Lights, camera, youth action!

On a blistering hot afternoon last summer, five young people from the West Side neighorhood of St. Paul, Minnesota, sat down with film makers from the St. Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN) to begin a week-long session of documentary film making. The goal was to learn, plan, and produce two short documentary films about the West Side community.

The youth were a part of an All Around the Neighborhood (AATN) youth leadership initiative called West Side Youth Guides. West Side Youth Guides is a leadership and mentorship program for kids in grades 6 to 8 who go to school or live on the West Side neighborhood. With coaching by a community member, an Urban 4H youth worker, and myself, youth guides practice their leadership and mentorship skills through facilitating, mentoring, and working with younger children and adults at AATN day camps.

AATN is a community initiative made up of members from the West Side community, Center for Democracy and Citizenship, St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department, St. Paul Community Education, Girl Scouts Council of St. Croix Valley, and other local organizations. Collaborating with its members and partners, AATN organizes out of school learning opportunities for children in kindergarten through 6th grade through multi-site day camps that take place throughout the summer and school year.

This particular summer, as youth guides began their work, an opportunity arose to collaborate with SPNN on a documentary film project. The project, called Neighborhood Video Camp, focused on exploring topics that youth felt were important in their community. Five of the 20 youth guides decided to participate in the project, and with the guidance of three SPNN film makers the group set off to work. They spent the week examining the characterization of documentary films, learning about different stages of film production, and collecting ideas for their own production process. The youth guides reflected on different issues surrounding the West Side, brainstormed topics, and worked eagerly to shoot footage and capture audio from the community. Their entire production, from pre-production planning to post-production editing, was completed within 20 hours.

The results were two well-produced documentary shorts that genuinely captured what youth guides felt was important to themselves and the West Side community. The first film, titled 'Jerabek’s', explores the history of a 100 year-old family-owned coffee shop--the oldest in the city--located on the West Side. The second film, titled 'The West Side’s Stand on Iraq', showcases community members’ thoughts and opinions on the Iraq War.

Though each film displayed its own personality and explored topics at different ends of the spectrum, a consistent feeling can be experienced from both films. That feeling is the authentic connection between the youth guides and their community. Both films will be featured in the upcoming Weisman Art Museum youth film festival on March 29, 2008.

Follow the links to view the films:


The West Side’s Stand on Iraq


Nice project. Neighborhood Video Camp sounds like a good idea for us in Santa Cruz...thanks.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs