The high-school students, most of them children of East African refugees and immigrants, had never held a microphone, never worked with video equipment and had never conducted an interview, much less with a Seahawks player or former team owner.
But on Saturday at the downtown Seattle Central Library, the students who described themselves as initially shy, screened the documentaries they scripted, shot and edited over the past six months through a Central Area multimedia program, with support from the city of Seattle and the Seahawks.
“These are kids growing up between two cultures. We’re training them about journalism, about media production and broadcasting. But in the process they are engaging their own ideas and learning how to become voices for their own community,” said Assaye Abunie, executive director of Multimedia Resources and Training Institute, at 23rd and South Jackson.
About 10 students, many from Garfield and Franklin high schools, premiered their documentaries wearing 12th Man jerseys donated by the Seahawks. The older students showed a short film on the redevelopment of the Yesler Terrace housing project and its effect on residents and the surrounding business community.
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Students interviewed Yesler Terrace residents, employees and some restaurant owners, many of whom also came from East African backgrounds.
Their evolution as filmmakers could be seen in the artful photography, the grimy handprint on the white door frame of a boarded-up town house and a child’s plastic car framed through a weedy chain-link fence.
The second documentary, on the history of the Seahawks, was made by beginning students who, with awkward pauses and occasionally stumbling voice-overs, recounted the beginnings of the team including its first stars, Steve Largent and Jim Zorn, and its first majority owners, the Nordstrom family.
By the time the students arrive to film at the Renton practice facility six weeks later, they are focused and polished as they stand up beside Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin, practiced veterans not only of football but of media inquiries.
John Nordstrom, now 76, completely charms the students, telling them that the family kept their day jobs because didn’t expect to make any money on the new franchise. At the end of the interview, he praises Daniel Ewnetu, one of the student documentarians. “Thank you,” he says. “Good job.”
The students also interviewed Jamila Taylor, the central network coordinator for the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, a city of Seattle-funded program aimed at at-risk youth, whose staff recruited many of the students.
In the documentary, Biniam Ontiveros, a Garfield sophomore, asks Taylor about the program to connect students with mentors and learning opportunities. Then, without missing a beat, he says, “Transitioning now to the Seahawks, what do you think of their chances for winning the Super Bowl?”
“I think their chances are very high,” Taylor says.
Other community partners spoke at the public screening. The library staff gave the students a three-day workshop on research using their archives.
Jeffrey Perkins Jr. a small-business consultant who wrote the grant application for city funding and contacted the Seahawks, told the students Saturday that sometimes it just takes a phone call. Paul Moyer, former Seahawks player, coach and broadcaster, praised the students for getting “some great interviews with some great role models.”
Another community partner, Asfaha Lemlem, of RecTec, a nonprofit technology program with a site at Yesler Terrace, said the program teaches the students to make a commitment, to show up on time and follow through.
“We’re teaching them about growing up, about how to become adults,” he said.
But it was the students themselves who were the stars of the afternoon.
Marta Asefa, a Garfield sophomore who described herself as someone who previously wouldn’t talk or volunteer in class, said she was surprised that all their efforts came together in a finished documentary.
“Wow! We did all this. We all worked together.”
Yonathan Beruk, a Garfield junior and a nine-year participant in the multimedia-training institute, said that through the program, he learned not just how to shoot and edit a documentary, but how to get involved in the community. He is now interning at Microsoft.
“Instead of just joining a cause, we learned that we can start a cause we care about,” he said.
Lynn Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8305.