A second collection of short films created by youth from every far-flung corner of the world and packaged for the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, Youth Producing Change is almost self-evidently something of a grab bag. But even if the point is obviously to celebrate the intent more than the final product, it’s always surprising to hear the state of world affairs as reflected by those who, at least as far as politicians are typically concerned, see more than they tell. The opening piece, I Live in Mozambique, plays a little like a brief addendum to Jean Rouch’s Moi, un Noir. Admittedly, Rouch’s first-person ethnography took place on the other side of the continent in the Ivory Coast, but both films share a vibrant sort of optimism, all the more impressive in the case of Mozambique’s Alcides for the fact that he has seen both his parents die in the previous year to AIDS. His is a rare sort of optimism that can admit his brother collects discarded bottles so he can fill them with contaminated water and sell them. On the flip side in every possible sense is Aquafinito, an American student’s exposé of the bottled water industry and its Chinatown-esque machinations against humanity’s inherent right to have access to public water supplies. Though it comes off a tad privileged when held against the likes of Mozambique, the animated fable Leila, or, closer to home, In My Shoes (a stylish and all-too-brief dual-pronged portrait of teen homelessness in New York City), Aquafinito is likely still more informative and thorough than any investigative journalism you’re likely to see from most American mass media today. Nevertheless, the anthology’s true heart reveals itself in pieces such as Noe’s Story and Sako, unfettered and determined self-portraits of children who have to fight for their right to be represented by what remains one of the most powerful forms of mass communication in the entire world.
Youth Producing Change premieres June 19 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center as part of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival 2009. Click here for screening information.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.