This summer, 16 young women who are Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) residents are immersing themselves in the world of film and learning to produce their own documentaries. The program is part of an expanded partnership between DePaul and CHA that, in this Year of the Youth, is ensuring CHA’s young people have access to boundless opportunities.
“When I first heard about this summer film program, I didn’t think I’d be the one behind the camera filming,” said 16-year-old Aisha Horns, one of the young women selected to participate this summer. “But I’m actually learning how to use the camera, set up the equipment and, most challenging for me, speak with people in the community I’ve never met before.”
Horns, a resident of the Dearborn Homes community, is one of the 16 high school students from across the city selected to participate in this inaugural six-week Documentary Filmmaking Program at DePaul University’s School of Cinematic Arts. The young filmmakers range from freshman to seniors in high school, and they are learning how to execute every step of the film production process from the fundamentals of film theory, to the final editing and production of their stories.
“We are thrilled to participate in this partnership with DePaul University, and to continue the agency’s ‘Year of the Youth’ campaign in such a unique, and exciting way,” said CHA CEO Eugene Jones, Jr. “With a single opportunity, and the influence of great instructors, a young person’s life can be changed in profound ways. We look forward to seeing the results of this comprehensive partnership and, maybe, the birth of a few great cinematic careers.”
Liliane Calfee, the program director, teacher at DePaul and accomplished documentary filmmaker in her own right, said, “The program is student motivated, and each participant identifies a social issue they want to pursue.”
First the girls learn foundational skills alongside DePaul student mentors and are then partnered with professional filmmakers who help them shape their stories. This year’s topics include teen pregnancy, neighborhood violence, single vs. dual parent homes and bullying.
Horns chose to focus on teen pregnancy because it is an important issue to her.
“We are interviewing our friends and people we know. We’re talking to both guys and girl, and they’ve been very honest about how they’ve been impacted by this issue” Horns said.
For these young filmmakers, Calfee is just one of the many role models and resources the girls have access to. In all, there are six award-winning cinematographers and directors providing guidance not only on film creation, but on what it takes to be a professional in the field. DePaul students are also on hand daily to help youth navigate the concept of social-minded filmmaking.
The girls are also getting out of the classroom to visit locations like Cinespace Film Studios, which is home to film series that include Empire, Chicago PD and Chicago Fire.
This program is just one of several 21st century skill-building opportunities made possible by the CHA and DePaul’s collaboration. Others include: the BMO Harris Financial Literacy and Leadership program at DePaul’s Graduate School of Management within the Driehaus College of Business that teaches youth to build their own business; DePaul’s Maker Movement a DIY Revolution summer program where youth engage in hands on tech exploration; and the Mobile Maker Labs operated by DePaul’s Digital Youth Network that transform park space into digital hubs.
As part of CHA’s Year of the Youth campaign, this collaboration is a year-long youth engagement effort that includes unique professional and youth-related programs focused on mentoring young people and putting them on a strong career path to college and jobs.