Boys and Girls Club opens doors for aspiring filmmakers

by Amy Kingsley

Zykerria Hicks fiddles with the font color on a computer opened like a glowing clamshell before her. She’s already settled on the black letters that will scroll across a red backdrop for the opening credits of her film.

But she’s still working on the title.

‘“I think it’s gonna be called ‘The New Girl’ but I want to call it ‘The Jealous Girl,”” she says.

The 12-year-old filmmaker has some time to decide. The short film was shot and scripted, after all, in the span of one afternoon. Hicks is one of the oldest of a group of tweens wrapping up the inaugural semester of a filmmaking class at the Boys and Girls Club near the corner of Aycock and Lee Streets.

The second-floor classroom is a welter of activity, with kids gathered around computer games, calling across the gray carpet to each other and a few even putting the finishing touches on their final projects. Amber Wheeler, a broadcast and cinema major at UNCG, is sitting at one of the ergonomic desks with Zoë Carmon-Rogers, discussing the particulars of opening and closing credits.

Carmon-Rogers’ young face is given to emotional extremes, staring seriously one second only to break into a wide, squinty-eyed grin the next. The entire spectrum of that visage is given star billing in her documentary film about a tai chi class she has attended twice weekly for four years.

‘“I think they’re having a lot of fun,’” Wheeler said. ‘“They’re learning to express themselves in new ways.’”

Carmon-Rogers is a bit tight-lipped when it comes to talking movies, but she opens up the instant the conversation shifts to what’s happening on the screen.

‘“The first one was the Shaolin Stance Form,’” she explains, ‘“and this is the Five Animals.’”

In the square of video playback, Carmon-Rogers’ serious side is on display as she executes the precise movements of her chosen discipline. For a few segments shot tight on subjects’ faces, Carmon-Rogers fades from view, disappearing into the role of hard-nosed interviewer.

She says making the movie was fun but a lot of work. And she shrugs when asked whether she thinks filmmaking is in her future. It’s not the goal of the teachers here to turn the students into filmmakers; instead they want to reverse a culture of entertainment downloaders into information producers.

‘“At this point in their lives they don’t think too much about career,’” says Ndesanjo Macha, the Boy and Girls Club unit director. ‘“Most of these kids are good consumers of media. They play video games, watch TV and use the internet. We want to teach them to produce knowledge and information.’”

Macha approached Eric Patrick, a UNCG professor in broadcast and media, with this idea earlier in the year. Patrick, who has worked in student and community filmmaking for years, liked the idea and worked to recruit student volunteers to staff the project. Wheeler joined the program along with three others.

‘“I expected the students in the video class to get a lot out of this,’” Patrick says. ‘“But what I didn’t expect was how inspirational it would be for my UNCG students. I think it’s really been a charge in their own work.’”

Wheeler said she and the other teachers have been communicating through email to generate syllabi and come up with ideas for the class. They initially expected an older group of kids, but she says she’s found unexpected advantages to working with the younger set.

‘“They’re so honest at this age,’” she says. ‘“And they really like to have a lot of fun.’”

That fun is evident in Jason’s film, a spoof of the popular cell phone commercial where two coworkers’ game of one-on-one basketball results in a broken nose. He proudly describes himself as the producer and director, and in audio that has not yet been stripped from the video you can hear him authoritatively blocking his actors.

‘“Now this is the part where it gets blocked,’” the behind-the-camera voice says. ‘“Now, remember what to do.’”

Shyly, on the other side of the lens, he says, ‘“Oh yeah, I’ve got to take that out.’”

This class is in part a gambit, a chance to give these students diverse experiences before they start considering careers, Macha said. In a few years, when they start making decisions, they’ll be more informed about job opportunities.

The future already figures into a few projects. One student considering a career as a lawyer took her camera crew down to the courthouse for a day. Quincy, one of the students here this afternoon, wrote a cautionary tale about a character promised a college scholarship if he answers a phone call scheduled for 4 p.m.

That character first loses the phone playing with friends; then, once it is found, drops it into a sink full of water as he’s trying to answer the fateful call.

It’s not a happy ending, but some other films might sate appetites for tidy conclusions. In Hicks’ flick the characters represented by the warring titles ‘— a new girl and her jealous counterpart ‘— reconcile at story’s end. The director, while still young, might someday represent the happiest ending of all for this undertaking.

‘“There’s different things you can hope for,’” Patrick says. ‘“You hope you can build self-esteem in these kids once they’ve seen they can complete this process. And of course, certain ones do go into the arts or filmmaking.’”

When asked about whether she enjoys the class, she’s effusive.

‘“Oh it’s so fun,’” she says.

And does she want to make movies?

‘“Yes, yes I do,’” she smiles.

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