North Texas Daily

High school students share experiences through film

High school students share experiences through film

High school students share experiences through film
March 25
01:21 2014

Obed Manuel // Senior Staff Writer

High school can be a torturous time for any teenager.

Some teens may shy away from expressing their feelings about life, but that is not the case for 30 Denton High School students who have transformed their life stories into short films.

The films, produced as part of IamWe, a collaborative program between UNT and Denton High School, will be screened March 29 at the sixth annual Campecine Film Festival in the Crumley Hall Conference Room at 10 a.m..

DHS senior Maya Nixon said students who participate in the program are given the freedom to explore personal issues or more general, far-reaching topics, like race or suicide.

“We can’t all relate to specific events of our lives, but we can all relate to how those events make us feel,” Nixon said.


Tim Sanchez, a physics teacher at DHS, said the program started in 2006 after 250 high school students walked out of class in protest of anti-immigration legislation being considered in the House of Representatives.

“We wanted to explore what instigated the walkouts,” Sanchez said. “We ended up taking two or three students into a digital storytelling workshop. We wanted to flip it and have the kids be in charge.”

Sanchez said he and UNT anthropology professor Mariela “Profe” Nunez-Janes originally began working with students after school hours to produce short films.

Sanchez was eventually authorized to develop an elective course using the standards of Peer Assistant Leadership & Service, a mentoring program for high school students.

Developing the stories

Nixon, who is in her second year with PALS, said that the class of 30 students began deciding on topics for their films at the end of February.

The students spent a weekend earlier in March shooting and editing their projects with the guidance of Sanchez, Nunez-Janes and four undergraduate UNT students.

Nixon said she drew the inspiration for her short film from her parents’ divorce and how she had to move around a lot as a child.

“This year my video was abstract and about how I chose to overcome that darkness with a positive outlook,” Nixon said. “I wanted to make it so anyone who watches the video can relate.”

Some of the other 23 films this year focus on the loss of family members, personal struggles and appreciation for family. The films are normally anything from mini-documentaries to slide shows including pictures and sounds.

Will Richey and Alejandro Perez Jr., two Dallas-based spoken word artists, help the students flesh out the stories during the writing process by adding figurative, poetic elements.

“We have this saying for the students: ‘When you share something joyful, it multiplies your happiness. When you share your pain, it divides your sadness,’” Richey said.

Through the years

Sanchez said that seeing the students openly share experiences with adults and other authority figures brings him closer to the students.

“I think it’s reinforced ideas for me that a kid isn’t just a name on my roster,” Sanchez said. ‘It’s important to understand that I don’t know what kind of homes they’re going to or what struggles they’re going through.”

Anthropology freshman Sarah Ben-Ezra, a 2013 DHS graduate, said it was a bit of an unusual experience helping students edit their stories only a year after producing a film herself.

“Everybody has their own story and how they want to present themselves in a digital story, but a lot of them were nervous to see how they sounded or looked,” Ben-Ezra said. “When I was on their side, I was nervous as well, so I knew what they were going through.”

The festival

The film festival, Sanchez said, is not as simple an event as it sounds because the full experience of Campecine comes with group activities and spoken-word performances from Richey and Perez.

“It’s really hard to see the bigger picture of what we’re doing until it’s actually happening,” Sanchez said.

Richey said his role during the event is to host and keep the activities flowing. Between the different segments, either Richey or Perez break into prepared or impromptu spoken-word performances related to the issues the students have touched on.

“It’s an incredible time to debate. We realize that we’re not only from different backgrounds, cultures and creeds, but we can be vehemently opposed to one another,” Richey said. “But when it’s over, we’re all cool with each other.”

Nunez-Janes said not all the films are shown during the festival and that the students choose which films to show.

“We try to make sure that the process is driven by the youth themselves [and] this is why Campecine is more than just a film festival, it is an experience in allowing young people to lead and allowing ourselves as adults and educators to be led by young people,” Nunez-Janes said.

Feature photo: Denton High School students who made films that help them cope with challenges in their lives for the Campecine Film Festival. The students collaborated with UNT and Peer Assistance Leadership and Services. Photo courtesy of Tim Sanchez

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