Depictions of parentless characters in film range from fantastical (James Bond, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Cinderella) to more realistic (Oliver Twist, Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid”). Rarely have these depictions included an account from the child about what happened and how it affected them.
Here are three examples of organizations giving foster youth outlets to share their life stories on camera.
The Foster Care Film and Community Engagement Project
Founder: Yasmin Mistry
Mistry is a Brooklyn-based Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for foster children and an Emmy-nominated designer and animator. As a CASA volunteer, Mistry realized the children’s voices were not being heard and that they had little access to other foster care role models’ stories.
“We originally planned to do one short film and put out a request for participants,” said Mistry. “The response was overwhelming. We filmed so many incredible interviews and didn’t want to leave them on the cutting room floor so we decided to do a collection of stories.”
Mistry’s first film of the planned series is “Feeling Wanted,” which launched earlier this year. The film is the story of Charelle Star, the daughter of an incarcerated father and a drug-addicted mother, who spent her childhood moving from home to home and school to school while in foster care. Star, who is the film’s lead, describes the experience of sharing her story as “very therapeutic” and one that has now given her purpose.
Since July 2015, “Feeling Wanted” has been celebrated on the film festival circuit. Accolades include “Best Cinematography” at the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase as well as “Best Documentary” and Honorable Mention for “Best In Festival” at a youth empowerment film festival in Oregon. “Feeling Wanted” also qualified for the St. Louis International Film Festival in November. A win in St. Louis would make the film eligible for an Academy Award nomination in documentary short films.
The Possibility Project
Founder: Paul Griffin
This Manhattan program is arguably the most well-known organization utilizing theatrical arts to transform the lives of at-risk youth. Griffin established the group under a different name in 1994 as a response to racial divisions and youth violence. Today, The Possibility Project is an intense one- to three-year program for youth ages 15 to 20.
The Possibility Project has a program specifically for foster youth. No prior experience is required, and the group aims to include all who audition.
In 2015, the organization launched its first film, “Know How,” about the lives of foster youth in New York City. “Know How” was written, directed and acted by foster youth who had no previous experience.
Described as a possible “Rent’ for a new generation” by the Los Angeles Times, “Know How” has won more than 15 film festival awards including IndieWire Project of the Year and “Best Lead Actress” (by Claribelle Pagan) at the Madrid Film Festival. “Know How” is available on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon.com.
“We’ve screened this film for the leaders of New York’s Administration of Children’s Services who don’t get to engage with the young people in the system very often,” said Griffin. “By watching the film they experienced the system as the kids experience it. After the screening, we had frank conversations and shifted some perceptions. Our hope is that young people will have input into all levels of how the foster care system is constructed.”
Griffin mentors others who aspire to create similar organizations and has supported the creation of Possibility Projects in four other U.S. cities.
The Production Farm
Founder: Carolyn and Wyatt Kuether
The Kuethers are among those mentored by Griffin. Earlier this year, the husband-and-wife team launched the Wisconsin-based educational program that blends independent filmmaking with farming lessons for foster youth ages 13 to 18. The program will include training in all aspects of film plus lessons in basic agriculture, sustainable living and animal care.
“We paired filmmaking with farming given our Wisconsin roots and because both involve creating and watching something grow from nothing into a final product,” said Carolyn.
Wyatt is known for his acting role on MTV’s “Guy Code” but is also a skilled carpenter, technical director, editor and composer. Carolyn is an improvisational performer who has directed and edited films. Growing up, she had 15 foster brothers.
The couple has identified and is raising funds to purchase their “forever farm,” which they will turn into a fully-functional production studio. Their workshops for local foster youth launch this fall.
The Production Farm has a star-studded advisory board who will travel to the farm to teach workshops. Members include Jason Alexander (Seinfeld), Nana Visitor (Star Trek Deep Space Nine), Sam Underwood (Dexter) as well as other notable actors, directors and song writers.
“Ultimately our goal is not to turn out movie makers, but rather to give these kids a safe, creative outlet to find their voices and to be around people who care about them,” Wyatt added.