UG Student Filmmaker Examines Lawndale Violence
“I hope they think about how children handle problems [like violence and bullying]… I want viewers to see that in certain neighborhoods, children especially don’t really have a foundation or older people to teach them right from wrong.” -Art Options student Michael Coleman
We are constantly amazed by the intense subject matter that our students choose to tackle in their art making. From teen depression to gang violence, it’s a reminder that many young people in Chicago are surrounded by a plethora of serious problems. These problems do get under their skin, and they do want to talk about it. That’s where the arts come in.
Michael Coleman, a student at the Chicago High School of the Arts, has participated in UG’s summer apprenticeship program – Art Options – at the School of the Art Institute for the past three years. If you’re a loyal follower, you’ve read about this summer’s Art Options before (and if you haven’t, there’s the info!). It’s a chance for students to work with UG artists at SAIC all summer long, funded by a stipend, on intensive film and writing projects. This summer, one issue that the class explored in depth – prompted in part by an especially disturbing Chicago summer – was violence.
Michael’s final film is a thought-provoking and cinematically beautiful look at how young people in his North Lawndale neighborhood cope with violence. He worked with teaching artists Angela Kim and Oli Rodriguez to create this incredible film.
Teaching artist Angela had only wonderful things to say about this student and his work.
“Michael’s first year [in Art Options], he was quiet yet clearly talented,” Angela said. “He made a film utilizing his own inventive editing techniques that played with pacing and time. The creativity and level of play in this project stuck with me, and every year Michael has returned to out-shine any technical or creative expectations we have for him. This current year, Michael’s final project was an ethnographic montage of younger children in his neighborhood grappling with violence.”
“I originally decided to start [Art Options] because I wanted to further my skills in film and learn a little about writing,” Michael told me. During past summers, he collaborated with other Art Options students on films, even encouraging his friends to try the program.
This year he leaped into a solo project. Angela and Oli helped their students to write blog entries tracking their thought processes in conceptualizing final projects, and Michael blogged about the first few moments of footage that encapsulated his film’s mood – film shots from his neighborhood with beat boxing in the background.
The film took shape starting with those opening shots; from there, Michael began filming other sequences. “I was filming in my backyard and I met the two young boys [who appear in the film], and they wanted to play basketball in my yard. I said yeah, in exchange for an interview,” Michael said. “They decided to tell me where they were headed and that led to our conversation.”
As for what he hopes viewers will take away from this film, “I hope they think about how children handle problems [like violence and bullying]. They honestly don’t understand any other way to handle them without proper guidance and a structured foundation [to teach them] how to handle problems in a way that won’t just create more. I want viewers to see that in certain neighborhoods, children especially don’t really have a foundation or older people to teach them right from wrong.”
I liked Angela’s assessment of this kind of art making process: “Michael is a student who takes one tool and returns with the toolbox, canvas and pigment. He stretches and extends the limits of any tool or lesson given to him. It is truly an astonishing process to watch, learn and grow from as a teaching artist.”
Will Michael continue to pursue his talent for film? He says he absolutely will. And we hope he’ll continue to explore potent subjects like this one. Urban Gateways is thrilled to have played a part in the artistic education of someone so talented – and we’ll be looking out for his work on the big screen as he ventures into the wider world.