What happens when you give recent high school and university grads the opportunity to teach a media course? You get to witness the world of young people who live in Parkdale through short films of their own stories. This is the power of the City Shorts program.
Mentored by independent filmmaker, Jordan McTavish, three young recent graduates took the lead in designing and facilitating free workshops on practical documentary production for under-served, new-arrival youth from the Parkdale community. The workshop series ran for six weeks during July and August 2018, with youth participants building skills in writing, directing and featuring in a short documentary about their life in Toronto and quintessential Toronto experiences. The documentaries were presented to parents and community members at a gala screening on Saturday August 25th at Back Lane Studios, and are now hosted online (check them out here!).
The program originated when Jordan, who teaches at Back Lane Studios and has previous experience in the film industry, was guest teaching at a high school. Here he met Michael O’Meara, a 17 year old high school student who Jordan says was, “the kid who who was actually listening and taking in the information” and was really keen on learning more about film and the industry. When the opportunity to apply for an ArtReach grant came along, Jordan approached Michael to co-create a program that would support access to film training for youth in the community. “We talked about where the catchment would be and what kinds of youth we could outreach to,” Jordan explains. They both decided that they wanted to work with at-risk, newcomer youth in the Parkdale community, giving participants an opportunity to access free training and “opening up the potential of Back Lane studios’ equipment, space and teachers to a demographic who might not be able to afford their workshops in any other way,” notes Jordan. Jordan and Michael eventually recruited Kat and James, recent university grads with the knowledge and skills to support the programs facilitation. Thus the City Shorts Program was born.
The program saw 8-10 youth participants, many of them representing the Filipino community. Jordan notes how the start of the program was a bit of a challenge, “on the first day there were only 3 kids who came together and none of them wanted to come back, but their parents made them,” he says with a smile. However when they came back for the second session and got to play around with the technology and go out on location to learn different filming techniques- their interest and commitment increased. “The youth participants became motivated to do their best research, and really think about their shots and shooting locations, and with their final product, were able to tell a really logical and well done story,” says Jordan proudly.
According to Jordan, ArtReach was this project’s first funder. When asked what that meant for this project, he says, “this would not have been possible without ArtReach.” ArtReach funds offered the opportunity for youth leaders to be paid for the development and facilitation of the work while getting mentored by Jordan. It also allowed for the rental of Back Lane Studios space, which gave the program an accessible location and use of their technology.
In addition to the financial support, the mentorship from ArtReach staff was also an integral part of this project. As Jordan notes, “communication and support was key in the program’s success and also gave us the motivation to build this program knowing that ArtReach was there for us. It really motivates me to increase the capacity and potential of this program,” Jordan says. ArtReach believes in the power of building capacity in addition to the funding for a truly successful program outcome, and the City Shorts program is a great example of this.