YDME: Making REEL CHANGE: Representation and Awareness of Community and Self


In its fourth year, the Jacob Burns Film Center’s REEL CHANGE teaches students to produce digital media effecting social change, such as policy, advocacy, and awareness. With emphasis on working with populations historically not heard in the media, communities participating in REEL CHANGE have included: incarcerated youth, foster children, undocumented immigrants, at risk teens, and adolescent victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

With curiosity and sensitivity, REEL CHANGE opens a dialogue between students and their surrounding communities. Having conducted this program intergenerationally, internationally, and interculturally, we have witnessed active relationships being built as students take more responsibility for their community. New technologies often further separate us, with REEL CHANGE digital tools are used to empower youth, connecting them as a vital and active member in the national discourse.

We strive to guide students in creating platforms for change and investigating their targeted social issue, while being mindful of their complex personal lives and communities. Throughout, instructors and students continually ask themselves, “How can we use the same media tools and techniques stereotyping us to empower ourselves as validated voices creating positive impact both within and beyond our community?”

In this workshop, participants learn how JBFC has consistently held up this pedagogical approach, while recognizing each project’s population requires adaptation to its particular needs, with respect to representation, exploitation, and privacy.

We begin by sharing the curriculum through critically viewing examples of student work from past exercises, projects, and reflections. Next, we gain hands-on experience through an activity often used with the students at the beginning of their process. Learners began by engaging in a creative exercise in self-reflection and sharing it, allowing for common threads to be revealed and a collective social issue to emerge. During the workshop, participants consider the uniqueness of their own name and write and record a self-introduction. During the process questions of representation are posed: Who is the audience I am sharing this with? Am I perpetuating stereotype? Am I being sensitive and fair to my community? Am I projecting an image of myself that I can be proud of?

Reflecting on this common experience, the workshop concludes with a collective discussion of these questions. Participants leave with an understanding of how programs like REEL CHANGE must be fluid enough to adapt to maximize impact of a particular setting, while maintaining learning goals. The opportunity for personal reflection and examination of best practices provides new tools for developing one’s own programs.