Movie theatre no longer a goal for Project REEL Life

Project REEL Life in Ladysmith is now focusing on mentoring community youth through producing their own media projects.

Project REEL Life (PRL) is fast approaching its first post-makeover public appearance.

Cinema is still a key feature of the project, but a youth-run theatre is no longer featured on PRL’s list of objectives.

Under new guidance from Bill Taylor, Ladysmith Secondary School’s drama and English teacher, PRL will now focus on mentoring community youth through the process of producing their own media projects.

The implementation of the new version of PRL involves “a paradigm shift in how one thinks about projects in education,” Taylor said. “We’re moving from a site-based, time-based model to a virtual model that can then accommodate a flexibility in terms of time, place and mentorship. The original model for Project REEL Life was that the youth would build and run a theatre, which was a really cool idea. It involved entrepreneurship. It involved skill building in terms of setting budgets. They found a need in the town for youth to be engaged, and they were working toward providing a space for youth to congregate. It was a very cool project.”

PRL received $200,000 from the Community Action Initiative (CAI) to make that happen, Taylor added, but the project stalled when it “hit road blocks that weren’t apparent to them when they started.”

By December 2012, PRL was on the verge of collapse. As the project floundered, participating members called a meeting to discuss how they might salvage the project and retain the grant they’d received from CAI.

“I went to the meeting and proposed a new vision [for the project] that I thought would be really great,” Taylor said, “and that’s to have the youth create a media product. The idea would be for youth to tell their stories and the stories they find in their community.”

Discrepancies in how the project’s budget was being managed led to the resignation, in January, of James Latour, PRL’s former project manager. Taylor stepped in to fill the void as PRL shifted its focus towards empowering youth through storytelling.

“Narrative therapy,” as Taylor referred to it, has proven itself to be an effective means of intervening in the lives of at-risk-youth, he said. As participants craft their stories, it provides them with an opportunity to perceive their own lives as stories they themselves are the authors of. Students then recognize that they are capable of determining the narrative governing their own lives.

“That alone is an intervention,” Taylor added.

Choosing, instead, to narrate someone else’s story offers advantages of its own.

“That builds community right away,” Taylor said. “In the new incarnation of the project, it might be as simple as having a [participant] tell a community member’s story or a place’s story or a group’s story. Think of it like a virtual library that will help youth [better] understand their community.”

Key to the project’s success will be its ability to help youth address feelings or emotions that arise from their storytelling projects, especially those that are autobiographical in nature.

“When you start to talk to a person about their own stories,” Taylor said, “it can trigger emotions and feelings that you might not be prepared to deal with. We need to build capacity to deal with those things and we do have capacity in town. We have child and youth care workers, we have mental health workers, we have addictions counsellors, we have school counsellors, we have teachers.”

One other potential source of risk being taken into consideration is the platform through which PRL media will be disseminated.

“We need to be really sensitive, in this new world of the Internet, that once you post a story [online], it’s fairly public,” Taylor added. “We’re teaching youth to keep themselves safe while telling their stories to honour their experiences and help the people around them.”

Taylor is working alongside representatives from School District 68, the RCMP, the Ladysmith Resources Centre Association and the Vancouver Island Health Authority to draft guidelines for best practices and prepare the necessary consent and release forms.

PRL mentors and stakeholders are scheduled to meet again Feb. 27, Taylor said. By that date, Taylor hopes to have the website ready for launch, all of the necessary paperwork drafted and all of the participating community organizations brought up to speed.

If that deadline is met, “we should be ready to roll out the project publicly,” Taylor added.

Once the cameras start rolling, participating videographers will have the option of producing and submitting entries to the BC Student Film Festival (BCSFF) in time for the festival’s March 15 deadline. Film producer Joshua Raven of Island Tribe Productions and Durwin Pye, a video and film teacher at LSS, have signed on to mentor students through the BCSFF production process, Taylor said.

As a tie-in, Taylor plans to host a community film festival here in Ladysmith where PRL-produced films will be screened prior to the BCSFF deadline.

Continued financial support from CAI depends on the outcome of a review scheduled for March 14, Taylor said. If CAI believes project mentors are delivering on their promise to connect with youth, PRL will earn itself an additional year to operate.

Successfully hosting a local film festival is one way to prove to CAI that the project is delivering on its promise, Taylor said.

Youth between the ages of 13 and 24 are eligible to participate in PRL, Taylor said. Media projects can be pursued either individually or in groups and can take the form of films, blog posts, webcasts, radio broadcasts or some other form of interactive media.

With SD68’s backing, participating youth will have the option of structuring their projects as independent directed studies resulting in “ministry approved credit,” Taylor said.

Ultimately, the project aims to “connect community resources with youth as often as possible” Taylor said, “and in as supportive a way as we can make happen.”

Dave Street, principal of LSS, said SD68 handed down its decision to approve district support for PRL in a matter of days. That rapid response time resulted from PRL having aligned itself with the Ministry of Education’s progression towards “personalized learning,” Street added.

Regarding the outcome of CAI’s March 14 review, Street said he’s “very optimistic. Bill Taylor and his team have already assembled a number of deliverables which is key to any project moving on.”

For more information on PRL, contact Taylor at wtaylor@sd68.bc.ca

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