In a brand new documentary, the youth in Oakland explores how the place influences identification

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That year, amid the deluge of destabilizing news about COVID, racial violence, family segregation on the U.S.-Mexico border, and deepening political divisions, a diverse group of Oakland teenagers focused inward and set about making a movie which examined what their own identities and beliefs are like have been shaped by the city in which they live.

What did you find? Empathy and a shared experience despite their differences.

The filmmakers are all Oakland Unified School District students who attended the Youth Beat film program after school. Although the students had to co-produce the film virtually (normally the teenagers would have met in the studios of KDOL-TV, the school district’s public television network), the students spent the entire school year working on the film, a deeply personal exploration of the Films how the different communities in Oakland overlap and how the city is experienced by its youth.

The following is also going on in Oakland:

The film, titled “Of Oakland,” introduces four high school students and examines how each of their unique identities has been influenced by the neighborhoods and different communities in which they grew up.

A trailer for the documentary “Of Oakland”. Courtesy of Youth Beat

“We had to do almost all of this virtual project because of COVID,” said one of the filmmakers, Sofia Verani, a senior at Oakland Technical High School, who will attend Emerson College this fall to study film. “That was completely new. We had to let the characters film most of the time. “

“This film reminded me of how many different perspectives there are in the world,” added Verani. “If you look at the four people in the film, they all had completely different experiences, but it’s nice to see how much empathy they have for each other.”

The filmmaking process began with a larger group of Oakland teenagers making personal shorts that explored their neighborhoods, cultures, and identities. One of them, a video of Azi Jao, a Filipino immigrant who discovered her LGBTQ identity in Oakland, was posted on The Oaklandside last week. Another short video produced by teenage Samantha Ivey examines what it is like to grow up as a bi-racial person in Oakland.

A personal short film by Youth Beat participant Sam Ivey. A number of teenagers produced short personal videos as part of preproduction for the longer documentary “Of Oakland”. Courtesy of Youth Beat

Sara Lam, also a high school graduate, was the editor of the longer documentary “Of Oakland”. Lam, who plans to study cinema at Cal State Long Beach, said the best part of the film was that the subjects allowed themselves to be “really vulnerable.”

“I want people to take away from the film that we are all connected in some way,” she said, “although we could be drastically different in terms of race, ethnicity or sexuality.”

Of Oakland premieres Tuesday, May 18 at 5:00 pm Pacific Time as part of Youth Beat’s virtual screening party and fundraiser for the end of the school year.

Here you can find out more and reserve free tickets.

And tell a friend! Youth Beat serves Oakland students from diverse backgrounds, almost all of whom are low income, with a creative approach and training in digital media arts, and many are pursuing their education and careers in the media. Maybe just go away and feel a little better about the world after seeing their work – and you will definitely see some awesome movies!

The author, Jared Swanson, is a senior teaching artist at Youth Beat.

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