In the shadow of massive Moxie Java signage, somewhere between Cole and Curtis streets on Overland Road, lies a catalyst for creativity and self-expression in the form of a compact, well-used little Public Access building.
Heading up Treasure Valley Community Television is a labor of love for Executive Director Terry Christenot. She works full-time at the station and spends her time off painting industrial buildings for extra cash. As she inspects her arm for bit of paint left over from that morning, Christenot takes me on a quick tour of the station. Small and well-used, the rooms of equipment and the studio with its requisite potted plants and couches have a nice feeling to them. Everything is neat and surprisingly orderly in a strange, cluttered sort of way. As we talk, it's clear that Christenot believes very strongly in what she's doing and finds her job extremely rewarding.
Christenot wants everyone to respect the fact that public access isn't all Wayne's World and crazies showing off their model train collections, though it can be part of it and that's just the beauty of the concept. Public access is raw, uncensored footage of whatever people want. It gives the average citizen an outlet to say or show something that is entirely their own.
To get young people involved in all that public access TV has to offer, Christenot created Camp TVCTV four years ago to show kids how they can contribute to media and to give them a place to express themselves.
For $200, students ages 12 through 17 can sign up for one of the four week-long sessions to learn all of the basics of filmmaking. While Christenot knows the tuition fee amounts to a lot of hours babysitting, she says she wishes TVCTV could come up with scholarship money for kids who can't afford the class but has yet to find donors so far. "People always think that their tax dollars are paying for us. I don't know why they think that. It's not true," she said. Boise City hires the station to produce city council meetings every week, and money is also made from station memberships, which at a measly (or admirable) $40 per year for a producer doesn't amount to a whole lot of dough.
At the start of each camp, the 12 students admitted in each session are split into four groups of three and along with four production students from Boise State, each team begins its ascent to small-screen immortality. The students have four days to get their film up and running. For the first few days of the class they script, storyboard and learn camera techniques. Then it's off to produce their own four-minute film. The students have access to shoot in TVCTV's adorable studio, or Christenot and crew will schlep the kids around the city to help them find the perfect location for filming. The week of hard work culminates with a private screening of the students' new films for family and friends of the newly minted producers.
And in keeping with the spirit of public access, students can make their film anything they want it to be without restrictions (other than the obligatory age-appropriate spiel).
"They tend to lean towards a lot of Kung Fu fighting," says Christenot. "The boys especially, it's always fighting, fighting, fighting. Or they go for a Jerry Springer-type atmosphere. They usually mimic what they see on regular television."
Perhaps the most admirable aspect of the TVCTV camp program is that it teaches media literacy to fledgling filmmakers, who leave camp able to separate themselves from the media besieging them daily. Campgoers learn to deconstruct what they see on TV, to view it critically and come to their own conclusions.
"We teach them: this is how you manipulate [the viewer]. So know when you're being manipulated. Don't just sit there and absorb TV, be active. Don't just be passively absorbing what's coming from your television," says Christenot. "What comes through the set is not exactly stuff to be proud of most of the time."
The kids are taught not only how to dissect what they view, but also how they can represent themselves through film. Christenot says that minorities, in particular, have trouble finding role models in today's media. She encourages them to make their own film by asking questions such as, "What is it you're really like? Are you a gangster or a normal kid like everybody else?"
Christenot emphasizes that after completion of the course the students are considered producers and are able to use the bounty of equipment and facilities they have just familiarized themselves free of charge for an entire year. The best part is that with a parental signature, every film they make for that year is aired on Treasure Valley Community Television.
"There aren't many ways to express yourself when you're in school," says Christenot. "This is a great outlet. I remember making my first 30-second film and turning on the TV to watch it, and there it was. It was so empowering that something I created could actually be on TV."
Years of experience have given Christenot a deep respect for the power of filmmaking and the self-expression it allows the students. "[Public Access] is really for the marginalized people, the people that aren't in the mainstream and don't get their voices heard every day," she says. "What is it they're thinking? The students will mimic television but we hope that they will use this opportunity to stretch themselves creatively."
For more information on TVCTV's summer camp for kids or to register, visit www.tvpatv.org.
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