Outta Your Backpack Media, brings film-making to Native American youth.

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Outta Your Backpack Media, brings film-making to Native American youth.

© Shahinkia | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Shahinkia | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Shahinkia | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Shahinkia | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Rick Flores, Staff Writer

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Outta Your Backpack Media has been empowering Native American youth by teaching them the fundamentals of film-making and emphasizing media literacy.

Since 2004 the non-profit organization, Outta Your Backpack Media, has been providing free workshops for indigenous youth 25 and under, although, the only real requirement is the desire to learn.  The organization provides free workshops that teach participants how to make storyboards, use a camera, act, edit video and all of the skills necessary to be able to tell their unique story.

In addition to these regular  workshops, there are animation workshops, film festivals, screenings, film challenges, all designed to increase media literacy and give young people the skills necessary to create media, rather than settle for being spectators;  lending them a voice in an industry that heavily influences the youth.

The term “Outta Your Backpack” needs no explanation to backpack journalists the world over. It refers to the notion that a backpack can contain all of the tools necessary to produce a watchable piece of film, or news report. Thanks to technological improvements, anyone can capture, edit and upload a video of reasonable quality with less gear than ever before.

The organization was created in 2004 in part, by Klee Benally, an activist, filmmaker and musician of local and national renown, as a “project for indigenous youth to become empowered with tools of media literacy for media justice”. Klee, along with his brother Clayson and sister Jeneda made up the critically acclaimed band Blackfire. The name itself is a reference to the Navajo word for warning, as well as a reference to their ongoing protest against the coal mine at Black Mesa on the Navajo Reservation.

Later on, Klee became active on another front: Save the Peaks. Save the Peaks is a controversial topic in Northern AZ that has received national attention. Klee made a documentary about it, and OYBM is probably a logical step in the progression, providing that you are capable of heroic deeds . During their NPR interview, the three siblings were asked if their activism is a result of their music, or if their music is a result of their activism. This is a terrific question, or course, and for Klee they seem to go hand in hand.

OYBM is 100% non-profit and run exclusively by bright, experienced and committed volunteers, consisting of 16 year old high school students, college grads, iconic local rock stars and everything between.

The workshops are usually three day affairs that teach script writing on the first day, filming on the second day and post production/editing on the third. They are run by mentors like 21 year old Youth Coordinator Shelby Ray. Ray has been with the organization since the beginning. She had always enjoyed being behind the camera, so Klee Benally began uniting her with friends and colleagues in need of someone to film events and projects. Happy to meet new people that had similar interests and views regarding media, so she participated in Klee’s first workshop. She has been there ever since.

“I fell in love with this because I can be a storyteller using means other than writing. I can make a beautiful piece of art through film,” Shelby said.

When a film is complete, the mentors help organize and promote a screening for the community. A completed film can result from one of the workshops, a 48 hour film challenge, or an impromptu collaboration.  For the 48 hour film challenge, students are given a subject, or theme, and 48 hours to make a film. Last month’s subject was hunger, and Smackback was the winner. The film’s creators interpreted hunger as the hunger for affection and education, according to one of the film’s collaborators, OYBM Team Supporter and mentor, Steven Toya.

Toya is an NAU grad who specializes in digital photography, and found his inspiration through George Romero’s zombie movies. When he is not helping out with a project within the organization, he is able to pursue his interest in horror films. OYBM is basically a collective of amateur filmmakers who collaborate within the organization, on projects outside of the organization, and sometimes bring the two together. Some of them prefer filming, and others would prefer to write scripts, and so on; wherever they are needed, they will help, similar to show business. It is kind of a miniature Hollywood for indigenous youth.

OYBM has videos on their website (oybm.org) as well as on their YouTube channel. The videos range from very rudimentary, to sophisticated, with animation and special effects. The subject matter ranges from baseball bat wielding child-heroes fighting Death, to public service-type short films about underage drinking. Some of the films are informational, while others are short sketches full of irony, tongue in cheek humor and satire. Thankstaking, for example, is an alternative interpretation of the pilgrims’ arrival.

“We have come to save you from your savagery-ness”, says one of the pilgrims to one of the  Native Americans upon arriving.

Another film is a parody on the movie Twilight, titled The Sun Sets on Twilight. It is another humorous piece, but it uses serious interviews to ask equally serious questions about how Native American faces and voices are curiously absent in Hollywood. Native American roles have historically been created and filled by caucasian writers and actors. This cuts to the core of what OYBM is all about, which is to give the under represented Native American youth the skills and the platform so that their voices can be heard.

It appears that they have done just that. The students and mentors have taken advantage of the opportunity and they have made content that is extremely unique. Whether or not it appeals to a broad range of people is academic; it is their platform and they are proud of what they do. It is, indeed, very unique and you might not be able to find anything else like it, no matter where you look.