Outreach: Reel Youth

Brining Healing and Hope Through Film Production

Reel Youth: Challenged to Create

Reel Youth is a media empowerment project that delivers community development programming to youth across Canada and around the world. Founded in 2005, the program is meant to give creative voice to young people about the issues that are most important to them. Many of these participants are growing up in communities with social and economic challenges. Through video, photography, music videos, stop motion animation in plasticine, Reel Youth seeks to enable marginalized youth to communicate their vision for a better world. The film production and distribution programs pulled together by these participants and their mentors are intended to create positive growth in their lives. This growth is achieved through technical skill building, leadership training, creative collaboration with peers, and renewed connections to their community and its resources.

The program is free and is a guided creative journey in how to produce short films and an opportunity for young people to produce and distribute short films about what they see are the issues that undermine the possibility of a more just and sustainable world. The process itself is a journey of collaboration and communication between peers, their community, and eventually the world at large.

Participants in Reel Youth learn how to tell an engaging story about something that is close to their heart. At the same time, they learn the technical aspects of film production such as camera use, sound, lighting, and editing. Due to time restraints, they also learn to work as a team to produce a film in short order. Finally they are taught how to edit their film by a professional and choose a soundtrack from the organization’s data base of original Canadian music, some of which was produced by youth in previous programs.

The facilitators at Reel Youth are artists in their own right, and are experienced in inspiring and guiding youth through the process of creating media. Trained also as mentors, they facilitate the participants’ best efforts in the creative process, without intruding on their control or vision for the film. Self-reflection and team building are encouraged. The program provides all the processes and materials required to promote the films at the Reel Youth Film Festivals. The materials include: stickers, posters, handbills, and the DVD of their completed project. All the films are screened as part of each community’s film festival. The Reel Youth program engages the participant where they live in the context of their community and seeks to facilitate communication and healing.

The participants learn that media production can be an agent of harm, or at its best, become an agent of healing and understanding. The process of educating the youth in the norms and ethics of media creation equips them with the analytical skills that are invaluable in our society where the negative aspects of internet culture are pervasive. Articulating their thoughts and frustrations through the engaging and dynamic medium of film creates a path to self-discovery. As they learn the skills of good story telling, there is the opportunity to think more critically about the media they consume online. The result is the development of critical thought and the ability to discern the creative over the destructive. Tapping their own thoughts and creativity opens avenues and opportunities that might have been missed without this chance at self-expression.

Every time this program is at work in a community and among the youth, their hard work is followed by the Reel Youth Film Festival where their short films are celebrated. The event is both entertaining and profoundly moving. Whether it’s a humorous zombie movie, a Moroccan animation, or a clip about ageism in Manitoba, laughing and learning are guaranteed at each festival. The proceeds from each screening raise money for the local screening partners, and the audience votes on the festival winners. Each screening includes up to 25% of the local films so that these youthful filmmakers can be recognized in their community.

The Reel Youth Film Festival gathers films from around the world that tell funny, diverse, and compelling stories that have been chosen by a youth jury from over 1500 submissions. Submitted films are rated by the following criteria: technical strength, message, creativity, innovation, originality, and entertainment value. The selected films are screened globally in partnership with youth media organizations, high schools, and community groups. The collection showcases the work of a gifted group of emerging young film makers.

Since the creation of Reel Youth they have made well over 2000 films with people from communities in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Newfoundland and Labrador. Internationally they have also engaged youth and produced movies in Vietnam, India, Morocco, and Nepal. Reel Youth is a project of Tides Canada, a national Canadian charity dedicated to improving economic prosperity, social equity, and the environment. The Tides Canada platform provides governance, financial and grant management, and human resources for Reel Youth and 40 other projects across Canada.  These resources empower projects to more effectively achieve their goals, and simultaneously free them from the burden of thebureaucratic and financial responsibilities.

The films produced by Reel Youth are created in part to bring healing to each community that participates. It provides the opportunity to hear both the pain and the passion in the souls of their youth through the narratives they have created on film. The underlying issues that are revealed help the adults in the audience to better understand what has been driving some of the negative behaviours in their young people. The films also serve as a catalyst for more honest conversations. When we strive to listen to youth, they in turn become more open to hear us. From the bustling streets of India to a youth custody centre in Western Canada, the voices of the next generation can reach us through their films. If your school or community are interested hosting a Reel Youth event you can contact them at 1-778-888-7335. Their e-mail address is

By: Alison Zenisek

All photos Courtesy of Reel Youth