Alternative Schools Network (ASN) and Community TV Network (CTVN) celebrated student-created films from 8 of Chicago's community-based alternative schools with a festival and awards ceremony in the Chicago Cultural Center's beautiful Claudia Cassidy Theater. This 8th annual Chicago Youth Community Film Festival (CYCFF) showcased the collaborative video pieces of aspiring student filmmakers.
Years of research confirms that involvement in the arts is not only associated with academic gains, but also improves critical social-emotional skills which have been demonstrated effective in reducing violence. In all aspects of the Reel Look arts education program, students witness and demonstrate respect for others, practice listening skills, learn to value other opinions and appreciate the power of a collective voice.
From the conception of the idea for the film to its screening at the end of the school year, youth work collaboratively on films, agreeing to the roles each individual will play in developing their film and then working as a team to set goals and plan the production. Youth creative expression is admired, supported, and within these roles, placed on a pedestal, providing these teens with the positive reinforcement they need to build confidence in themselves and their ability to contribute as citizens.
By teaching youth communication and relationship-building skills, Reel Look helps students exercise personal responsibility and self control as they work with others on tough, divisive topics, demonstrating that issues can be addressed through positive interactions and productive, nonviolent efforts.
As a result of Reel Look, each year at-risk youth are introduced to new technology they would not have otherwise had access to, preparing them with job readiness skills while also serving as a vital social learning opportunity, a conduit for appropriately expressing themselves on adverse issues and an effective violence prevention vehicle.
By tapping into film as the communication medium of choice for youth today, Reel Look has reached a range of teens, many of whom have been disconnected and faced extraordinary obstacles in their everyday lives. As studies have repeatedly demonstrated, when youth are engaged in their lives, they are much more likely to stay in school and graduate, which in turn minimizes their opportunities to be involved in violence and significantly reduces youth incarceration rates.
Throughout the school year, students participate during the school day in film production classes taught by Community TV Network instructors. The regular classes encourage student attendance and involvement, and their enthusiasm for the project often results in additional after-school hours developing their films – which means less time to get involved in gang activity or situations that could lead to violence.
As Reel Look has evolved over the years, students are seeing how far their voice can travel as they reach more audiences and influencers. As a result, youth are using their films as a jumping off point to take their messages beyond the walls of ASN member schools to advocate for action. This level of extended engagement and time commitment has ranged from presenting a petition to the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C. on human trafficking, to working with advocates to o btain grants enabling access to free lunches for students, to community organization efforts calling on peers, neighbors and advocacy organizations to step up and stop the violence.
Central to the Alternative Schools Network’s (ASN) goal of encouraging at-risk youth to stay in school and graduate is the organization’s role in preventing youth violence. In 2007, ASN began an ongoing partnership with Community TV Network (CTVN), a national leader on engaging youth for more than 38 years, to introduce the Chicago Youth Community Film Project: “Reel Look” which culminates each year with a screening of the students’ creative use of video storytelling to bring societal issues youth face every day to the forefront of discussions. The Film Project crosses over instructional learning and afterschool programming to engage teens around an area of high interest to their generation, and ultimately, serves as an effective vehicle to keep them off the streets.
Since its inception, the Film Project has grown to include more than 700 students, representing 11 ASN member alternative high schools and producing a significant body of work – a total of 159 films which have garnered notable awards.