An important part of a youth media program is media literacy – the goal isn’t simply to have kids make movies and documentary films, but to have them consciously choose a technical style and to form a plan of how to transmit their message. Likewise when adults make films about youth, the style chosen becomes the means of representation. In Introduction to Documentary, Bill Nichols lays out various documentary modes that can guide a documentary film.
An overarching theme in the work with youth is participatory media – in that the kids are doing the filming, as a form of citizen journalism. This type of media is extremely eye-opening because it is made by the people as an alternative to the dominant mainstream media. This is how someone can take control of their story and tell it exactly how they want, rather than having a film crew decide what to film and how. Youth media programs like the ones at Reel Lives aim at equipping students with the technical skills and vocabulary for them to then navigate the world of media.
A few traditional documentary styles are observational, expository, reflexive, and performative. Any subject can be filmed in any of these styles and more, but there are definite benefits to some over others. As I work on a mini-documentary about a youth sports program, I’m taking a mixed expository/reflexive approach. This means my film will have a narrative voiceover commenting on the action and arguing in favor of sports as a positive force for youth development. Meanwhile, since expository styles are more manipulative, I want to balance it out with a reflexive component in which I recognize the filmmaking process as a barrier between myself and the action. From the start of the planning process I knew I wants to have my “voice” come through in the film, literally and figuratively. When working with youth, I think media needs to go beyond the observational format and be more engaged with the subjects.
With sports, however, a documentary film could also be more performative in nature, especially if the focus is on the physical action and the game preparation. My focus is more on the transformations that comes about by being involved in youth sports programs, so a commentary is very useful in analyzing the images. The Media That Matters film festival is a great place to see some youth media and the work of young filmmakers who experiment with various documentary styles.