Any professional filmmaker will tell you that creating original films is a challenging process that requires great effort and skill. One may assume, therefore, that young high school filmmakers would find it an enormous challenge to produce quality, original work. However, walking into Reel Works’ Reel Impact event at Viacom’s 1515 Broadway headquarters two weeks ago, audience members would never have guessed that the nine students presenting their original work were relatively new to the world of film.
Reel Works is a New York City based organization that immerses young people in filmmaking programs free of charge. In the Reel Impact program – which was recently launched through a partnership with Reel Works and Viacom – students create original films examining social issues of their choosing. A heavy emphasis is also placed on marketing and finding a target audience for the student films. Participants are given the opportunity to conduct research through focus groups and interviews to determine which audience facets best fit the social topics of their choosing. A mentor guides students through the filmmaking and post-production processes, covering everything from concept through promoting their films via social media.
The program wrapped its first session two weeks ago, when the students presented their work. Viacom employees congregated in the 31st floor amphitheater to hear Reel Impact program participants present about and screen a clip of their films, examine the challenges and successes they faced, and share tips they learned in the process.
Student filmmaker Monet Massac shared this tidbit: “Being excited about your work makes others excited to watch and share it more.”
Many of the students have personal connections to the social issues explored in their videos, which included racism, incarceration, feminism and immigration. In his film Distorted Reality, one student, Marlon Francis, explores racism, focusing specifically on his first personal encounter with racism as a child and how his family dealt with it. The film also incorporated animation, which Francis explains resulted from a desire to immerse himself in different mediums.
Each student approached this assignment for their own personal reasons. As John C. Williams, co-founder and executive director of Reel Works, explained, “The only thing you need to bring to Reel Works is a story to tell. And you must have passion for what you’re creating.”
Another student, Wei Ye Ng, creator of the film Wei of the Cranes, epitomizes this statement by tying his own desires to discover his purpose in life into his film. Having learned at a young age that in Japanese, Chinese and Korean storytelling, cranes represent 1,000 years of good luck, he explored the symbolism behind this idea. In order to creatively promote his film and tie in his personal connection to it, he left paper cranes around New York City with the film’s title written on the wing.
Watch the nine student films, in the order they were presented, for yourself: