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The Rough Cut: "This Is Our Call to Action"
With just two days until the public screening of the HYPE documentary, the HYPE crew gathered to watch a rough cut. The rough cut was assembled during the weekend by the program’s technology assistant from four distinct segments created by four production teams. Prior to that moment, there was but a vague shared sense of how the four segments would come together. All eyes were on the large screen. All watched the 18-minute video intently. When it was over, after a very long silence, the first to speak was one of the program’s founders, an educator, who was struck by an overabundance of adults onscreen. “I just don’t get the sense of HYPE,” she explained and asked with passion, “Where is my HYPE?” Her question is a reminder that documentary is always a partial representation of reality, neither neutral nor objective. It also underscores the multiple and sometimes competing visions and narratives held by adults and teens collaborating in youth media work. This was evident as HYPE teens weighed in: Jessie disappointedly shared that it was not at all what she had envisioned; Jamie called it “boring and unimpressive”; even the ever-optimistic Rashid looked dismayed as he offered his characteristic “thumbs up” and a worried reassurance that “it’s going to be OK.” With the public screening two days away, things did not feel like they would be OK.
From her location as program coordinator, Azar questioned how the film reflected on HYPE itself and what kind of image would be portrayed to the community. If it were poorly received by the public, would the teens be vulnerable? Concerns about backlash and youth vulnerability are not unique to HYPE.15 There was reason for Azar’s concern. When HYPE media productions were featured at a city event the year before, a short video on unfair treatment by local police angered an assistant police chief who blamed event organizers for not forewarning him of the content.
The rough cut certainly raised the teens’ voices and reasserted their role at the center of the media-making process. They spoke passionately about their vision for the documentary and committed themselves to doing the hard work ahead to make it “their own.” Those who could stayed after HYPE ended in the afternoon, working until midnight over the next two days. In the fast-paced and high-pressured environment leading up to the public screening, relationships between youth and adults were again renegotiated. As the teens looked to Disbrow for direction, she worried at times that she was assuming the role of director rather than ally or assistant. As she helped the students fill in gaps in the video, she also questioned if we were unwittingly leaving unfulfilled the promise of genuinely youth-led media making. In some ways disappointment over the rough cut was a call to action, compelling the youth to participate more actively. They were now able to sit for long stretches of time at the computers editing in Final Cut Pro, ignoring their vibrating cell phones and the pull of other online pursuits. Disbrow’s interactions with the teens during this time were shaped by her awareness of the need to deliver a completed documentary video that would meet the diverse expectations of youth and adult stakeholders alike. Steven Goodman speaks of the responsibilities shared by adults and students in the production process, based on his pioneering work at the Educational Video Center: “Students need to take ownership of their project and create something they will be proud of to show in public. But they can’t be expected to move the project through all phases of production unassisted and on schedule. The teacher bears the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the group meets its deadline and the production results in a finished product.”16 As we came closer to the end of the production schedule, assistance and support from the adult educators was vital. Revisiting these last stressful moments of HYPE, Shani- qua recalls, “I think some of us just started giving up because it was just too much. Everybody was stressed, everyone was getting attitude with each other, people were crying. If we didn’t have the adults there then I don’t know what would’ve happened.”17 Shaniqua and her peers leaned heavily on Disbrow during these final days, as the students worked at the edges of their digital-editing knowledge. Anyone who has edited in Final Cut Pro appreciates how frustrating and complex the program is, and Disbrow tried hard to maintain the students’ role driving the production process. During a short afternoon break, we took the opportunity to refocus and articulate our collective understanding of what was meant by “youth-driven/adult-supported” media production. On the chalkboard, we made a diagram of one circle embedded in another circle. The teens were asked, “What does youth-driven look like to you?” Their answers and descriptions filled the inner circle. We then asked, “What does adult-supported look like to you?” Their ideas and definitions of the kind of support they were expecting filled the space of the outer circle. This jointly produced artifact became an important guide in the remaining hours of HYPE, particularly in navigating the blurry and shifting boundary between adult participation and adult control. Azar highlights this ambiguity as she considered those final days and hours: “Would we [adults] be doing a disservice to the partnership [with the teens] if we were to sit back and watch and let them be creative but knowing in many senses that they wouldn’t be successful . . . or maybe they would be and we’ve never given them a chance? When are we taking control because we need to and when are we taking control because we don’t know how else to respond? Is it simply that we are not comfortable waiting to see what they come up with because it represents us as much as it represents them?”18 It is clear that as adults we need to take stock of what may be contradictory impulses and responsibilities. We want to encourage youth participants to take ownership of their work, to raise their voices and visions, and make media. This goal may at times collide with our obligation to protect the youth who participate in our programs, or at the very least, to do nothing that might make them more vulnerable than they already are within the community.
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