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Saturday, May 21, 2022

Streamer Channel Showcases Kids in the Spotlight

More than 70 films written and directed by foster youth as part of an educational program run by a Burbank nonprofit have become available for public viewership for the first time.

Kids in the Spotlight Inc., or KITS, which offers 10- and 15-week screenwriting and film production courses, announced a partnership last month with streaming platform IndieFlix in Seattle to launch an exclusive “Foster Film” channel exhibiting the student projects.It debuted Dec. 18 with about 15 titles. Dozens more have since been added, and the channel will soon host all 75 films created since the nonprofit’s inception in 2009.

“Part of our strategic plan was to look for a home for these films to reach a wider audience beyond our supporters here in Hollywood,” Executive Director Tige Charity told the Business Journal.KITS aims to use the filmmaking process to help young people living in group homes and foster care tell their stories and learn trade skills that could lead to future employment opportunities.

Charity said most of the films are inspired by the participants’ personal experiences. The process of writing a narrative, portraying their characters’ behavior through acting and finally shooting the script, she said, can be cathartic and healing.

Often, the experience fuels their interest in the film and television industry. KITS alumni have gone on to become professional actors, production crew, music video directors and documentary filmmakers.Charity founded KITS after she was laid off from her insurance job during the Great Recession. She said the idea to bring a filmmaking course to foster homes was inspired by an acting class her husband Antonio Charity had taught at a local group home.“That experience at this group home cracked my heart wide open,” she told the Business Journal. “A vision was just deposited into my heart to create a platform for those kids to be seen, heard, celebrated, validated and employed.”With encouragement from family and friends, the two developed the course into a comprehensive curriculum that culminates with a black-tie, red carpet-style awards screening event.More than a decade later, KITS is still a relatively small operation on paper. It receives most of its funding in the form of in-kind donations from individual contributors. Some additional support comes from grants from the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture, state-funded groups such as the California Arts Council and industry groups such as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Its payroll includes just three paid employees, including Charity. It otherwise relies on contractors and volunteer instructors who work in the film industry.This year, the pandemic has forced the replacement of KITS’ full course with a five-week virtual screenwriting competition judged by Hollywood figures including stage and screen actor Ty Burrell, who plays Phil Dunphy on the ABC sitcom “Modern Family.”Tige Charity said KITS normally produces eight or nine films by L.A.-area foster youth a year. She regularly submits them to regional and national film festivals – including the 2016 South By South Lawn White House Film Festival, where youth filmmakers met President Barack Obama – but the IndieFlix channel is the first time the movies have been permanently available to the general public outside of awards circuits.“We’re just scraping the surface of what we are trying to do for kids in foster care,” Charity said, noting the importance of disrupting the systemic school-to-prison pipeline. “Every time these films are watched on that platform, it generates revenue for the organization so we can reach more people.”

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