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Picture Perfect 

FutureSelf and TIE's recent filmmaking seminar puts "at-risk" teens in the spotlight

click to enlarge Experimental film student Emily Cunha, 17, and instructor Ben Kronberg - SUNNIE SACKS
  • Sunnie Sacks
  • Experimental film student Emily Cunha, 17, and instructor Ben Kronberg

For Patricia Bannister, adding colors to a strip of 16 mm film is as much a cathartic process as an artistic one. She, along with a dozen other "at-risk teens" from El Paso County, gathered at the Business of Art Center in Manitou Springs last weekend for a two-day seminar on experimental cinema and a public screening of their finished projects.

The program, which was the 17th workshop presented by local nonprofit FutureSelf, gave advanced students the chance to learn experimental film techniques from college instructors and up-and-coming local filmmakers affiliated with Springs-based International Experimental Cinema Exposition (TIE). For most of the participants, however, the seminar was also about something more personal.

In creating art, "the past and future goes away," says FutureSelf Executive Director Wendy Mike, "and you're only left with the materials," the tools for ultimate self-therapy.

"I add different colors and designs if I'm happy," says Bannister. Just a few feet away, another participant, Miriam Amol-Martin, uses white-out to distort consecutive frames of film.

"The film is of a girl riding a bike," remarks Amol-Martin, now in her 12th FutureSelf seminar, "and I'm trying to white-out the background and paint my own."

The message is poignant; these teens seek to create a better life for themselves, one that more closely resembles the images in their art.

Founded in May 2000, FutureSelf has been reaching out to the region's troubled and neglected youth through various art programs. In the past, presentations on ceramics, painting and other visual arts have garnered interest from many teens; this was the first collaboration with The International Experimental Cinema Exposition (TIE). A local organization dedicated to furthering the popularity and understanding of avant-garde filmmaking, TIE provided FutureSelf with volunteer film instructors to assist the teens in creating something truly personal from the materials on hand.

Armed with markers, spray paint, bleach and paints, the teens are given reels of pre-shot film footage, and told to "make it their own." Camera-less filmmaking, as it is called, may seem a bit esoteric, but for a majority of the participants it offered the freedom to create truly personal expressions.

"Experimental filmmaking doesn't have to be tied to convention," says Ben Kronberg, one of the TIE volunteers, "My goal is to just provide some guidance on how to create it." Kronberg, along with the other volunteers, also presented several of his own experimental pieces at the conclusion of the seminar.

Once the film projectors stop rolling, however, organizers believe that the teens will be able to take away some valuable lessons on life, in addition to filmmaking tips.

"The most effective -- and the least funded -- means for reaching 'at-risk youth' is art," says Mike. "We've had great results with this group; obviously art works for people." She says that the returning participants have become more like a family than a support group, and art is clearly only a means toward something greater.

-- Joe Kuzma

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