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Defeating the Digital Divide

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The organization produces DROP TV (Direct Revolution of Programming), a year-round endeavor in which high school contributors are responsible for all phases of preproduction, production, and post-production aspects like camera, sound, lighting, editing, sound mixing, writing, and researching. Their dynamic programming is smart and energetic, and tackles a range of issues through a variety of techniques, including animation and documentary-style tales. An episode from the third season, “exSPRAYssion,” shows rival spray painters—one representing Israel and one representing Palestine—covering up each other’s graffiti until they both hit on the same note of understanding and respect. The piece was created by Jewish and Muslim teenagers involved in the Salaam-Shalom: Children of Abraham Film Project, which uses filmmaking to open dialogue between two minority communities.

Another sketch is an award-winning claymation by Spencer Weaver, “Why Did the Duck Cross the Road?” which features a clever duck persuading a hunter that he’ll get more meals out of him by letting him live. (The duck becomes his cook). Past DROP TV episodes have addressed issues like the portrayal of women in the media, smoking, gangs, and homelessness, as well as interviewed prominent political figures such as Hillary Clinton. Episodes are archived on CMP’s website (www.childrensmediaproject.org), and are broadcast, on Cablevision station 6 in eastern Dutchess and channel 18 in the rest of Dutchess, Putnam, and Ulster counties, at 7pm on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as on Time Warner’s Manhattan Neighborhood Network, which awarded DROP TV the best youth programming award in 2006.

Fifteen-year-old DROP TV contributor Brian Beckwith explains that he developed an interest in filmmaking when he was 12 years old and experimenting with a family video camera. He saved up money to buy his own camera and began making films, eventually drawing 50,000 viewers to a “silly music video” he posted on YouTube. Last fall, he joined a workshop at CMP and this summer, honed his skills at DROP TV. In one sketch he plays a man with an unruly moustache that can’t be shaved, who is banned from restaurants and social activities because of his malady. Soft-spoken, Beckwith transforms on camera into a lively and hilarious character as he reacts to each new situation. Although acting is not his favorite part of working with DROP TV, Beckwith says getting to try all the facets of filmmaking helped him narrow down what he wants to pursue—working as a video editor or cinematographer. He feels CMP is giving him a leg up toward a future career. “Coming here definitely helps,” Beckwith says. “Kids make videos on YouTube, and I come here and learn about what it’s really like in the industry.”

Although the primary focus of workshop and production experiences are for middle and high school students, CMP also offers tuition-based workshops for adults. Artist and media worker Andrew Lynn recently gave a workshop called “Beyond YouTube: Blogging, Vlogging, and the Web 2.0,” which focused on how to take advantage of the free resources that exist for circulating media, as well as various related techniques like compression, syndication, and promotion. The organization also hosts the “Digital Café,” which provides screenings of youth and independently produced films and offers a forum for community discussion. A recent Digital Café presentation showed two films by Poughkeepsie youth who traveled to South Africa to document the impact HIV has had abroad as well as in the Hudson Valley.

Marewski says she believes access to an education about the media is essential, and worries that in cities like Poughkeepsie, a child’s economic status might derail. “The digital divide is a real issue,” she says. “If these kids that come from underresourced communities don’t have access to media literacy and media education—that includes production—they’re getting cut out from the future. We live in a media-saturated world. It’s a way of thinking that comes from participating in that world, and schools are big institutions that are slow to innovate and adopt change. And that’s for various reasons, but it is what it is.” Beyond education, Marewski wanted to provide a place in the community where kids could interact with and be inspired by adults like Ewing, who has written plays and acted on television and Broadway. She says all too often, youth can get disconnected from those relationships. “The job of the adolescent is to separate from the parent and sometimes those things take you to places that aren’t so good for you,” Marewski says. “So we really thought it was important to be able to provide that to the kids in this community, because they have parents that are working a couple of different jobs and are just not available to them. Some of them have really rough circumstances.”

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