By Erin Coller

At the San Diego Asian Film Festival held annually in November, some of the most poignant documentaries impacting audiences that premiere each year are created and produced by local teenagers. These students develop the skills to become technologically savvy, socially conscious storytellers through the Pacific Arts Movement’s Reel Voices program.

Since 2005, the local nonprofit Pacific Arts Movement has empowered local high school students to learn the art of documentary filmmaking through the Reel Voices program. This intense, 12-week summer internship helps students learn Final Cut Pro editing, and experience all stages of production and post-production. The program also expanded to serve students of Monarch School in 2014, allowing the school’s homeless students to share their unique voices and stories through filmmaking.

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Pacific Arts Movement is one of the largest media arts organizations in North America that focuses on Asian American and Asian international cinema. With the support of community partners including San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) through the Inspiring Future Leaders giving initiative, Reel Voices is making a lasting impact in the community and is open to all San Diego area students who are interested in learning about documentary filmmaking and how their voices could potentially represent and impact their communities, and learn a STEM skill set that will set them up for a successful career in innovation and technology.

“SDG&E has been an instrumental partner for our Reel Voices program, allowing us to graduate over 100 socially conscious students,” said Kent Lee, Pacific Arts Movement executive director. “In our partnership, we have bridged the educational gap, while addressing the urgent need for youth to learn the power of digital media and storytelling in this ever-changing age of technology. We have equipped them with critical and technical skills that ensures their success as leaders.”

Photo courtesy of the Pacific Arts Movement
Photo courtesy of the Pacific Arts Movement

One standout student filmmaker who participated in Reel Voices in 2016 and spoke at the San Diego Asian Film Festival Gala Awards is 16-year-old Winter Smiley. Split into three chapters, Smiley’s 12-minute Motherlands film follows the stories of seven Filipina women as their tales interweave across generations, borders, and bloodlines.

Photo courtesy of the Pacific Arts Movement
Photo courtesy of the Pacific Arts Movement

Smiley describes herself as being “based in between cultures and histories.” A women of color enthusiast and a cinematography lover, her main interests lie in reclaiming her agency through film by challenging the status quo of representation in media and archiving stories that are often forgotten.

“I found a way of sharing my story—our story—through film, but more importantly through Reel Voices,” said Smiley. “Reel Voices taught me to see film not just as a form of art, but as a way of resistance. To say yes. We exist. Yes, we matter. Our stories matter. And they deserve to be listened to, to be seen.”

Visit to find more information about Reel Voices, the students involved, and the application process for 2017. Visit or call 619-400-5911 to support Pacific Arts Movement and the Reel Voices program with a donation.

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