Out of Africa and into tv directing

Last year, two teenage brothers lived in Ethiopia; this year, they live in CARAG and are making local TV shows

Southwest High School students Anteneh Mekuria and his brother Zelealem Mekuria spent their summer making movies. The CARAG brothers — who moved here from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last year — were among 10 kids who had paid internships at Phillips Community Television (PCTV). The nine-week program made four 10-minute films that will be shown on Minneapolis public access cable channel 17 beginning Sept. 13 at 7:30 p.m. The shows will run throughout the month in that time slot.

The brothers learned how to tell a story with moving pictures, using video cameras, sound equipment, lights, editing machines and storyboards. They also learned how to interview, work collaboratively and work on location.

The movies they created included a documentary about the Green Institute, a nonprofit economic development organization in the Phillips neighborhood east of I-35W, two fictional movies about the juvenile justice system and one about a boy becoming environmentally aware.

"I thought making movies was going to be easy," Anteneh Mekuria said. "But you have to write a screenplay and make so many shots and edit at the end. Learning to work all the machines was hard."

In addition to working the camera and editing film, Zelealem Mekuria acted in the PCTV production about two boys who rob a flower shop. The movie compares the fate of two boys, one who goes to jail and the other who gets involved in a restorative justice program.

"I was the bad guy who goes to prison after he robs the flower shop," said Zelealem Mekuria. "The other one helps the victim water the plants and gets to know him instead of going to jail."

The brothers were part of a team that handled the editing, the sound, the voice-overs and created the titles, all of which was done on computer.

"I look at movies and television differently now," Anteneh Mekuria said. "Before I just watched television and movies for fun, and now I pay more attention to the technical aspects of the film. I look at the high shots, the low shots and count the number of shots that they actually take. I never used to do that before I went to PCTV. Using the right shot makes the film more interesting to watch."

East Calhoun resident Michael Hay, PCTV’s youth programs manager, helps the kids through the whole technical process.

"The hardest thing to teach is originality," said Hay. "When you ask young people to come up with a film topic, you often get stereotypical responses. We try to get them to be original and creative about the work they make. We want something that comes from the kids themselves, not something they think that adults want them to make."

The first two weeks involved the technical training which included field trips to places such as Hi-Wire, 555 Nicollet Mall, where they were shown around the state-of-the-art postproduction facility for such accounts for the Minnesota Twins, McDonald’s and Subway.

Added Hay, "[The kids] do everything. We see ourselves as quality control, so by the end of the summer they have achieved a certain degree of professionalism with their camera work and decision-making that is good enough to air on television."

The youth media nonprofit has been around for 10 years. In addition to teaching video production, its other programs include Web page design, digital photography and creative writing.

Kingfield resident John Gwinn, PCTV’s program director and founder, does the grant writing and handles the finances for its $150,000 annual budget, which comes from organizations such as the state of Minnesota’s Office of Violence Prevention, the McKnight Foundation and the Minneapolis Foundation.

"Our mission is to empower young people to engage with their community through learning, teaching and making media," Gwinn said. "A thousand kids have come through the program. We are not so much about [being a] vocational training school as we are about using the tools of the media to accomplish more general goals like youth development and getting them to take themselves seriously.

"Many of the teens come from immigrant families, and we want them to bring what they know into American society," he said.

The Minneapolis Summer Youth Employment Office paid the budding filmmakers minimum wage for their efforts and allowed them to work up to 30 hours a week.

The films will be shown on the cable show "Our Turn."

"The movies turned out great," Anteneh Mekuria said. "I am looking forward to seeing it on television."