When the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation approached Johns Hopkins with an idea for a program that would inspire young people in Baltimore to tell their own stories through film, senior lecturer Lucy Bucknell and her colleagues in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences Program in Film and Media Studies quickly gathered a group of film professionals and educators from across the city to brainstorm.
“Ideas came from every individual at the table,” Bucknell says. “It’s almost impossible to deconstruct where exactly each idea came from.”
From those first brainstorming sessions to today, collaboration and personal expression remain at the core of Baltimore Youth Film Arts (BYFA). Those values extend to the people it brings together, including Johns Hopkins faculty and students, as well as partners from Baltimore City Schools, Morgan State University, the Maryland Institute College of Art, and the reentry program Eye Can B-More.
BYFA began in 2016 with four workshops for young Baltimore filmmakers and photographers. The program has run three times a year since then, with workshops that meet for four hours a week, for seven weeks at a time. The most recent session featured eight different workshops and covered topics such as experimental photography, activist art, and video journalism.
The program’s participants range in age from 16 to 29 and are referred to as “fellows” rather than students. The fellows are tasked with creating an original archive of young voices in Baltimore using the skills they have gained in filmmaking, photography, writing, and podcasting. During the past three years, more than 460 fellows have created hundreds of both collaborative and individual projects.
“The value of the individual pieces is exceptional,” says Bucknell, who is now also BYFA’s principal advisor. “There are some really fine artists in this group of young people, but there’s also great value in the aggregate of all the different stories.”
Keith Mehlinger, the director of the Morgan State Digital Media Center, has been with the program from the beginning and has greatly contributed to the program’s teaching philosophy.
“It calls for a commitment that asks a lot of your time and stretches you in directions that are often unanticipated,” he says. “You learn a lot about yourself and your students; you learn to be a better teacher and oftentimes a better person.”
Baltimore City College student and aspiring aerospace engineering major Marvellous Egwuatu discovered his love for writing satire while completing courses through BYFA. Egwuatu also gained the confidence to apply for a scholarship that required a media submission.
“I knew the shots I wanted, and I knew exactly where to place the camera,” he says. “Without BYFA, I probably wouldn’t even have applied to that scholarship.”
Giving young people cameras and the permission to tell their own stories is at the heart of BYFA’s mission. Instructors like Mehlinger aim to give their fellows the tools to discover their voices through moving images, but the diverse archive being created is more than the sum of the fellows and their work.
“The fellows not only represent themselves,” Bucknell says, “but they represent the fabric of their community.”
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