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Pain Is the Subject of This Film Festival

Teens from L.A. schools screen facts and feelings in dealing with the aftereffects of abandonment, addiction, violence and death.

June 06, 2005|Lisa Richardson | Times Staff Writer

Before the film festival began, the teen filmmakers joked and kidded around. The girls borrowed or loaned lip gloss; the boys played silly hand games.

Then the screening room went dark and the digital films they had made about their lives raked across the screen. In them, they had documented their beatings and betrayals, the drug addiction of a mother, the adultery of a father, their enduring grief at a loved one's death and the grandparents who had saved them from despair.

Using family photos, hand-drawn images and digitized images to tell their stories, the teens who participated in the Sorting It Out: Living in a Violent World project, told their stories with voice-over narration, music and sometimes just an elegantly scripted word on a white screen.


In one film, a childlike voice recounts, "I became a piece of property. I was forced to do many things I did not want.... If he hit me, it was because he loved me."

In another, a bleak declaration from a girl on the cusp of womanhood:

"I woke on New Year's to find my dad gone.... All I remember is getting in the car with my mom and my sister and driving to the empty mall and just sitting. My mom was crying."

Others let hip-hop or rock speak for them: "Wish I was too dead to cry," went the rock song by Sour Stone, "You don't need to bother; I don't need to be.... "

Sponsored by the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women, the First Annual Youth Film Festival, synonymous with the Sorting It Out project, was two years in the making. About 80 students from Los Angeles middle and high schools were invited to make films on what effect violence had had on their daily lives. Most of the students already belonged to anti-violence clubs run by the commission on school campuses. A dozen of the best films were recently screened at the USC School of Cinema-Television.

There are no plans so far to screen the films elsewhere.

Despite the wrenching nature of most of the three- to five-minute films, the project was meant to be an uplifting experience for the teens, said Patti Giggans, executive director of the commission.

"We're trying to create the opportunity, not only for the expression of how violence has affected them, but to make room" for more positive stories in their lives, Giggans said. The teens' bleak stories only acknowledged a fact of life for many: that violence destroys childhood innocence long before childhoods end.

"All you have to do is really listen to students today in L.A. schools," said Jennifer Luck, a spokeswoman for the commission. "To assume that just because they're younger they haven't gone through a lot in life is somewhat naive. Obviously, there's a lot of violence in their lives -- not only maybe in their schools, as we're seeing recently with outbreaks of fights, but also outbreaks of violence in home lives."

Many of the students watched their stories in tears but afterward they said the experience had brought them a poignant joy.

"A lot of kids, they hold in everything they go through and nobody realizes the pain they endure," said Victoria Herrera, 18. Herrera's film, "Black and White," recounted her mother's crack addiction, rehabilitation and reentry into her life.

"A lot of people think teens are too weak for this, but this is a way to let it out, and it feels really great to have other people understand," Herrera said.

"As soon as I heard my voice, I started crying," said Melodie Kruspodin, 16, a Monroe High School student, whose film, "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery," told about her father's affair and departure from her family. "But I'm happy people saw it. There's nothing I would take back or take out. I say what I mean."

Her mother, Yvonilda, saw the film for the first time Wednesday night and relived her own story through her daughter's eyes.

"I had forgotten that I took them to a parking lot and sat there crying," she said, her eyes still moist. "I had forgotten that."

Belen Zuniga, 18, of Marshall High School said her own tears were not unhappy ones. Zuniga's film, "House of Reflections," told of her violent home life, drug use and an abusive relationship with an ex-boyfriend in which she came to feel like "property."

"It was not depressing; it was not sad," she said firmly.

"I lived through it -- we lived through our stories and we have learned not to let it hold us back."

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