March 13th, 2013

Spotlight: Jennifer Liu, Filmmaker for Social Justice and LAMP Facilitator

Jennifer Liu teaching teens at Immigrant Social Services to edit their videos.

Jennifer Liu is an all-star facilitator for The LAMP. She was a critical part of sustaining our program with the Queens Library’s Far Rockaways branch during Superstorm Sandy, and in the new year, she’s been working with Immigrant Social Services teens on alcohol abuse PSAs and with Cambria Heights teens on PSAs addressing gun violence. Below, she talks about using film and video to fight social inequality, and why media skills are so important for marginalized youth.

You have extensive experience as a media producer, educator and film aficionado. What are some things you’ve learned about media that you wish you knew when you were young?

I was introduced to media and using media as a tool for social justice around my junior year of high school. I do wish that programs like The LAMP existed or were more easily accessible in elementary or middle school. Even presenting this idea of using media and technology at a young age would have benefited me. After learning how I could use a camera and editing tools, I found my own voice and felt involved in the world and my community. I wish I knew there were organizations and people who supported young people and that there was a fun and interactive and fun way to become engaged in learning about social issues.

What compelled you to begin making your own films?

I produced several films with groups of students throughout high school. It was learning about social injustices that really got me riled up and wanting to document these issues and raise awareness. I found my passion and anger towards the American education system – how students are treated as delinquents in a space that should make them feel safe, standardized testing, the lack of focus and motivation for students to succeed. These are the topics that drove my films throughout high school.

Film remained an interest for me that I thought I could pursue on the side, so I decided to study in the field of teaching. I initially studied political science and English a bridge to educating youth about social justice, as well as teaching English abroad. After switching between these two areas of study, I realized that I had put my passion for film on hold and felt I was losing my voice. I needed and craved a more hands-on education so I went back to my first love. After participating as a production assistant on larger sets, I knew that it was exactly where I wanted to be. I am currently studying Film at Hunter College, expanding my knowledge of film theory and production. This is a very exciting time for me as I begin to produce my own films.

Growing up as a first-generation American, what were some of the differences in the way you viewed American media and technology, versus how it was understood by your parents?

Growing up, my parents (especially my dad) were very into technology. I grew up surrounded by computers, television, gaming devices, and cameras. My parents understood it as sources of entertainment, capturing moments in our childhood, and communication devices (around early 2000). For me, after becoming involved with social justice, I developed a more critical lens towards American media. I saw that media and technology could be used as a metaphorical weapon against people, but I could use it as a weapon to fight back. I was able to understand it as another voice for myself and allow unrecognized communities to be heard.

Currently, you’re wrapping up a Public Service Announcement workshop series with Immigrant Social Services in the Two Bridges neighborhood of Manhattan. What are some of the biggest challenges your students face on a daily basis, particularly around how media impact their lives?

The students at Immigrant Social Services have been incredible. They have so many ideas flowing and have used the tools that The LAMP has provided to create PSAs about the effects of drugs and alcohol in their communities. One of the biggest challenges my students face on a daily basis is having access to their own camera or zoom recorders. It is important and essential for them to have an outlet of self-expression and also raise their self-esteem. Many of the students are in middle school or high school. It is a crucial time in their lives where they see many of their friends and classmates fall to peer pressure. If they are not seeing or hearing their story in the media, they should have the tools available to tell their story and engage their own peers. Nobody can relate to a group of middle or high school students better than themselves.

What else do you have coming up this year that excites you?

Being that I am one year into the film program at Hunter College, that is the core of my excitement – being in a learning and hands-on phase. I just invested in a camera and lenses so I am looking forward to creating my own film and documenting educational injustices and government abuse of power that I see and face on a regular basis. I do get several opportunities to work on film sets, which is always a fun environment to learn in and just be in the madness of it all. I always look forward to working with new programs and youth. They continue to be so open and eager to learn about media. Overall, I am excited for this year of transition. It is my time to learn, grow, teach, and create!

Click here for more pictures from The LAMP’s workshop with Immigrant Social Services, and click here to support more programs like this!

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