COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Youth Documentary Academy (YDA) has been helping Colorado Springs youth speak directly to their peers through the art of film.
The program trains young people in directing and producing their own documentary films on topics they feel are important. Students have handled tough topics like race, colorism, disability, and teen suicide, through character-driven stories.
“They come up with the stories, and we as professionals go out and support them in the filmmaking process,” Program Director Mari Moxley said. “There’s so many topics that I wished I could have talked about at their age and that I didn’t feel empowered to, and now I see them doing it in such a courageous way and I think there’s a lot of other adults that can relate to that coming to see the films.”
YDA helps high school students every summer learn aspects of documentary filmmaking from professional filmmakers, faculty, and guest artists. Moxley said the documentaries are focused on teens connecting with adults though the lens of a camera.
“Giving Gen Z’ers a platform to have their voices heard,” Moxley said. “The teens, they need to know that adults are listening, but I think the adults need to look to the teens to learn how to use their voices and how to listen and be empathic.
The program has given young producers Mitch Armendano and Madison Legg a platform to address social issues that affect them personally.
14-year-old Armendano has been legally blind his entire life and recently produced his first film called “Blind Sighted”. Legg’s brother attempted suicide when they were both 15 years old and her film is called “Under the Wire”. Both hope their films are making an impact.
“My film is a short film about blindness,” Armendano said. “One of the things that’s addressed in my film is that since we’re all (blind) teenagers, we’ve just started thinking about our futures, college, jobs…and we all have anxiety over well can we actually do this.”
Legg’s documentary won an Emmy from the Heartland chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) in the Children/Youth/Teen Program/Special category. In her film, Legg interviews her brother Jacob about his attempted suicide. Both Madison and her brother were adopted when they were toddlers, and she said that really affected her brother.
“He was adopted from Guatemala and there was just a missing part and [he’s] still kind of trying to figure out where he’s from and who he is,” Legg said. “We went to a very white-predominate high school and he just felt very out of place.”
This year, YDA created new partnerships with Colorado Springs School District 11 and 38 (Colorado Springs and Monument) to start the first ever Youth Media Matters festival and Teen Mental Health symposia.
The group showcased documentaries from the PBS series “OUR TIME” and had the help of high school students to curate, organize, and promote YDA programing at film festivals in their own schools. The event yielded 23 screening blocks to over 1500 students.
“It’s just about amplifying story,” Moxley said. “Teens, I feel, like speak with an earnestness and honesty that sometimes we adults’ kind of lose the ability to do.”
The Youth Documentary Academy will be showcasing Armendano film along with this year's student films at the Gen Z Film Festival in Colorado Springs this weekend. Their mission is to feature stories through the eyes of high schoolers as a way of talking about tough topics through storytelling.
“I hope they’re walking away with new thoughts and new ideas,” Armendano said. “I just want people to come away knowing that hey, this is who we really are, and this is the type of people we are.”
For more information about YDA, click here: https://www.youthdocumentary.org/.
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