Since 1999, a small group of students have curated Screenagers, an annual festival of film and video works made by high school students throughout the Bay Area. Mentored by UC Berkeley students working with PFA curators, the Screenagers participants come from Berkeley High’s Communication Arts and Sciences program, where Dharini Rasiah teaches them the technical and artistic elements of filmmaking.
Rasiah, who has worked with PFA on Screenagers since the program began, talks about educating student filmmakers, film as a fine art, and the pros and cons of YouTube. This year’s Screenagers festival will be shown on Saturday, February 5th, with appearances by high school curators and filmmakers.
Why do you think programs for student filmmakers and curators, like Screenagers, are valuable for young people?
It gives students an opportunity to screen their work outside of friends or the classroom, to a wider audience. They’re opened up for constructive criticism, positive feedback, for the wider world to see their thoughts. Their videos have to stand for themselves a lot more than in the classroom setting. We do our own screenings here in the classroom, but still, it’s intimate. Once it gets to Screenagers or any other film festival, the kids take their work a lot more seriously. They are always shocked that anyone cares about their stuff, and I think that’s a good experience.
For Screenagers, a group of your students get to select their peers’ work. Can you talk about what they get out of the curating experience?
The kids [who work on Screenagers] are able to critique better for class projects. They become the leaders of the critiquing. They are very empowered with their position, because they get to screen works from around the area, and they know that it’s prestigious. So they definitely feel a sense of pride to participate as curators.
When you think of art that’s taught in high schools, you think of traditional fine arts like painting or drawing. It must be interesting to teach something that makes use of technology.
There’s always a fine line between the art of filmmaking and the technology. I push kids towards the art, because you can get caught up in the technology. With other fine arts, you have your materials right there; you don’t have to go anywhere. You don’t have other factors like actors and interview subjects and the weather—you name it. Kids can get burdened by the factors that come into filmmaking, and the fine art can get lost. These festivals really showcase film as a fine art. I think that kids, because of the Internet, because of YouTube, they don’t really see it as a fine art. I think that YouTube has done a disservice to the art of filmmaking—but on the other hand, it’s a good forum to post.
Do you think they gain something different from the art of filmmaking than they do from other arts?
I think as filmmakers you can get a stronger point across, because you’re able to be more literal if you want to be. For teenagers, I think it’s important to get their points across, get their feelings across, in the way they want to get it across. Other fine arts may be more expressive emotionally, less literal, which is why filmmaking might not be taken as a fine art sometimes.
Are there any themes or commonalities that you see in the work that is shown at Screenagers?
There’s a lot of experimental work that you see in Screenagers that I don’t always see in my classroom. The kids do a lot of amazing experimental work, and I don’t get to see that very often, so I really like Screenagers for that. I teach video as a tool for social justice, so I’m much more inclined to push kids in my own classroom toward documentary and looking at issues in their experiences. So I learn from going to the festival. It’s such a vastly wide variety of material—documentary, experimental, straight-forward narratives. You name it, it’s in there.
Why would you recommend this program to general audiences, who don’t have a connection to any of the students who have work in the festival?
I think people are fascinated by teenagers, and I think a lot of people—unless you have your own teenager or are a teacher—aren’t exposed to that world. I think this showcases the teenage experience, a really wide range of experiences. It’s not just what you see on the news about teenagers. … Teenage work is really spontaneous, and more fresh, not as caught up in intellectual theory. I used to work with college seniors at Cal, and now with high school students, and their work is way more emotional and very authentic. Sometimes film can be too dry, and kids don’t do that. It might be technically not as great, but it’s not dry.
Screenagers happens at PFA Theater on Saturday February 5 at 3:30 PM. The student curators are Giancarlo Beroldo, Jordi Buendia, Daniel Corona, Niji Coulon, Christa Cragin, Razan Kitami, Jamal Gamal, Fifer Garbesi, Zoë O’Rorke, and Luis Valentin. Their high school student mentor is Natalie Bigelow, their UC Berkeley student mentors are Robin Cabe Eitelberg and Andrew Eitelberg, and their teacher is Dharini Rasiah.
Photo: Megan Covey