by Billy Miller
On a rainy Saturday in Caldera’s Teen Center, we’re talking with twelve high schoolers about child trafficking — a subject difficult for adults to discuss, let alone the young people whose iives this issue most affects. Joining us is filmmaker Libby Spears, whose documentary about the
subject Playground is showing to audiences around the world, having first gained the support of Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney.
Caldera, a youth arts and environmental education non-profit founded by Wieden + Kennedy’s Dan Wieden, uses all kinds of creativity to connect with Oregon’s young people. Both in the year-round program and at summer camp in Central Oregon, they respond to challenges in their lives with amazing art and resilience.
However, children enslaved in the sex trade is a horrific subject that’s in the news far too frequently. As Spears’ documentary points out, we might think these crimes are just overseas, but they are here in America, in communities where these kids come from.
The choice was clear when presenting Spears with a mini-residency. Her child trafficking work continues using Caldera’s digital filmmaking equipment to edit a segment of the FOX show, America’s Most Wanted.
Yet what was not at all clear, was how to gain youth perspective on such an intense subject.
What to do when it’s too dangerous for them to go on a shoot or hang up a ‘missing’ flyer? What of the emotions the content triggers? Is the subject just too severe? When watching the AMW rough cut at the Saturday event, one young lady who was all smiles earlier about getting straight-As for the first time in her life, leaves the room in tears.
But she does return. And facing this is the key to educating kids about the pimps and opportunists who use their ignorance to trap them. After hearing the filmmakers’ perspectives and viewing their work in progress, the assembled teens — diverse in race yet mostly challenged by socioeconomic status — are asked to thumb through stacks of donated stock photo books.
Where meaningful conversation proves daunting, they go right to work cutting out healthy and unhealthy images of sex and relationships. In pairs, they create collages of juxtaposing pictures, put in perspective with found words or ones they choose to add.
The resulting “mood boards,” work much like those that inspire an ad campaign. The girl who had to leave the room pits lurid images labeled “degrading one’s self,” against shots of a healthy woman, family and a smiling baby. “As women, we can be independent and we can love
ourselves,” she says on camera afterward. “And out of sex you can have kids and they can be one of the happiest things the world cherishes.”
What they make serves as their voice, staying on display where Spears and crew finish their important project. And after giving their free Saturday to staring down a difficult topic, these dozen extraordinary teens go home, hopefully, with a different perspective — and strength from their ability to fight fear with art.