It Takes A Village
Documentary on troubled county youth airs on KSBW.
Thursday, August 21, 2003
A 14-year-old boy is recruited by a gang. A 17-year-old living in juvenile hall blames himself for his mother''s death--he was five when she overdosed. Another child endures physical abuse at the hand of his mother''s boyfriend, who sells drugs from the RV they live in.
Life in a Los Angeles ghetto? Oakland? Fresno?
Try Monterey County. These local children, and others with similar stories, are featured in Our Town, an hour-long documentary by Monterey filmmaker Scott Evers that will be broadcast on KSBW TV-8 this Monday at 8pm.
Our Town follows the lives of children from different backgrounds, all living around the Monterey Bay. Evers interviewed more than 400 children, following some of them around with cameras from dawn to bedtime. The result is an authentic reality TV show that documents and contrasts the disturbing hardships faced by the most vulnerable--and most promising--members of our society.
"I like to [film] kids, because you can effect change with them," says Evers, who has also produced documentaries about kids with AIDS, and kids and violence. "I also think that they are kind of invisible. Nobody really sees them, especially the more disadvantaged kids."
Evers'' film attempts to bring the unseen, unheard children into the spotlight. In a fast-paced, MTV-ish sort of way, Our Town flips through snippets of the children''s lives, which are split into four separate screens. Simultaneously, the viewer witnesses a well-dressed Latino boy with slicked back hair riding to school in the back of an SUV; a pair of brothers walking to school through a crumbling Salinas neighborhood; a cheerful African-American girl running to her waiting parents after track practice; and a Latino teenager--the one whose mother died when he was five--sitting in a courtroom listening to a judge''s lecture.
A voice-over narrative in the children''s own voices offers a conduit into their thoughts. adult voices in this film are kept to a minimum.
Our Town enumerates the problems kids face today in California--gangs, drugs, teen pregnancy--as well as the almost cliche factors contributing to those problems: crushing poverty exacerbated by outrageous housing costs; farmworker parents spending dawn to dusk laboring in the fields while their unsupervised children run amok in a gang-controlled barrio; the road that leads from poverty and single motherhood to bad relationships and addiction.
Evers'' film, however, goes beyond the socioeconomic roots of these young peoples'' predicaments, and strives to emphasize the stark inequities and disconnect between communities that lies behind the detachment and isolation of children growing up today.
And it''s that disconnect, not poverty, that Evers believes has led to the sharp increase in troubled children.
While Evers (and just about anyone over the age of 30) was growing up, kids and parents knew their neighbors. They ran from house to house, doors remained unlocked, and adults watched out for the neighborhood kids. If a mother needed a babysitter, or kids needed an adult other than a parent to talk to, the community was there.
Today''s parents are less likely to let their kids roam streets, and understandably so. But in the attempt to keep children safe, people have become walled off from one another. Childcare has become institutionalized; teachers can''t hug their students; neighbors don''t know each other. In Evers'' mind, this fundamental shift in community life has left children isolated--especially disadvantaged children, whose parents are either off working or, for whatever reason, struggling in some other way to care for them
"We''ve become hypersensitive to issues of security," Evers says. "Do we really need to be that concerned? Is it (violence and abuse against children) really happening as much as it feels like it''s happening? These kids are made to distrust adults now, because no adults will touch them. And it''s exacerbated in the challenged classes. They''re scared enough. They''re dealing with shootings and sirens in the night, so you have these kids that are really scared, and are really unsure of their environment."
One Salinas teenager Evers interviewed had only traveled to two other places in his life--both of them gang-infested neighborhoods in Los Angeles and Modesto. Evers says the boy didn''t believe a world without gangs existed. Nobody had ever told him so.
Another interview subject, a Salinas mother who had immigrated from Mexico, actually wanted to get her 14-year-old son into "the system"--i.e. juvenile detention--because she thought that would be the safest place for him.
Bottom line, Evers says, is that adults, whether they have children of their own or not, need to reach out to the children, and parents, in their community. "Just notice the kids in your neighborhood first," he says. "Just talk to them and realize they''re there. Then all of the sudden you have a community again."
Certainly, the argument has been made that a community should take an interest in its children to stave off crime as well as future prison and welfare costs. But children''s lives, Evers says, are everyone''s responsibility--just because.
"You should just care," he says. "It doesn''t need to be about the future. It doesn''t need to be that there''s going to be some payoff for us in the future because we take care of these kids. It needs to be that they''re kids, they''re our kids. They deserve to have a chance to have a decent life."
Our Town airs Monday Aug. 25 at 8pm and again on Saturday Aug. 30 at 3pm on KSBW TV-8.