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Latest Youth Voices Stories Debut at Downtown L.A. Film Screening

Former foster youth write and direct autobiographical films to shine a light on their experiences, while learning media skills from industry professionals.
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Learn more about To Foster Change here.


Youth Voices filmmakers onstage. | Anna Bitong
Youth Voices filmmakers onstage. | Anna Bitong

Jasmine wakes up on the ground outside a beach lifeguard station amid sounds of crashing waves and shrieking birds.

Her voice fills a silent theater.

Jasmine | PBS SoCal
Jasmine | PBS SoCal

“Where are you going to go? Nowhere.”

“No one cares. When was the last time someone checked for you?”

The scene appears in “Dreams of the Shore,” one of six short autobiographical films written and directed by former foster youth that premiered Feb. 1 at the Downtown Independent theater in Los Angeles.

The films were created as part of the Youth Voices video diary workshop led by PBS SoCal’s To Foster Change social impact initiative, which aims to raise awareness of the experiences of foster youth, and Justice for My Sister, which trains low-income, underrepresented young adults in filmmaking and TV writing. Participants learned skills such as directing, lighting and editing before making films with guidance from mentors in the entertainment industry.

Jasmine’s film looks back to when she was homeless.

“My piece is about what people are going through when they’re in that chapter of their life when they feel like they can’t get up, there’s nothing they can do, all hope is gone,” she said. “My message to people is to seek the help you need.”

Opening doors

Jose | Anna Bitong
Jose | Anna Bitong

“From Without to Within,” a film by Jose, recounted how dealing with a violent father led him to abuse drugs and alcohol. At 14, he was sent to juvenile hall, then the foster care system, where he met other foster kids who inspired him to persevere. He later turned back to his childhood love of learning and began attending workshops offered by To Foster Change.

He continued writing stories after completing his video diary.

“Until I had this experience, I didn’t realize my potential in this field. I felt like it was something that I couldn’t get my hands around,” Jose said. “Now I’m really motivated to change the world and educate people. I want to be a beacon for kids who are going through tough situations. If it wasn’t for this program I would’ve never thought I could.”

The program can lead to more opportunities, mentor Ocean Vashti Jude said.

“The reason I teach is because a lot of young folks in the system, a lot of black and brown folks, people from poor economic spaces, they don’t even think it’s viable that they could be a filmmaker, they could be a writer,” Jude said. “They can take this (experience) and hopefully it can lead to opening up doors.”

Reeves | PBS SoCal
Reeves | PBS SoCal

Healing

In “Night Walker,” Reeves reflects on being transgender in a world where “things must be black and white, things must be right and wrong.”

“I am more than the damage done to me,” he says in the film. “I am the gray area found when someone stumbles into adulthood and has to grow up too fast. But that’s okay. I’m okay.”

Making his film gave him space to reflect on his past, he said.

“This has been a very healing process for me.”

Jennifer | PBS SoCal
Jennifer | PBS SoCal

Jennifer said filmmaking pushed her out of her comfort zone and helped her become more open with others. She told her story, “Vertex,” with sounds and images that reflect her moments of anxiety: frantic whispers, a nuclear bomb explosion, a bridge collapse interspersed with dance movements and sunsets.

Jaci, who has struggled with depression since childhood, said their favorite shot in their film “143” shows them tapping their shoe – a sign of anxiety – until their partner’s shoe appears.

Jaci | PBS SoCal
Jaci | PBS SoCal

“It was so simple but so meaningful because it’s not that my anxiety stopped, it’s that she helped me cope with it,” Jaci said.

“What I took from this experience was learning that I was creative and I do have a skill that I thought that people who had families or with money only had. I find myself wanting to write more, taking pictures, wanting to express myself, which helps me heal.”

‘You have dreams’

When he was 18, Josh moved from a small town in Michigan to Los Angeles in pursuit of work in the entertainment field. He is now an actor, a student at Santa Monica College, and a member of the nonprofit The Foster Bunch, a group of entertainers who have been in foster care and seek to shed light on the system.

Josh | Anna Bitong
Josh | Anna Bitong

In his film, “Hereafter Yesterlyfe,” he speaks to the camera about achieving his goals.

“I want foster kids to know (their experience) is a strength, not a weakness,” he says in the film. “For me, it instilled in me how to persevere and make the best of situations that were dealt to me. But it also gave me drive to not let my life just be my circumstances.”

At the end of her film, Jasmine walks on the campus of Los Angeles City College, where she’s studying to be a psychologist and advocate for mental health. Her face as a child flashes on the screen with the words, “I will not break or fold. I am beautiful.”

“You have dreams,” she says. “No matter what battles you are facing, don’t give up, but get up.”

 

Watch all the films on To Foster Change. To participate in a To Foster Change workshop, please call (714)241-4137 or email  kjura@pmgsocal.org.

Filmmakers and mentors
Filmmakers and mentors at the Youth Voices film screening.

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