Engaging Young Hearts and Minds: The Youth Documentary Program


It's been just over a year since Doing It for Me premiered at the Sitar Arts Center, but the film continues to reach audiences at regional film festivals, policy forums, and beyond.

That film and two other projects - Life as a Collage and the Community Video Storytelling transmedia project - were produced by students in our Youth Documentary Filmmaking Program. We've been fortunate to run this program in partnership with Sitar over the past three years. Each year, an MHP teaching artist uses our curriculum to guide students through different roles in the documentary film production process.

High schoolers from mainly low-income households, who might not otherwise have access to the arts, are learning advanced skills in non-fiction storytelling and technical production, as well as community outreach and engagement strategies. “This program is at the heart of our mission,” says Lance Kramer, MHP’s executive director. “The young people who participate in the program have often experienced profound challenges in their lives.

Through the program, they’re finding a powerful way to use the documentary art form to elevate their voice and leverage their life story into a lasting impact in the community.” Not only are these award-winning student films among MHP's most successful in terms of reach and impact, but they also strongly represent the studio's mission: they're community-oriented, participatory filmmaking projects that present important social issues in ways that educate diverse populations and help guide social change. 

A chance to speak to the nation


On Sept. 18, the U.S. Department of Education screened Doing It for Me for a group of policymakers and staff to catalyze a panel discussion about the high school dropout crisis. In the film, DC high school student Precious Lambert follows her two best friends, Jessica and Victoria, as they struggle in the DC school system and ultimately chart a new direction for their lives through the art and process of documentary filmmaking.

Both the film and the panelists - which included film co-director Leah Edwards and participant Jessica Green - were well-received by the audience. 

The Department of Ed. also featured the screening on their Homeroom blog

Earlier this month Doing It for Me screened at the Beacon Independent FIlm Festival in New York. Previously this year, the film was also selected to screen at the four local film festivals.

With several more screenings scheduled over the next month, the students’ work will receive even more exposure. As we gear up for a new semester of Youth Documentary Filmmaking at Sitar this spring, our studio looks forward to more opportunities to amplify young voices and share their perspectives in impactful ways.

Read more about the impact of Doing It for Me in GW Today.

Learn more about each of the projects below:

  • Life as a Collage (2012) - Created while artist and Sitar volunteer Tom Gabel was struggling with liver cancer, this film captures one teacher’s amazing dedication to his students and his art, as he reflects during the final stages of his life.

  • Doing It for Me  (2013) - Students explore the dropout crisis from a personal and introspective viewpoint. The autobiographical documentary offers an intimate and compassionate glimpse into the real experiences of Washington, DC high school dropouts seeking to chart a new direction for their lives.  

  • Community Video Storytelling (2014) - Students in the program worked as community 'cartographers' to collect reflections from local community members on neighborhood change. These 'micro-stories' — created using solely iPads/iMovie for filming and editing — are presented together on an interactive map.

Catch the films at these upcoming screenings:

  • 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 14 at West End Cinema:
    Reel Independent Film Extravaganza (RIFE), known as the “People’s Film Festival,” will showcase several Meridian Hill Pictures films including Doing it for Me. The festival has nominated Doing it for Me for Best Short Documentary. This event will also feature a Q&A with the youth filmmakers.

  • 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 19 at U.S. Navy Memorial Burke Theater
    Decade of Docs in our City will feature Life as a Collage.

If you are a reporter and would like to learn more about this project, please contact Alison Buki, Communications & Outreach Manager at alison(at)meridianhillpictures.com or 202-450-4085.

Doing it for Me was funded through a Media Arts grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2013. Meridian Hill Pictures is currently seeking new sponsors and funders for the 2015. All contributions to the program are 100% tax deductible through Sitar Arts Center, a 501c3 non-profit organization. If you are interested in making a donation to this program, please contact MHP’s development manager, Lindsay Davis, at lindsay(at)meridianhillpictures.com.

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