By Lora Cawelti, Program Manager
For the past eight years, the brightest spot of my career has been my work co-leading the Inside Out Community Arts (IOCA) Alumni Mentor Program. As Mentor Program Coordinators, Patty Duran and I work each year to bring exciting and challenging opportunities to this group of young leaders. Mentors meet monthly to develop skills including interviewing and goal setting. They participate in service learning as they mentor middle school participants in P.S. ARTS’ IOCA program. Mentors attend local cultural events, plays, and museums and continue developing their artistic skills as they create original performances.
This was a fantastic year for the IOCA Mentors as they got to work with a guest artist Writer/Director Susanna Fogel to create an original student film. Mentor Jose Medrano explains:
Every year in the mentor program we always get to take part in new experiences and learn new things about ourselves. This year we got to test our creativity with a really intense art form. We always build stories, but this one was such a complex concept. It’s nice knowing mentors can really just take any challenge and make it work out.
The process began in January, when Astrid Bartolo, a college-aged Mentor, came to help the teens choose the topic for their performance piece. I was excited that Astrid was ready to step into an adult leadership role; I love seeing the Mentors grow! Of the process and her new role, Astrid noted:
It was great having an Artist Leader Role because I was able to use the skills I have learned over the course of being a Mentor/Youth Artist Leader since 2009. I don’t think I would have felt as confident as I did if it weren’t for the supportive and empowering environment that my IOCA family has provided me over the years.
With Astrid’s guidance, the Mentors chose the topic of identity, specifically in the areas of race, culture, religion, gender, and sexuality. It was an intense process where the teens shared their own personal experiences with one another. They decided it was important to show their audience how difficult it is to figure out who you are while others challenge your beliefs and values. From hearing others tell their stories, Mentor Mario Bartolo pointed out:
It made me realize that most kids don’t really know [how to define their identity] and going through that process itself can be a complex thing, especially when you don’t have people who support you through it.
When Susanna Fogel began the writing process in February, she worked with the Mentors to translate their feelings and experiences into a story for the film. Three Mentors, Paulina Vidanez, Sally Hy, and Yuliza Parra, applied to be Head Writers on the project and devoted extra time to fleshing out the group’s ideas. Sally explains:
It fascinates me how a simple idea can become so much more. It all started in a room where each of us would share a story that we felt needed to be heard. Being able to share our stories, the ones we shared the first day of brainstorming, and have characters who were relatable was something I had in mind throughout the film process.
Susanna took the head writers under her wing and empowered them to put their own story structure together. She shared her experiences and expertise so the Mentors would understand how the writing process works in the TV and film industry. Yuliza shared:
The whole experience was very rewarding and allowed me to gain experience in a field that is seen everywhere. It gave me a much larger appreciation for TV and film, and it was great to have worked with such talented people.
David Trujillo and Mario Bartolo also took on leadership roles in the film process. They spent extra time planning the shots and artistic vision for the film, and then they assisted the film crew on the day of shooting. The film was shot in one day at Camp Bloomfield, and Susanna brought director Brandon Mastrippolito and his amazing crew including Todd Helsley, Greg Matthews, and Will Sterner, to professionalize the experience. Mario noted:
I found being on the film crew very informative and very entertaining in the sense of watching all these ideas finally flourish on and off screen.
Finally, the film was edited by Armin Chamanara who added original music by Mentors Kevin Mitchell and Jose Medrano. Kevin noted:
It was an cool experience for me because I got to see my music on a short film. It was a huge accomplishment. The amazing part is that [the entire song started as] free-styling of what it was like to be in the IOCA program. We edited the lyrics and created the final version.
David explained of his experience:
The creation process and working with professionals in the field gave us an inside look of how the film industry works. One assumes that the film industry is a pretty serious field, filled with negotiations and cranky/moody directors. However, those and many other film industry stereotypes where proven wrong while working alongside Susanna, Brandon and the crew. They showed us that the film industry can be a fun, goofy environment and that, that [approach] is essential to work in such a creative career field.
In the end, not only did the film turn out great, but the Mentors worked together, created something as an ensemble, and connected to industry professionals, which helped them explore career possibilities for their futures. Mentor Paulina stated:
Working with Susanna on this project helped me realize what I wanted to do in the future. It’s not so often we as teenagers get to work with professionals, (especially) with such a cooperative and helpful mentor who let us ‘take charge’ in the project.
I’d like to offer a huge thank you to the professionals who facilitated such an amazing experience and to the Mentors who worked in front of and behind the camera to create the Mentor film, Untitled.