Arts·Pride

How Calgary's queer youth are getting a crash course in telling their own 'fairytales'

Fairytales' Youth Queer Media Project guides youth aged 13 to 25 through the process of creating short films — and then celebrates them at a festival.

Fairytales' Youth Queer Media Project guides youth through the process of creating short films

Andie Taven's Ambiguous Affection, screening as part of Fairytales' Youth Queer Media Program. (Andie Taven)

Entering the world of filmmaking is a daunting challenge. The technical knowledge and production wherewithal to use complex equipment, manage a crew and wrangle actors can take years to develop. For queer youth, gaining these skills can be an even bigger struggle since there are limited places where they can share their stories and even fewer that will finance them.

But at least in Calgary, this process is a little easier. Now in its sixth year, Fairytales' Youth Queer Media Project offers youth aged 13 to 25 the chance to create short films using top notch gear courtesy of EMMEDIA, a local artist-run centre which also works with them through the process.

The brainchild of festival director James Demers, the program was conceived in response to an email he received shortly after he began his tenure seven years ago.

Khrysta Lloren's "Catfish Killer," screening as part of Fairytales' Youth Queer Media Program. (Khrysta Lloren)

"A lot of our program expansion has been the result of direct requests from the community," Demers says. "I got a message about the lack of opportunities for queer youth in the film world, and I started to think about how we could develop an initiative to deal with that."

In 2011's first edition, local youth were invited to create anti-homophobia PSA's in collaboration with the Calgary Police Service. The response was positive, but the format felt limiting — so the program was reconfigured to include fiction, documentary, animation and experimental works.

The current incarnation invites local youth annually to create short films of any genre. Participants follow an intensive series of workshops including concept development, production skills and editing. With the basics under their belts, they set out to make their works with the festival's continued support.

Mike Hooves' "G.E.M.," screening as part of Fairytales' Youth Queer Media Program. (Mike Hooves)

"There's a lot of practical stuff that you realize you need after you've started the process that we end up assisting with," Demers says. "I help people book actors for their films or figure out where to buy fake blood. This year, one of the pieces was actually shot in my house because it fit the look the filmmaker was going for."

Khrysta Lloren is one of this year's participants. Originally from the Philippines, she came to Calgary seven years ago with her family. This will be her first foray into film, though she's not a complete newbie to the art world — she completed a degree at the Alberta College of Art and Design last year and works as part of the BabyGurl$ collective, a local trio creating video and installation.

But with her current work "Catfish Killer," she knew she needed major help. Featuring 12 actors and a substantial crew, the camp-horror project about a serial killer stalking lecherous young men online is by far the most ambitious project she's made to date.

Youth at work as part of Fairytales' Youth Queer Media Program. (Fairytales Presentation Society)

"Film incorporates so many different elements so it's a perfect way to bring together my knowledge in sound, lighting and installation from art school," Lloren says. "This project specifically was a way to make something that feels relevant to me and the things I'm curious about right now. Getting to learn so much about cameras and sound equipment was a really big help. But figuring out how to work with such a large group of people was definitely the biggest challenge."

Of course, the program began simply as a way for queer youth to develop the necessary skills to enter the film world. But it was also important for Demers that the works they made be included as part of the festival program. Giving youth the skills to share their stories isn't enough, he feels — it's critical to actually listen to them.

"One of the lessons I learn over and over by programming a festival like this is the immense benefit we gain from listening to voices that are not our own," Demers says. "It's something we ask for all the time in the context of allyship so it's also something we need to be able to do in our own community. Youth are often able to observe things that adults don't. It's good to sit back sometimes and hear what they think."

Youth Queer Media Project. Presented as part of Fairytales. Thursday May 25, 7pm. The Plaza Theatre, Calgary. www.fairytalesfilmfest.com

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