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Native youth team up on HIV film project

SAN DIEGO, Calif. - Fanny Garvey, a grant specialist for the San Diego American Indian Health Center, was thrilled when her writing prowess garnered a $15,000 grant to spearhead a Native youth filmmaking project on the dangers of HIV/AIDS.

The project began April 21, and the grant requires that students call it a wrap by July 28.

As an experienced multimedia person, Garvey knew that she was working with a tight budget and deadline, but she called on the technical support of the Media Arts Center San Diego. They stepped up to the plate by providing the equipment, some education, and place for students to work on all aspects of production.

Ten students were selected from a pool of local applicants to film and edit the 8 - 10 minute documentary titled, ''It's Your Life, Live It Safe,'' with the help of Garvey and a film technician.

''I am grateful that I am able to work with the youth,'' Garvey said.

Esmeralda Cruz, 16, said the documentary walks viewers through the experience of a Native teen who decides to take an HIV test. In between the process of being tested and obtaining results, it features student interviews with sources from the SDAIHC and the community.

At the time of the interview, Cruz, Mexica, said she was working on the setting up the letters for the title. From this experience, she is thinking about pursuing a degree in film, and furthering her passion and study of photography.

''I am really learning a lot, and we all just do it together,'' she said.

What makes this project one-of-kind is the lack of assigned duties. No one has any formal titles, and the students rotate their positions to gain strength in all areas of filmmaking.

''It's beautiful how they do it, and they don't even argue,'' Garvey said. ''These kids are proving that youth do have the ability to be cooperative, kind and polite with one another.''

For college student Sheilah Dasher, 19, the project hits close to home. She has an uncle afflicted with HIV and living on the Navajo Nation in Arizona.

With the blessing of her uncle, she traveled to Arizona to start the on the project, ''A Mother's Story.''

Dasher, Dine', explained that the essence of the short film is drawn from her great aunt and what it feels like to be faced with her son's shortened life expectancy.

''The whole point of being a mother is seeing that your children survive,'' she said.

Her uncle chose not to appear in the film, as he worried about being stigmatized on the reservation. Dasher said many people still believe the disease primarily strikes gay men and intravenous drug users.

''It's still very painful for the family,'' she said.

Once completed, the three-minute short will feature scenic shots from the reservation and the narration in Dine' with English subtitles.

''It's kind of like the voice is coming from the land,'' she said.

Garvey, of Narragansett descent, said the shorter the documentary, the bigger the impact it has on the viewer. Anything around one-hour long gets processed as information.

''The really short, sharp shocks opens up people and makes them start to think and want to help, which is good,'' she said.

The students currently meet on Saturdays from 12 - 4 p.m. Native elders from the community often show up to pray before lunch and offer their wisdom to the diverse group of students.

Once students wrap up production, the two documentaries will first be screened for the elders and SDAIHC staff, then the community, and next at the Red Nation Film Festival in Los Angeles this November.

Tribes interested in receiving copies of the DVD should contact Garvey by October at (619) 234-2158. She explained that it can be screened at non-Native events, but not redistributed per terms of the grant.