Eight years ago, Joey Whiting was living on the street. At 21, they had just kicked a drug habit. But direction or drive? Not so much. Then, as the saying goes, fate intervened: Whiting joined a film workshop at Outside In, a Portland nonprofit serving homeless youth. For three weeks, they and the dozen-odd other participants learned to operate cameras, mics, and other filmmaking equipment, write a screenplay, compose shots, edit footage—all the ins and outs of film production. Whiting and a friend made a humorous short about class stratification, complete with a zombie cameo.
“When you’re living on the street, people don’t want to listen to you,” says Whiting. “They just want you to go away. This gave me the opportunity to feel like I was actually being heard for the first time in a really long time.”
Flash forward to 2018. Whiting, now 29, works full-time as an outreach worker supporting homeless youth in Beaverton. And that modest film workshop has spun into a full-fledged nonprofit of its own, Outside the Frame, offering twice-yearly filmmaking intensives and weekly workshops for homeless youth—who’ve made films about needle exchange, affordable housing, and Peter Pan—plus dozens of screenings for the public. After completing the program, participants have the opportunity to come on as paid peer mentors.
“We’re showing that these young people who are regarded as somewhere between a liability and a nuisance are valuable citizens, and have so much to contribute,” says executive director Nili Yosha, the daughter of rabblerousing Israeli filmmakers. “Filmmaking is hard work, and they do it.”
That insistence on high expectations is crucial for Yosha, who launched OTF in 2015. She’s demanding, and the young filmmakers deliver. And despite OTF’s size (it counts 1.75 full-time employees) it’s made a mark. In the past year, OTF youth taught filmmaking to students at the alternative Alliance High School at Benson. They were contracted to record firsthand accounts of homelessness for the Portland Art Museum’s Object Stories exhibit. Says Yosha: “It’s not just me that sees the value of what these kids have to offer.”
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