Seventeen-year-old Bailey Francisco knows what it's like to experience a family torn apart by mental illness. But he also knows what it takes to mend the wounds of trauma through storytelling. That's where personal empowerment enters the picture, says Tom Shepard, founder and director of the Youth Documentary Academy.
The Fountain-Fort Carson High School senior is one of 10 students at the YDA who are voicing their personal accounts and explorations into the hidden, sometimes darker corners of the community, says Shepard, a Colorado Springs native and award-winning filmmaker with 20 years' experience (right, center).
Francisco's 14-minute-long documentary, After War, captures the turmoil that followed his father's return from four tours in Iraq. In documenting his father's alcohol and narcotic addictions, violent outbursts and resulting institutionalization, Francisco — winner of the Pikes Peak Arts Council's 2014 Rising Star award — explores what it's like to be a child when an adult in the home has PTSD.
"I was real embarrassed by it. It's a part of my life that I've never talked about before," he says in an interview. "This film was something I had to do to make amends with my family, and myself." But, he adds, since the film's initial screening for friends and family and a second screening at Colorado College, numerous people have come up to express their gratitude for sharing a story similar to their own.
Other accounts set to screen Wednesday night at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center range topically from foster care to transgender issues to environmental sustainability and the local art scene.
Students ages 14 to 18 were interviewed and selected for this program based on school district, family background and interests, Shepard says. From there, they went through a free, seven-week intensive at FAC's Bemis School of Art, in partnership with the Rocky Mountain Women's Film Institute. (The institute will be screening four of the films Nov. 8-9 as part of a student spotlight for its annual festival; see here for more.) Along the way, Shepard pulled in experts including Telluride-based director Suzan Beraza and Colorado Film School faculty member Aaron Burns.
The new program aims to give young people hands-on production experience, says Beraza: technical skills in camera, sound and lighting, interview and story structure how-to, producing, directing and editing. It will be held again next summer, and Shepard's goal is to eventually offer two sessions per year.
"Some people imagine that the students would make glorified YouTube videos with a lot of shenanigans," Shepard says. "But the work is really intimate and serious — not always somber, but the material captured is meaningful." Young people not only have an innate sense of story, he adds, but the capacity to access these under-the-radar issues in their community.
Destiny Rinder, 18, took on that challenge in her film, One in Six, an examination of violence against women. The Mesa Ridge High School graduate tells the story of a former El Paso County deputy sheriff, Doris Rivera-Black, whose ex-husband stalked, kidnapped and nearly killed her.
"Students feel a sense of shame or taboo about some of these issues, that they shouldn't be talked about, and that becomes disempowering, particularly at that age," Shepard says. "But, when you find some kind of craft that flips that experience, suddenly it's empowering."