COMMUNITY • BY JAMIE LEE
Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi is known for the sweeping changes he brought across India during its independence movement. Sixty-four years after his death, his nonviolent crusade for social change is a source of inspiration for the Gandhi Brigade, a nonprofit group based in Silver Spring. The group aims to help young people develop their media arts skills for personal and community growth.
Each year they host The Just Us Youth! Media Festival, and this year it will take place on Saturday, May 26 at the Silver Spring Civic Building. The festival will include live performances, an awards ceremony, and interactive workshops that cover topics such as the Maryland Dream Act, identity exploration, and social justice.
They will also feature the creative works of youth in photo and art galleries and host local vendors. Executive director Richard Jaeggi estimated that around 500 guests came to last year’s event, and they’re hoping for the same number or more this year. “We hope the weather will be kind to us,” Jaeggi joked.
The festival will draw youth from Baltimore and Washington, D.C., among other local places. “It’s a chance for youth media producers to get together, rub elbows, see each other’s work…that chance for the larger circle to get together. Creators are often in their own worlds,” said Jaeggi.
A film competition starts off the festival. “Five teams come in at 10 a.m. They get an envelope with a list of [possible] PSA themes, and then they’ve got four hours to script it, film it, edit it, and at the end of the four hours we have some judges choose the best,” said Jaeggi.
The judges are adults who have experience in the field, paired with one or more young person. The fields range include performance, video, visual art, and photography. Together they work from a rubric, which has “a social justice angle to it, along with technical aspects,” said Jaeggi. Winners are selected by category and age group, which include middle school, high school, and college students.
But the media festival is just one aspect of the Gandhi Brigade.
The youth organization has also garnered success in the arenas advocacy and community involvement. In 2010, they launched a teen pregnancy awareness campaign focused on Latinos, who have some of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country. Advertisements and videos ran on Univision and YouTube. The campaign was largely fueled by the energy of local youth with adult professionals offering some guidance.
And in 2011, the Gandhi Brigade and a Montgomery College student Laura Moya worked together created a documentary titled “The Rights of Butterflies,” about an undocumented immigrant identified as Katya and her struggles to receive a college education. While the film was produced separately from the media festival, a shorter version will be shown at this year’s event.
The timing couldn’t be more perfect. The Maryland Dream Act goes on the referendum this fall, and would allow undocumented immigrants in-state tuition provided they graduated from high school, have a record of filing tax returns, and are committed to pursuing legal status. It’s a hotly debated topic and the exact focus of the documentary.
“A lot of times young people don’t fully appreciate how powerful their work is until they screen it to the community and get the feedback…they [don’t see] how moving or cool or thoughtful their work is. It all comes together in the screenings,” said Jaeggi.
For more information about the Youth Media Festival: gandhibrigade.org/youth-media-festival/2012-youth-media-festival/