By Mark Bizzell, volunteer contributing writer
SAN FRANCISCO—Kebo Drew’s easy laughter and outgoing personality might make you forget she is a tough and effective social activist on the frontlines of equality. But this daughter of parents who fought for civil rights now serves as managing director of the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project in San Francisco, one of the most progressive arts groups in the country. The organization provides free workshops that train young people to create films that address vital social justice issues concerning queer women of color. We checked in for an update on its “Filmmaker Training Program,” which received a multi-year grant from Liberty Hill Foundation’s Queer Youth Fund in 2009.
“I call the 16-week workshops a positive ‘boot camp’ type of experience,” says Kebo, an activist and artist since childhood and program participant herself. “The intense training not only teaches the technique of filmmaking, it also empowers activism among queer youth through films that spark discussions around important issues— leading to recruitment, visibility and legislative outreach.”
Two of the young adults trained through this program are Chris Valente and Tracy Nguyen. Both have completed the program, with Chris’s film screening at the 9th Annual Queer Women of Color Film Festival coming June 14 through 16 at the Brava Theater in San Francisco. Tracy’s film is currently in production and slated for next year’s festival.
Chris, a transgender 24-year-old, explores in his work the challenges of dating and forging relationships. Based partly on his own experiences, his debut film “Chasing Love” casts himself and another student as leads. The Filmmaker Training Program lent him the equipment needed to create “Chasing Love” and instructed him in how to foster connections and fundraise so he can make films at little or no cost. This is important because most young filmmakers don’t have access to Hollywood-size budgets that average $1 million per minute of film, or even to independent film budgets that work out to $50,000 per minute.
“Through this film, I want to dispel the myths around transgender relationships perpetrated by Hollywood and the media,” explained Chris. “We want to be open and honest about who we are and are not out to deceive anyone.”
Tracy is currently in production with what will be her second film. “Possibilities” is a fictional narrative and differs from her first effort, which was a documentary.
“I don’t think I would have been able to make films about queer women of color anywhere else,” said Tracy. “In the workshops they taught us to think about how our films and stories will affect and empower others.”
Low-income students and immigrants make up 79 and 43 percent of Filmmaker Training Program students, respectively. In addition, some students are disabled—giving a creative outlet to additional marginalized voices in the community. Alumni have gone on to pursue filmmaking studies at USC Film School and San Francisco State University, and to work in the entertainment industry at studios such as NBC Universal.
This year’s Queer Women of Color Film Festival premieres an unprecedented 55 short films, including Chris’s “Chasing Love” on opening night. The festival’s theme is "Bridge To Truth: Queer SWANA/AMEMSA Communities," and includes a featured screening/conference with a film that explores tradition and culture, feminist waves and the simmering revolutions among Southwest Asian, North African/Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, South Asian (SWANA/AMEMSA) communities, followed by a discussion with artists and activists. This free event, which focuses on a different theme each year, has grown in stature over the years and attracts youth and elders, providing the opportunity for multi-generational discussion and interaction.
Chris and Tracy agree that the workshops, film festival and relationships formed at Queer Women of Color empower, strengthen and advance opportunities for queer women of color.
“It has helped to come out and accept myself,” said Chris. “My next project is a documentary highlighting positive transgendered relationships from around the county. I would not be doing this except for Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project.”
The Queer Youth Fund is a donor-initiated grantmaking program housed at the Liberty Hill Foundation that awards $100,000 grants to innovative and effective leadership development or organizing projects, or programs that empower gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (GLBTQQ) youth up to 24 years old. The purpose of the Queer Youth Fund is to improve societal conditions affecting these youth and strengthen the GLBTQQ movement. The Queer Youth Fund makes multi-year grants to 501(c)(3) organizations (or groups with fiscal sponsors) located in the United States. Several $100,000 grants, payable over three to five years, will be made to groups performing specific work that matches the Queer Youth Fund guidelines, available at http://www.LibertyHill.org/queeryouthfund. Funding decisions are made collaboratively by donors, community representatives and foundation staff.