By Evan Read Armstrong
Interim Director, Youth Active Media
Generally, when I tell people I’ve been working with ‘yam’ for the past two years, they look at me strangely, like I’m a weird, root-vegetable enthusiast. I always have to clarify that YAM stands for Youth Active Media, which is an art outreach program sponsored by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the United Way of Ottawa, and co-run by The Social Planning Council of Ottawa and Youth Ottawa, where we teach entrepreneurial filmmaking skills (lighting, sound, scripting, etc.) to youth (age 13-25). Specifically, our program is targeted to priority youth or “youth at risk”. But I have to say that it’s been two years and I still don’t know what that term means- for youth to be “at risk”.
Over the past two years I have done every possible job for Youth Active Media- I started as a volunteer but eventually worked my way up and became the Interim Director while our fearless leader Pixie Cram was away making a film. I have worked every session, and as of right now, I know every participant. I have worked with rebels, romantics, rule-followers, jocks, and gamers. I have worked with artists and comedians. I have worked with kids who are falling in love, and with kids whose hearts are broken. They have created films about tough issues like Black Lives Matter, the environment, and food security. These are films that will make you laugh, and then cry. Through YAM, they enter as very different types of people (usually presenting a carefully sculpted persona maintained for school), but all leave with at least one thing in common - they are creators. They create tangible, modern art that they can show to each other and the world. This is why I believe our project is so important. Film gives us the ability to lend the world our eyes, and allows others to see through our individual perspectives. Over one week or twelve weeks (depending on the location) I have gotten to know more than 150 youth from across this huge, alien city of Ottawa. Each and every one of them has created something unique and astounding, because these films reflect the way that their unique creators experience the world.
So, a couple of weeks ago, when we held the YAMCAM 2016 Awards to celebrate all of our past participants, I was excited but also a little nervous. Knowing a teenager is such a delicate, intimate thing, in that you’re knowing this person at what is very probably the most vulnerable point in their lives. This is the underbelly of who they are about to become. They’re still trying out hairstyles and personalities, as we all do, when we’re trying to see what fits for us. I was worried I wouldn’t recognize people, or that people wouldn’t remember us.
The evening was hosted by Fahd Alhattab, a Youth Ottawa board member and chief supplier of hilariously bad puns. Sixteen films were nominated in total, under eight different categories. The titles we viewed included: “At a Crossroads,” (films about difficult life choices), “Mission ISpossible”(action and suspense), and “Words We Heard” (anti-bullying).
Community workers and public librarians who have supported and hosted Youth Active Media sessions in the past were there to present awards (we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Paul Howes, Courtney Mellor, Gerald Dragon and Alexandra Stermer for their amazing work). We feasted on delectable treats - pizza, shawarma, samosas, and THE BEST spring rolls, generously arranged by the Kanata Chinese Seniors Support Centre. We also gave away about $1,200 in door prizes, donated by incredibly generous teen-centered institutions around Ottawa (Bayshore Shopping Centre, Vertical Reality rock climbing gym, and the Escape Room to name a few).
But these are just the raw details, the facts. This festival gave us the opportunity not only to see how we have developed as a program, but also how far our youth have come. The YAMCAM 2016 Film Awards gave us the chance to see the incredible people these kids are becoming. Our sessions are just a snapshot of their lives. Over a twenty-four hour curriculum, delivered over twelve weeks or five days, we get to see just a little tiny sliver of who these youth are choosing to be. And if we’re doing our jobs, on our very luckiest of days, we get to impact that just the tiniest bit. We aim to inspire and empower, but even if that doesn’t happen, we get to make them smile. Looking into my crowd of rebels and romantics, comedians and dancers, I could see their smiles.
Coming together was a chance for us to laugh and visit with them, and to hear their stories. To revisit old memories, and realize how their understanding of the world is changing. For me personally, YAM is less about filmmaking and more about empowering. By giving someone a camera and enabling them to express themselves, you’re showing them that their point of view matters. That people are ready to listen (or, in our case, watch). At the YAMCAM 2016 Awards, we watched, and we listened. We gave the youth our attention. We showed them that they matter.
- Watch more films created by Youth Active Media participants
- Learn about the Youth Active Media initiative in Ottawa
- Take a look at other programs and upcoming events hosted by the Ottawa Social Planning Council
- Explore what Youth Ottawa has to offer in the capital
- Are you in Ottawa and interested in partnering with Youth Active Media to deliver a program in your neighbourhood? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.