digital media program that includes video production, photography, writing, and graphic and web design.   The program began in 2003 with four students and two computers.  At the beginning students strictly learned video editing using existing footage.  Since then, the program has expanded to over 20 students and now includes many aspects of digital media production.

El Sawyer, the Village’s program director and one of the film production instructors, says that the students get involved in the program for many reasons from just wanting exposure to the mediums to wanting to pursue it on a professional level.

These programs give teens an opportunity to express themselves through video, photography, design and writing while learning

student filming a class
Ebony Graves videotapes  the students in the modeling class practicing their catwalks.

various software including Final Cut Pro, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Dreamweaver, all of which are professional level applications.

“We want to bring it to a level that each student can have work for a portfolio,” said Jonathan Kaufman, a film production instructor at the village.  “[This class] provides a way for students to learn a skill that can provide a job opportunity.”

In the film production class the students collaborate to create short films that range in length from 7-12 minutes.  The students brainstorm ideas, write the script, create the storyboard, choose locations, act, film the video, and edit the scenes.  Most of the films are narratives but they also produce some documentaries.

“Our topics are things that are issues for the kids,” said Sawyer, “dating, sexuality, molestation, bullying….The point is to educate people who don’t know.”

El Sawyer shows Ebony, a student at the Village, how to use the digital camera.

The kids’ work is screened through the year at various venues including during the Philadelphia Film Festival.
The latest film “Bullying,” was a narrative about a boy named Ian and how he overcame being bullied by a group of boys.

Sanford, who worked on the film, hopes that it teaches teens that “you can talk it out” and use words instead of violence to get your point across.

The film was finished in December was screened at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art.

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