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For samples of student work, visit the Silk City Media Workshop Web site

Workshop offers students creative license


PATERSON -- Alondra Callupe may be only 12, but she's taking on some very grown-up issues. Her short video, "Stop Rape," was one of 15 screened at the Silk City Media Workshop film festival Friday night at Passaic County Community College.


Callupe said she wanted to make a film about the effects of rape, such as unwanted pregnancy, diseases and emotional trauma, because she wouldn't want that to happen to anyone she knows.


The Silk City Media Workshop, run by the Paterson Community Technology Center, was created to give students from fifth through 12th grades a way to express themselves and tell their stories using digital media. Students are drawn from three after-school programs. They participated in either a 10-week video workshop or a program called Photobus, led by instructor Norm Sutaria, which took the students in a van to different parts of Paterson with digital cameras to capture scenes missed by many.


The video subjects included similarly heavy themes, such as domestic violence and Sept. 11, as well as lighter topics, including an ad for "Chow Down," an imaginary dog food ("Is your dog not eating well?") and the happiest day of one young woman's life (when she met teen heartthrob band B5).


For Stephon DeSilva, 12, the video workshop helped him learn how to express himself and how to share his views through the Internet. His video, "Global Warming," is posted on YouTube, as are his classmates' projects. "We mostly write about what bothers us in the community and that's global warming," DeSilva said. "The glaciers are melting."


Liz Soto, a youth counselor at Father English Community Center, whose after-school program participated in the workshop, said she saw students mature and become more outspoken as they learned multimedia skills.


For many students, the stories came from life experiences, she said. One student's video told the story of a family that was broken up by domestic violence. Another, "The Emotional Bomb," portrayed what it was like for a teenage girl to find out her mother had died.


"We don't put any holds on what they can do," said Gregg Festa, the program's coordinator. Festa and Gaby Rinkerman, director of the Paterson Community Technology Center, stressed that students have few opportunities to be creative in school, with an increased emphasis on preparing for tests in major subjects. Rinkerman said she believes the federal No Child Left Behind Act has narrowed the curriculum even more.


"No Child Left Behind has left behind the arts," Rinkerman said in her introduction to the festival. The program has grown from six students four years ago to nearly 150 who have participated over the past three years.


The kids' creative license showed in a silent film created by a team of students called "The Island." In a plot more complicated than some soap operas, the film followed a group of game-show contestants to an island, where they were killed off one by one, but not before a "dance-off" between two of the characters.


Festa said he's planning to expand the program and may offer training in subjects such as animation, comic book writing and robotics.

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