Adam Lee is a prime example of how young people can harbor undiscovered storytelling talents. Thanks to Pacific Arts Movement, he was able to use film to tell the story of one of the most infamous legal cases in San Diego history — the botched prosecution of Dale Akiki, an innocent man falsely accused of 52 counts of child molestation and animal abuse.

Back in 2009, Lee brought Akiki’s story to life thanks to Reel Voices, a 12-week summer internship offered to high school students via the Pacific Arts Movement. The program looks for students who want to shed light on social issues through documentary films that debut at the San Diego Asian Film Festival.

Here are five ways kids become better filmmakers thanks to Reel Voices:

They learn the art of storytelling

The main focus of the program is to teach students how to be powerful storytellers through film. Many draw inspiration from social issues and personal experiences they’d like to illuminate. Former students include a war refugee, a teen mom, and a cancer survivor, said program coordinator Jini Shim.

“Students have made films about a topic or a person that inspires or enrages them, about a journey, a transformation, a social movement, or even a special friendship,” Shim said.

The films live on years after the program ends because the issues they highlight remain current in society.

Alumni return to teach about effective film making

Alumni involvement makes this program unique. Each student in the program is paired up with a mentor to guide them through the process of making their documentary. Mentors teach students how to use Final Cut Pro, a video editing program, and the proper way to use professional equipment. They are also there for moral support, career advice and to provide film-making tips.

Jeremie Sunico (front) playing with the camera while Gabi D'amico and Jakob Rostamo film for a class project in the background.
Jeremie Sunico (front) playing with the camera while Gabi D’amico and Jakob Rostamo film for a class project in the background.
Jeremie Sunico (front) playing with the camera while Gabi D’amico and Jakob Rostamo film for a class project in the background.

They can network with industry experts

In addition to working with past alumni, all students get to network with professionals in the film-making industry. Professionals are invited to speak to the class. Or, if pros aren’t local, students can talk with them via Skype. When connecting with field experts, the students learn what the industry is like, and the different directions they can go in in addition to how they can stand out from others.

waving on skype
Reel Voices students having a Skype meeting with filmmaker Jeff Mizushima, who is also a Reel Voices mentor.

Their documentaries go worldwide

Each student’s film debuts at the San Diego Asian Film Festival. However, the films live on after that. The films are then packaged into DVDs and sent across the world to other film festivals like Los Angeles Film Festival, National Film Festival for Talented Youth in Seattle, Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in New York, YoungCuts Film Festival in Canada, and Seoul International Youth Film Festival in Korea. Some students have won awards at the festivals and others have used their films to get into college—and even scored scholarships.

Students learn to think critically

Adam Lee, a freelance cinematographer, said the program helped him find his voice.

His 2009 documentary is based on the notorious case of Dale Akiki. This story was important to Lee because his mother served as the defense attorney for Akiki when Lee was a toddler. He used his internship with Reel Voices to learn about the trial and why Akiki had been falsely accused by conducting interviews with key players in the case and showing clips. Check the documentary out:

Documentary about the struggles of Dale Akiki, a man who was wrongfully accused and tried for crimes that were never committed all because of his appearance and the prejudices of others.

“I made the film to learn more about my family’s past as well as to explore the concept of judging people based on their appearances,” Lee said.
Lee said he recommends Reel Voices to any high school student. He said through interviewing it will improve their public speaking skills and encourage them to explain complex ideas in short amounts of time.

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