Reel Works is Sending At-Risk Kids to Paris to Make Movies

Reel Works students.
Reel Works students. Photo: Frank Publicity

Lots of kids from disadvantaged neighborhoods across New York don’t have a diversity of after-school options, which is why Reel Works, a nonprofit that gives at-risk kids hands-on training in the realms of filmmaking and personal empowerment, is such a great local asset. And now, Reel Works is sending a select group of young filmmakers to Paris this summer, where they’ll collaborate on projects with French students whom they’ve already gotten to know online.

Reel Works is partnering with 1000 Visages, a Paris-based nonprofit that serves the same purpose of teaching filmmaking to underprivileged youth in its community. Through the joint International Program, which is currently seeking funding through a Kickstarter campaign, Reel Work’s selectees “will build lasting relationships with their Parisian peers, share similar and distinct perspectives and develop a shared vision about what stories they want to share with the world,” says Reel Works Executive Director John Williams.

To that end, the students from Paris and Brooklyn, who have already begun brainstorming ideas via Skype and other online forums, will create a film together. The films aim to showcase their shared experiences and cultural differences alike, in an attempt to bridge the geographic and cultural gaps that might otherwise obscure their mutual understandings of each other.

Reel Works executive director John Williams directing students.

“The International Project offers them an opportunity that is far more meaningful than traveling to another country,” says Williams, who is certain that the varied “experience and perspectives” of participating filmmakers “are powerful enough to impact and influence others.”

These distinct and shared experiences, although a product of different familial mishaps and systemic shortcomings, are all about the lived urban experience. As such, Reel Works’ students couldn’t be more thrilled to share their stories and ideas with the world.

For Dexter Duggar, a twenty-two year old who recently aged out of foster care, the point of storytelling is to demystify mainstream conceptions of urban youth.

“I want to convey who we are and the things that we care about and the things that maybe the guy down the block of a different background might not understand because he didn’t grow up like I did it,” he says.

But Reel Works students have different goals as far as their films are concerned. Mie Abouelkheir, a seventeen-year-old Egyptian immigrant and senior at Midwood High School, intends to illuminate the struggles of being raised as an immigrant, and how this concept transcends borders.

“The French students are children of immigrants like us. It will be interesting to see how they fit into the larger French culture like I try to fit into American Culture,” she says.

For now, Reel Works students are waiting to board planes bound for Paris during the month of August. For many of the participants who haven’t traveled outside of their neighborhoods, let alone the US borders, the trip offers much more than a plane ticket.

Dexter Duggar is interested in seeing Paris, but more so the “simple things,” like how his Parisian counterparts “go to school, where do they eat lunch, how do they get around, where do they live in relation to their friends…because those things matter.”

Follow Sam Blum on Twitter @Blumnessmonster


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