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Inspiring Youth at the FAC: Meet Elizabeth Contreras!

Inspiring the community through the creative arts is at the heart of the Fine Arts Center’s mission, and this could not be achieved without the people involved with the FAC, whether through the museum, theatre or Bemis School of Arts. Members of the community make the FAC what it is, and the young people of Colorado Springs who inject their creativity, passion, and artistic flair into the FAC are what make it such a unique place.

The Youth Documentary Academy, housed at the Bemis School of Arts and the FAC, provides media and documentary film training to high school students in under-served communities of Colorado Springs. Students between the ages of 14 and 18 spend seven weeks learning all about documentary filmmaking, producing their own documentaries on whatever issues are important to them. One of the young people who took part this summer is Elizabeth Contreras, a senior at Widefield School.

Elizabeth has been inspired by the Youth Documentary Academy to continue making films- she is planning to go to TI in Texas to get her masters in filmmaking and editing, and, if her documentary for the YDA is anything to go off, has a bright future in filmmaking ahead of her.

Can you give me a bit of an insight into what your film was about?

The film is about my personal experience of dealing with suicide attempts and telling my family about it. I was stuck between two different ideas when it came to picking a topic for the film: my cousin being taken away from my family and that experience of losing somebody close to me, and sharing the story about my own suicide attempts. I went through the process of talking to Tom about my ideas and experiences, and I began to lean more towards my personal story because it had been a secret since the 7th grade, and felt like it needed to come out. So we talked through a number of different ideas and discussed how to break it to my family, and the film ended up being the way that I told my family. In the first Act I’m just a little kid without any worries, then in the second I talk about my suicide attempts and I go into some detail about that. Then for Act 3 I branch out into a wider exploration of my life now, including my girlfriend coming into my life.

We had a preview for our family and friends on July 15th so my family have already seen it. They were shocked. I mean, they didn’t know that I was trying to commit suicide so it was a big surprise for them. They just didn’t see it happening.

It was obviously a huge deal to tell your parents something like this. How did you feel about the fact that other family members and friends would find out about your suicide attempts?

Well my family were the hardest to tell, because of course they always said and always tried to be there for me. So then I wasn’t too worried about telling other people compared to that. Obviously I didn’t want their judgment and pity. But I felt kind of comfortable telling them – I didn’t think that it would give me too much trauma or stress.

What is it that drew you to documentary as a medium to convey such a personal issue?

The documentary process was perfect because it showed the different stages of my life: how my parents raised me to be a good kid, and for them to see that I had my dark moments and after that everything changed. They can see that I have moved on through the film. It’s not all a bad story – it changes and you can see that in the last Act, my story does turn around. So I could portray the fact that I have moved on through the medium of film, and at the same time the film itself was an act of moving on.

The process of making a film about such a different time in your life must have been a strange one – did you feel like the self you were portraying in the film was different to the person you are now?

I feel like they are two sides of the same person. The difference is now that I’ve opened my eyes to what I have – a loving family, and a whole load of reasons why I shouldn’t do what I was going to do.

How did you go about putting the film together?

The first thing I had to do was find real footage, like pictures and videos from that time, and then I went into process of filming some darker scenes, like me alone in my room. We had to film some things that were really sad and depressing. Things like my grandma passing away and how that affected me. But we also went to Pride of the first year and that was in the film. And that was an amazing experience because it showed that, no matter how much I might have been bullied in the past for my sexuality, there will always be this big community ready to support me.

How do you feel now about producing a piece of art about something so personal?

I feel really good about it. I feel like now I have made this documentary and it could be inspirational. The fact that I’ve tried 4 times and survived makes me smile. I want people to see that and know that it is never too late to turn your life around.

Was it important to you that people would take away a political message about how society reacts to those with mental health issues or to young people’s sexuality?

Well that was the kind of thing that I didn’t necessarily try and put a direct message across, I just instead hoped that people can see it through the film, that they can view it and just get that.

Tell me about how the experience of making the film went on the whole.

For the whole 7 weeks just coming into BEMIS everyday I was so excited to come in and learn something new and hear other people’s stories and ideas.

The whole program definitely opened me up a lot more. I feel like I can tell my family anything because nothing can be worse than telling my own family that I was ready to take my own life. It showed me that there is always something that will come into your life when you’re going through a difficult time and change it. That’s what this program did for me, and that’s why it is one of the biggest inspirations for me to keep coming up.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016, 6:30pm at the Fine Arts Center SaGaJi Theater for a premiere screening of the 2016 Youth Documentary Academy (YDA) films