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ARGENTINA: Through the Lens of Young Slum Dwellers

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Oct 10 2009 (IPS) - Two dozen young slum dwellers in Buenos Aires began filming a documentary about themselves this month, in an attempt to break down the negative stereotypes with which they are portrayed in the media.

“Kids Filming: We Are Not Dangerous; We Are in Danger!” is the title of the film they are shooting in the La Cava neighbourhood north of Buenos Aires proper, where more than 10,000 people live in shacks without running water or sanitation.

The slum, which local authorities have been gradually working to upgrade and regularise since 2001, has an image of being a den of juvenile delinquents and drug addicts, and media coverage of the area has exacerbated that reputation.

“People think we’re all drug addicts and delinquents in La Cava,” said one of the budding young filmmakers, 16-year-old Melina Martínez, who lives with her mother, grandmother and sisters. “But we’re not all the same. There are people here who go to work every day at 4:00 AM.”

The youngsters are trying to show this and other aspects of the neighbourhood’s complex realities.

The project emerged from the activities of the non-governmental Youth Employment Civil Association (ACEJ), which has been working in the area with children, adolescents and young adults since 2005.

ACEJ organises sports programmes, computer, embroidery, art, and communications workshops, and recreational activities.

“The educational, work-oriented and community activities are focused on social inclusion,” ACEJ director Josefina Chávez told IPS. “There are currently 120 kids involved, between the ages of one – babies who come with their teenage mothers – and 21.”

“The kids taking part in the workshops are disadvantaged youngsters who live in homes where no one has a job, or at best only casual or informal sector work. Many of the youngsters have a criminal record, or have dropped out of school several times,” said Chávez.

The initiative for the film emerged in the communications workshop, where the young participants complained about the widespread prejudice against the neighbourhood and its residents.

“They wanted to break that image of the poor youngster always involved in something dangerous, and the idea of making a documentary came up,” said Chávez.

An agreement was signed with the social communications department of the public University of Buenos Aires, which is lending advanced students to train the young workshop participants in documentary filmmaking techniques.

ACEJ is currently funding the documentary, but the aim is for INCAA, the national film institute, to finance it. “If the support comes through, we’ll get better results, and there would also be individual scholarships for the kids who are participating,” said Chávez.

The director of the film, Miguel Ángel Domínguez, told IPS that at the start, the youngsters “didn’t know a thing” about filmmaking techniques. “We started out with screenwriting and framing. Later they learned about different types of interviews. Then we watched documentaries, and now we’re getting started.”

The film will be “critical of the media” for perpetuating stereotypes in coverage of slum neighbourhoods, while it will also show how the rights of young slum dwellers are infringed, said the filmmaker.

The youngsters will interview local residents, and they in turn will be interviewed by the director. “It will be a documentary within a documentary,” said Domínguez.

The film is not “a job opportunity” for the participants, but “a tool for them to get their voices heard,” he said.

He added, however, that some of the youngsters have turned out to be “very good at filming or doing interviews.”

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