By Nona Tepper
On June 10, the Park District of Forest Park will offer its first introduction to filmmaking class for teens, thanks to Renea Walker, a veteran filmmaker.
A Forest Park resident, Walker started her artistic career about 12 years ago, teaching students lyric dance at a Baptist church in Chicago after finishing her bachelor's degree in digital cinematography. A desire to teach high-schoolers led her to the After School Matters program in Chicago about four years ago, seeing in herself an ability to mentor teens to make positive choices.
"They're trying to find themselves," she said. "They want to be validated and they need my positive energy."
A need for positive programming for middle-schoolers in Forest Park inspired her to take her talents to the park district. Walker has a son enrolled in sixth grade at Forest Park Middle School.
"Middle-schoolers and the youth, they need something other than hanging out at the park," she said. "Art is a whole different language that needs to be taught. … It'll help keep the trouble down with the youth in our communities because if they don't have anything to do, they're going to find something wrong to do."
In February, Walker emailed the park district about teaching a course, after looking at the organization's course catalog and realizing "there's never any programs for middle-schoolers. It's the same classes that have been going on forever." She said the park district was enthusiastic about a course on arts but originally wanted her to teach photography.
"I have my expertise in both," she said, "but the thing about having skills and talent is you have to be able to differentiate which one you're stronger in, which one you have more passion in."
She decided to focus on adding a four-week Intro to Filmmaking course, which teaches students the three stages of pre- and post-production in filmmaking. Among other things, students will learn how to plan a story and scout talent; frame composition and install proper lighting; and shoot and edit the film.
Walker said she enjoys making message-driven movies, e.g. forgiveness and family issues that offer solutions, and she also hopes to instill leadership skills in students as well. Examples of films her Chicago students have made include: solutions to violence, advice transitioning from high school to college, and bullying. At the end of the session, she plans to host an awards ceremony for students, as well as a screening opportunity for their parents.
The four-week, two-hour classes start June 10, and are available for students age 12 to 17. Classes cost $195 for residents, and $205 for non-residents. Register online at pdofp.org.
From her Chicago program, some of her students have been able to parlay their skills into a career in filmmaking.
"I'm so proud of them, and all the things they have done. I have a couple students going to college for it," Walker said.
She added: "As far as Forest Park, I'm hoping I can gain the trust of the village and maybe bring in some grants for the kids to learn different arts, videography, photography, sound engineering, right? It's just bringing a whole brand new language that can change some of the behavior in our kids. We shouldn't have to go to Oak Park to learn this, we shouldn't have to go to River Forest for this, we live in our own village, our community should open up and bring in more resources."