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Youth Filmmakers Challenge Ideas of Home

Stories of living differently told as part of 'Housing Matters' project. Screens Thursday in Vancouver.

Jesse Donaldson 7 Feb

Jesse Donaldson is a journalist, photographer, playwright, and one of the founding editors of The Dependent Magazine. His first book, THIS DAY IN VANCOUVER, comes out in 2013 from Anvil Press.

Only two years out of high school, Chak Estable understands what it means to be "housing challenged" in the Lower Mainland. By his own estimation, he and his family moved 41 times between the time he was three and when he turned 18. He has experienced periods of homelessness and a lack of housing security. And as it turns out, he isn't alone.

Estable's story is just one of many to be told the evening of Thursday, Feb. 7 at Vancouver's Roundhouse Community Centre, as part of the first public screening of the Housing Matters Media Project -- a series of 11 digital short films produced by Lower Mainland youth who've been affected by the region's ever-growing need for affordable housing.

"The key challenge facing most of the communities that we work in is the challenge of being affordably and safely housed," explains Patti Fraser, co-artistic director of the series. "What we've come to understand through the project is that what used to sound circumstantial, like 'Oh, so-and-so's couch-surfing, or so-and-so's looking for a place'… I'm not a housing expert, but it's a generational issue. It's really, really big. It's systemic. And it's of epidemic proportions. In essence, when we start to ask what a housing-challenged individual looks like, and when we expand that idea of homelessness, it includes a lot of us."

Using a variety of narrative techniques, the films -- all between three and five minutes in length, and created in partnership with UBC's Housing Justice Research Project -- touch on everything from affordability and gentrification, to colonialism, history, and race politics. Narratives range from the intensely personal to broader explorations of policy and solutions.

"There are a number of us coming from really different walks of life," adds Lee Williams, an interdisciplinary artist and writer involved in the project. "Some of us who have been born and raised here, other folks like myself who are visitors and guests --- newly arrived. So it's a real mix."

Space to imagine solutions

Over the past three months, the filmmakers, some of them new to the craft, heard a number of guest speakers and worked with mentors including filmmaker Arelyen Weissman and Purple Thistle founder Matt Hern. In these sessions, they talked about everything from how to conduct a solid on-camera interview, to how visions of housing are increasingly fetishized.

From Estable's perspective, the idea of a home owned and occupied by one family as North America's benchmark for success is one that needs challenging.

"Maybe we need to start realizing that people who rent, they can be successful. People [who'll never own a home] shouldn't be considered failures. There's nothing wrong with living with your grandparents or living with your grandchildren. Intergenerational living and family living can definitely be a solution," he says.

"It's challenging because it feels like the material conditions are so pressing that everyone wants a solution-oriented approach to things," Williams adds. "But it also feels like there needs to be more space to not just share stories, but to creatively imagine what new solutions might look like."

The Roundhouse screening is the first opportunity the filmmakers have to present their work, as part of a presentation which also includes sculpture and artwork, and extends into the online realm with a dynamic survey designed to provide a visual representation of the city's housing landscape. Though the films will be shown in front of an audience of peers and (potentially) policymakers, both Williams and Estable are excited by the potential for meaningful feedback and dialogue.

As Williams says, "I think media projects and community art projects are a really great way of engaging new voices and engaging new audiences."

"I have no doubt that it's a powerful collection of work," Fraser concludes with pride. "And we're absolutely determined that it's going to turn out in some key people's laps. There's no doubt that's going to happen."

The Housing Matters Media Project will host screenings on Thursday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Roundhouse Community Centre, and on Feb. 20 at Simon Fraser University.  [Tyee]

Read more: Housing, Film

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