Saint Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN) is a non-profit community media center that empowers people to use media and communications to better lives, use authentic voice to tell a story, and build common understanding. Founded in 1984 to offer a media voice to underrepresented people, SPNN has since become a national model in elevating community-based media arts.
To deepen engagement with community artists interested in documentary filmmaking, SPNN created Doc U, sponsored in part by The McKnight Foundation. Doc U provides knowledge, mentorship and opportunities to 12 participants at a time through introductory classes on writing, filmmaking and editing. Over sixteen weeks, the 2014 class of Doc U learned to create ten-minute documentaries. The finished films focused on topics ranging from an intimate and powerful look at domestic violence to the nuances of finding urban food sources. Participants were responsible for everything from pre-production and interviewing, to filming and editing.
“I feel like I’ve gotten it. I’m an artist. My voice is coming up. Not only did my voice came through, other voices came through.” —SPNN participant
Through the program participants felt empowered to tell their stories of self and community, “It took a long time to build that confidence.” one participant said, “I feel like I’ve gotten it. I’m an artist. My voice is coming up. Not only did my voice came through, other voices came through.”
The culmination of the project was a public screening of each of the documentaries, followed by a Q&A session. Participants talked about the inspiration for their projects, as well as successes and problems they faced during the process. 150 people attended the premiere, and thousands more have seen the documentaries on SPNN’s channels and online. One participant experienced special success after uploading her video to her Facebook and YouTube pages, receiving over 100,000 views, and over 2,000 shares. SPNN hopes to be able to continue with more community-building projects that empower people who have traditionally been underrepresented or misrepresented in traditional media.