Organization Reel Grrls
Director of Reel Grrls: Malory Graham
Adult Mentors: Lila Kitaeff and Kelli Schmidt
Youth Producers of Coming Out: Kali Snowden, 16 years old at time of production
Tina Huang, 18 years old at time of production
Dharma Sá, 15 years old at time of production
Youth Discussion Guide Writers and Outreach Leaders: Kali Snowden, Monica Olsson
Coming Out... is a short youth-produced video mockumentary about the difficulties faced by one teenage girl who must come out as a straight person in a queer world. Coming Out... was produced by Reel Grrls, a unique Seattle-based, after-school media and technology training program that empowers girls to critique media images and to gain media technology skills in a safe, open environment. All of the young girls in the program are mentored by a network of multi-cultural women media professionals which creates a powerful intergenerational and supportive community for co-media production to take place.
Coming Out... brilliantly disrupts the conventions of the classic coming out story through the mockumentary format, allowing the girl producers to speak to sensitive material in a joyful, funny and clever way. Because Coming Out... was such an immediate winner with audiences, Reel Grrls created a professional distribution and outreach campaign that has been so successful, it now serves as a national model for how to lead discussions about sensitive and controversial issues among adults and youth alike. Through the combination of strategic media production methods and a youth-centered outreach and distribution plan, Coming Out... reached viewers in the many thousands, sparking rich and thoughtful dialogue about homophobia and its effects.
Coming Out... was born out of the Reel Grrls Spring Workshop Program in 2004. For four months, twenty girls and several women media mentors worked together to build a safe collaboratory environment, learn digital production skills and engage in critical media analysis. According to Lila Kitaeff, one of the key mentors for Coming Out..., "It was an amazing experience for the girls and the mentors. I feel like I get so much from the girls. They have so much energy and are so inspiring- we were feeding off of each other." Lila describes the environment as one of intergenerational collaboration and learning.
Mentors are usually media professionals or specialists in issues of youth/girl empowerment. They are also volunteers. "I started out as a mentor and was a volunteer that year," says Lila. "But a lot of mentors will end up getting hired at Reel Grrls in some capacity because they are very competent and have a strong interest in the program." Yet Reel Grrls stresses that when it comes to production, the girls are the ones that do the work.
"We treat them as adults with respect and give them their space and the tools they need to realize their vision," says Lila. Yet, the genuine impact of the Reel Grrls approach goes beyond video production and editing. "They gain skills and knowledge not limited to media. In creating this strong and safe community of girls and women and discovering how much power there is in that, we all develop confidence to achieve in the larger world."
During the first two months of the workshop, the curricular approach combines: intensive hands-on training in media technologies; media literacy, brainstorming, writing and discussion sessions; and, an array of community and trust-building activities.
Once these objectives are met, the last two months of the program center on production of 4-6 major film projects. The 20 girls are divided into crews of three and assigned one to two mentors to act as guides through the production process. The process for generating ideas begins with the development of an overarching general theme identified by Reel Grrls staff. The mentors and youth then join in an intensive brainstorming session to generate story ideas.
After narrowing down the stories to the most admired and original ideas, the projects are selected. Towards the end of the brainstorming session, girls are asked to turn in a secret ballot identifying which projects they think should get produced and which of these they most want to work on. "We all work together in the classroom," explains Lila, "But when it comes to working on the projects we assign two mentors to each group. The mentors help them with pre-production, scripting, shooting and editing with an eye towards making sure that everyone is getting a chance to do everything and they are doing it right." A core of three girls is assigned to a primary project but each will also serve as a support filmmaker on a second film.
Reel Grrls believes that "it is important to give young women the skills to critically evaluate the media they are exposed to and then to empower them to produce their own media." For the young participants in Reel Grrls, media skills includes critical analysis, hands-on production and public engagement with an audience. Coming Out... is a testimony to the agency, leadership and citizenship-building role that youth media organizations play in the lives of young people.