This semester, students of the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts class Community Voices created five different documentaries about different social issues and nonprofits.
Community Voices, taught by documentary professor Sally Rubin, connects Chapman students with local Orange County based organizations. Each semester, groups of students produce public service announcements (PSA) and short character-driven documentaries for the organization they are paired with.
“You start by doing a promo, kind of a PSA for the organization you get assigned and then you start to meet people within the organization and get to know them through conversation,” said junior screenwriting major Matt Garcia. “Our documentary itself actually is highly advised not to be about the organization but about a person who is a part of it, whose needs or the conditions in their life have led them to this organization.”
All of this is made possible by the Dhont Family Foundation, said sophomore creative producing major Ryan King.
“They completely fund the course and we’re really thankful for that. They make sure that we have the budget we need to make our documentaries,” King said. “We also have special equipment in the Gold Room at Dodge just for our class to use, so we have our own set of lavaliers (clip-on microphones) and we have our own cameras that we can check out, so it’s a really hands-on experience.”
“Mother” follows the day-to-day lives of three different women at Casa Teresa, a rehabilitation center dedicated to taking in homeless pregnant women and mothers in crises. Garcia worked on the film and said it was an amazing experience.
“It was rewarding to experience another slice of life that I’m not used to seeing,” Garcia said. “Growing up, I was always surrounded by women role models, so seeing the women at Casa Teresa reminded me a lot of that, but with different aspects.”
Garcia and his group have been working on the film since class began in February. The film focused on three different women at Casa Teresa at the three different levels a woman can be in at the home, said Garcia. First is the emergency level, where pregnant women are taken in from off the streets. The next level is the parenting program, where women are moved into houses with “house mothers” and can take classes on subjects like job interviews and nutritional diets. The final stage at Casa Teresa is a program called T1, where mothers are allowed to live in their own apartment with their child/children and have more freedom while still staying on the premises.
“It was hard to choose because all of these mothers come from all kinds of backgrounds so we actually ended up using three mothers instead of just one to show the arc of a woman who stays with Casa Teresa,” Garcia said.
Garcia is happy to have worked with the organization, as he became amazed at the progress he saw each of the women making.
“Some of these women come from very dark places and I have nothing but admiration for some of them who could get out of complete and utter addiction from months on end, living on the streets, to going for a law degree, while maintaining a job and taking care of her children,” Garcia said.
Ariane Jong, a senior environmental science and policy major, was excited to create a documentary on social issues, something she is very passionate about.
“I’ve always been really interested in documentary. I enrolled at Chapman wanting to become an environmental documentary filmmaker,” Jong said. “I decided to take Community Voices in particular because it focuses on social issues in Orange County, and both social justice and serving the local community are two big interests of mine.”
Jong and her group worked on “Program 4,” which explores the experience of receiving cochlear implants. The team worked with the Providence Speech and Hearing Center, a local nonprofit that provides services to those who are speech and hearing impaired. Jong said her group was drawn toward looking at the subjective experience of three individuals at different stages of life as they made the transition from hearing impaired to having implants.
“I really loved getting to know our subjects and watching them adjust to this new way to hear and communicate,” Jong said. “One subject in particular, Mikhail, is my favorite because he is so emotionally understated and gives one or two word answers to interview questions, yet he’s incredibly eloquent for someone with a hearing impairment. And in the rare moments when he laughs or smiles, it lights up his whole face. His girlfriend, Paola, has been incredibly supportive of his transition to hearing with the implant and is very good at showing this other side of him.”
Happiest Place on Earth
“Happiest Place on Earth” profiles the life of 11-year-old Albino and his struggles growing up in an impoverished neighborhood. King and his group met Albino through Higher Ground Youth & Family Services, an after school program in Anaheim attached to Lincoln Elementary School. They offer a safe place after school for students who may not have the best home life or have parents who work long hours, to get tutoring, snacks, do arts and crafts and more, King said.
“Right away when we met Albino, we knew he was going to be an awesome subject because when we asked him questions, he was interested in what we were doing and he’d ask us questions back,” King said. “He’s a really respectable young man. We filmed him one day talking to his friends and he was a natural, he pretended like we weren’t even there.”
With the filming of a minor came obstacles. King and his group spoke with Albino’s mother many times in order to get permission to film, and she gave them full access into all three of her children’s lives. The most rewarding part of the process for King was working with Albino and getting to know him and his siblings, Jennifer and Alex.
“The best part was meeting the subjects, and I think that can be said for everybody who made a documentary in this course,” King said. “Some of the best memories I’ve made through the experience was driving around our subjects and listening to them talk, even off camera.”
Senior news and documentary and history major Amanda Larsh is used to making documentaries but said that the Community Voices class was still an eye-opening experience for her. Through working with the organization Families Uniting Families in Long Beach, Larsh and her group met the subject of “Family Man,” Brandon, who is trying to get his family back together after it was torn apart.
“Right now they (Brandon and his wife) are currently going through the struggle of trying to get their daughter back from the Department of Child and Family Services,” Larsh said. “She was taken away a while back because they were homeless, had a fight and the police were called, where they then took her away.”
The family has been fighting for their daughter’s return ever since, but have also faced other issues in regard to certain members of the department causing conflicts for the family and even breaking some federal laws, Larsh said. The film is currently unfinished, as the court case for the family will not happen until June, but Larsh said it looks promising.
“This family is a great bunch of people and just to be there with them has been the best experience,” Larsh said. “It’s been emotionally hard for myself and the others because we’ve been living it through with them, but it has also been really rewarding because we know the film that we’re creating may hopefully one day make sure people don’t have to go through a similar experience. One of our goals is to give copies of the DVD when it’s finally finished to people in state government and other people in the (Department of Child and Family Service) just to let them know that this is going on and it’s really affecting a lot of families.”
MARF and TEFDEF
Senior film production major Tommy Garber was excited to venture into documentary film.
“I’ve never done a documentary and when looking for classes for my final semester, I decided to apply to take this one,” Garber said. “It’s been a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding in the end.”
“TEFDEF and MARF” tells the story of two siblings, Alan and Stephanie (nicknamed Marf and Tefdef, respectively) in Santa Ana that Garber and his fellow classmates met through Santa Ana Active Streets Coalition, a bicycle safety organization, and the Wrench and Ride program put on by the store The Bicycle Tree, a member of the coalition.
Wrench and Ride teaches children how to repair and build their own bicycles, which they can keep at the end of the eight weeks. Both Marf and Tefdef belong to a bicycle club at their school, where they participate in Wrench and Ride.
“All the kids in this group are so interesting, there’s eight or nine in total in this class. They would go once a week to fix up these bikes for 8 to 10 weeks after school,” Garber said. “Two of these kids were super outgoing. Marf would come up and talk to us any time he could. He was so personable and energetic. He really just wanted to be your friend and it was genuine and sweet, so we started talking to him and his sister, Tefdef, more and when we came back, we got in touch with his parents and spent time with the kids.”
Garber hopes to stay in contact with both Marf and Tefdef.
“It’s such a rare thing to have kids who are so fun and so nice. I think Marf is going to be president someday,” Garber said. “He’s such a character, is so well-spoken and has such good intentions about everything that he’s saying, so I definitely want to keep in touch to see where both of these kids go in life.”