L.A. Foster Youth Shine at White House Film Festival


Student filmmakers at The White House South By South By Lawn. Photo: Kids in the Spotlight Facebook page.

“From where I come from, this is a big accomplishment. We don’t see a lot of people from my neighborhood having these kinds of opportunities,” former foster youth and aspiring filmmaker Angel Velazquez said in a press release.

On Monday, October 3rd, five former foster youth screened their short film, “Time for Change,” at the first-ever South by South Lawn White House Film Festival. The event, inspired by the annual art and culture festival South by Southwest, is billed as the White House Festival of Ideas, Art and Action.

The L.A. youths’ film was made in collaboration with Kids in the Spotlight (KITS), a non-profit filmmaking organization based in Los Angeles that aims to help foster youth develop a better self-image while encouraging them to pursue a career in the film industry. Velasquez, with the help of her foster youth partners, Leanne Caldejon, Jevonne Davis, Marquies Drake, and Danny Avelar, received an intensive three-week training in scripting, casting and acting.

“Time for Change” was selected as a finalist among 700 short films around the theme “the world I want to live in,” according to the White House website. “Change has to come from within if you want to make a difference,” former foster youth and filmmaker Leanne Caldejon said in a press release. She first entered the foster care system when she was 14 years old. Despite the challenges that come with entering the foster care system, Caldejon persevered in high school by working three jobs, participating in seven school clubs, and playing on two varsity sports.

“In my wildest dreams, I never would have imagined me visiting the White House, let alone being honored for my work on this film,” Caldejon said in a press release.

“My job is to provide an outlet for our kids to express themselves and a platform,” said Tige Charity, the Kids in the Spotlight’s executive director, in a press release. “There is no better place to shine than at the White House.”

Charity has been doing this successfully over the past seven years, having worked with over 250 L.A. County foster youth and having produced over 50 films. The program is completely free for the youth who participate.

The L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) works closely with of Kids in the Spotlight, which gives unprivileged youth the opportunity to fulfill their dreams.

“Kids in the Spotlight has allowed our youth to do something remarkable — create finished personalized films that are screened at their own Oscar-like ceremony,” said DCFS Director Philip Browning in a press release. “We are extremely proud of what these young filmmakers have accomplished and expect that their message of change was well received at the White House.”

Jevonne Davis was one of those youth whose accomplishments were showcased. In email to The Imprint, she said, “The moment leading up to that was, ‘Oh My God …  the President is about to come,’ and suddenly, all the doors close and he walks out.  I’m thinking Oh My God … this is the President of the United States … this is crazy!  Honestly, I forgot what he said. I was star struck.”

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