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TV Show Puts Barrio Life in Positive Light

Youth: The city-sponsored shoestring cable program uses a laid-back approach in an attempt to shatter stereotypes of public housing residents.

April 29, 1996|ERIC WAHLGREN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OXNARD — Beatriz Zamudio cannot boast as many viewers as Oprah Winfrey or Barbara Walters--yet.

But as host of the bare-bones, made-in-Oxnard TV show "Youth Forum," the 18-year-old has gotten a taste of the stardom she dreamed of as a child.

Children often stop the Oxnard College student on the street to tell her they dig the program--a hip half-hour on cable that spotlights youth and issues in minority communities.

And the man from the gas company the other day told Zamudio he recognized her as "B.B." on TV.

"It feels good because you know someone is watching," said Zamudio, who often appears on "Youth Forum" in jeans and a sweatshirt in keeping with the show's cool, laid-back image. "Of course, my mom watches the show, but she sometimes makes fun of me for what I look like on TV."

The show is produced by Barrio Productions, a city-sponsored program made up of minority youths who live mainly in public housing projects.

With a biweekly slot on a Jones Intercable Inc. public-access channel, "Youth Forum" beams into as many as 74,000 homes throughout the county each week. The show is scheduled to begin airing in Los Angeles County within two months, giving the show even more exposure.

But Zamudio said the limelight is no longer the only thing she's after. Echoing the comments of many of her dozen crew members, Zamudio said she wants to use the camera to shatter stereotypes about minority and inner-city youth.

"A lot of people, for instance, say that [housing projects] are where gangs come from because the families are poor," said Zamudio, who lives in a public housing project in Oxnard's La Colonia neighborhood. "With our cameras, we can show the positive sides of youth."

A recent episode featured 12-year-old poet Carmen Anaya, a La Colonia resident whose poems have been published in two books.

Several times a week, Barrio Productions goes on location across Ventura County filming community events, sports and theater.

Barrio Productions' "studio" is really a small, windowless office in the Oxnard Housing Authority building in La Colonia. Lacking high-tech equipment, the crew uses VCRs and a small editing machine to put together the half-hour shows.

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Despite Barrio Productions' shoestring operation, the crew does not shy away from big assignments. The youths have traveled to Hollywood to interview Latino celebrities like actor Edward James Olmos and "Desperado" director Robert Rodriguez.

" 'Youth Forum' is very innovative and different," said Kathy Hartin, who helps coordinate local programming for Jones Intercable. "It tries to entertain as well as inform people. It is not just a studio talking head, which is a lot of what public access is."

The Oxnard Housing Authority launched Barrio Productions in 1994 to expose local youngsters living in public housing to film and video.

Initially, the city planned to run Barrio Productions as a summer youth program. With federal housing grants, the crew bought video cameras, editing equipment and other materials to make a half-hour documentary about the dangers of drug abuse.

After the documentary aired on Jones Intercable in October 1994, schools and drug rehabilitation centers began asking for copies, said Barrio Productions' coordinator Luis Guereca, a city employee.

"Because we got such a good response, we decided to try to keep the program going," said Guereca, who is also a screenwriter and filmmaker.

Barrio Productions built an annual budget of about $20,000 using the federal grants, enough to air "Youth Forum" once a month beginning in early 1995.

By September, "Youth Forum" had become a biweekly show with two different episodes airing four times a month.

Since its launch, "Youth Forum" has shifted away from covering drug abuse, teen pregnancy and gangs to focusing mainly on minorities who excel in school, sports, the arts and other areas.

"These are usually the last things you see on your local newscast," said Guereca, 27. A recent show opens with a grainy, fast-cut montage of clips showing teens hanging out, studying and working. Rap music blares before Zamudio--wearing trendy sunglasses--blinks onto the screen and introduces the program from the beach in Port Hueneme.

Then it's off to Hollywood for interviews with the Latino theater group Nosotros about their production of Ray Bradbury's "The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit."

But Guereca said Barrio Productions does more than give viewers a broader picture of minority communities. It also teaches youngsters writing and production skills to help them enter the film and video industries, he said.

"They learn that [the film industry] is not just open to people who have money or who have been chosen to work in the field," said Guereca, who is finishing a degree in film production at Cal State Northridge. "Obviously, they don't often see many of their own race on TV or on film except on local reports about who got shot or got arrested that weekend."

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