DigitaLENS Partners With KDocs to Help High School Students “Take Back the Lens”

Participants will have the opportunity to screen their work at KDocs film festival

DigitaLENS Program Coordinator Aisha Amijee and KDOCS Outreach Coordinator Greg Chan. (Joseph Keller)

The cameras are about to start rolling for the fourth installment of DigitaLENS, a KPU-hosted program designed to teach high school students visual media skills while empowering them to tell their own stories.

DigitaLENS will run from Sept. 27 to Dec. 13, and for the first time, the program will end with DigitaLENS students entering their work into the KDocs film festival, an annual event hosted by Kwantlen Polytechnic University where documentary films are screened and discussed.

The 12-week program is open to students from Grade 8 to 12 and aims to help them address how they are being misrepresented in media, according to program coordinator Aisha Amijee.

It provides students with “a safe place to talk about real issues that are happening,” says Amijee. “They’re being misrepresented, so what can they do to take back the lens and tell their own stories?”

DigitaLENS takes place at the KPU journalism department’s visual media workshop on the Surrey campus. Amijee says that the idea for the program came about as a way of looking at the representation of youth in Surrey, who Amijee believes are often unfairly depicted as being prone to drug use and gang violence.

At the beginning of the program, students take a critical look at media coverage of marginalised peoples, both in Canada and abroad. They learn that it’s up to them to take representation into their own hands if they feel that they are being unfairly characterized, and they explore social justice concepts like privilege, positionality, and race.

Later, students learn digital storytelling skills and techniques such as audio recording, photography, video editing, and writing. By the end of the 12 weeks, each student will have created a piece of storytelling that presents an issue affecting them.

Amijee says that the students are able to work on developing the skills that interest them most. Some are interested in writing, while others gravitate more towards video production. All students, however, share a common sense of belonging to a community and support system.

“A lot of this program is about community-building and learning to care for each other,” says Amijee. “From a social justice point of view, you don’t really care about people that you don’t know and you don’t really stand up for their issues unless you consider them part of your circle, so we try to build a different type of network where people are coming together, getting to know each other.”

Additionally, those enrolled in the program will get plenty of free pizza because, according to Amijee, “Anyone who’s worked with highschool kids knows that pizza is the way to their heart.”

The program also provides a positive opportunity for KDocs, which has recently been conducting community outreach with local high schools by screening films and teaching students about documentary production. According to KDocs Community Outreach Coordinator Greg Chan, this sort of initiative has made KDocs and DigitaLENS natural partners.

“We have so much in common [with DigitaLENS] about community building and social justice issues and working with students at all levels,” Chan explains.

The KDocs team will be leading the DigitaLENS class in a workshop on documentary filmmaking this semester, and in turn, DigitaLENS students will attend a KDocs screening in October. They will also be volunteering with KDocs in February and, ultimately, screening their documentaries at the festival.

Amijee and Chan both say that they’re excited to get to know another generation of students and to see what sort of stories they will tell.

“I think [DigitaLENS] really showcases the value of liberal arts: engaging in the community, applying skills outside of the classroom, and the ability to think critically and passionately about issues that affect you every day,” says Chan.