Armed with video cameras, imagination

Youths and adults in year-old Gandhi Brigade media project focus on community concerns

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Michael Morris, 17, loves film so much that he’s already created his first independent video production.

The Silver Spring resident and Montgomery Blair High School junior spent time filming garbage in Long Branch Creek, and then filmed residents cleaning up the debris on Earth Day in April.

His final product, ‘‘Siege on Long Branch Creek,” was shown Thursday evening at the American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, along with five other films created by Silver Spring’s Gandhi Brigade. The screenings were free.

The Gandhi Brigade, which began in August 2005, is a youth media project that brings together youths and adults with and without disabilities to help promote a better understanding of community issues through video. Topics range from keeping the environment clean to residents’ thoughts about Sept. 11, 2001. The group, run by volunteers, including technical advisor and independent filmmaker Beezhan Meezan, meets Saturdays at the Long Branch Community Center.

The project grew out of Christ Congregational Church’s hope to build a deeper connection with the community, said Silver Spring resident Richard Jaeggi, a founder of the project.

A number of the group’s participants are from SEEC, an organization that helps people with developmental disabilities live and work in the county, Jaeggi said. However, he added, the group is diverse, with people of different ages and backgrounds.

‘‘It’s kind of a powerful thing. Everyone learns from everyone else,” he said.

The group first worked together to create a documentary, ‘‘From Out of the Blue,” that featured a series of interviews with residents about their memories of Sept. 11, 2001. Then the members all set out to work on individual video projects, shown Thursday at the AFI.

Morris was excited to see his video screened and share his work with friends and family, including his video production teacher at Blair.

‘‘It’s fun and it’s kind of exciting to interview people,” he said. ‘‘You get to record people’s ideas on different things and you can share them with other people.”

He hoped his video would ‘‘make people realize how important it is to take care of the environment,” Morris said.

Morris said he found out about the Gandhi Brigade through Jaeggi and joined last August because of his own interest in film.

Kara Nicole Jones, 23, known as Nicci, joined the group just before Christmas, said her mother Joan Christopher of Silver Spring. Christopher started coming to the sessions with her and soon also learned how to shoot and edit video.

‘‘I just can’t put it into words [how Jones has benefited],” Christopher said. ‘‘She was feeling unneeded.”

Being involved in video production has given Jones, who uses a wheelchair, a positive activity, Christopher said. She hasn’t missed a Saturday session and thinks she wants to work in the television industry.

With the help of some friends, Jones created a video of her view of MetroAccess operations, strapping a camera to her wheelchair. It was a little hard, she said, but fun to do and fun to see her final product.

Dan Samels, 36, also hopes to have a career in the video production industry. His video featured his knowledge of how to use a camera and tripod. He found out about the Gandhi Brigade through a flyer at the Long Branch Community Center and decided to show up the following Saturday, he said, even though he’d already had some experience with film in classes he’d taken at Cox Cable Television in Fairfax, Va., and at Montgomery Cable Television.

‘‘It’s a lot of fun,” he said.