BayKids Get Young Patients to Express Themselves through Filmmaking

Jibri Brown, 23 who recently went through a kidney transplant works on the self-produced video at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco. Philanthropic organization BayKids Studios’ mission is to empower children facing medical challenges to express themselves through the art of filmmaking.

Cancer patient Austin Moore, 9 years old, ticks off the names of his favorite big-time wrestlers. His all-time favorite, who goes by the name of “The Undertaker,” can “really destroy people.” From his hospital bed at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, Austin, with a prized collection of wrestling action figures, explains his love of wrestling: “These guys never give up. No matter how much pain they are in, they pop right up and start hitting.” Speaking softly, Austin adds, “I pop right up and start fighting cancer.”

Kidney patient Jibri Brown, also at UCSF in San Francisco, talks on camera from the dialysis center. He explains that he gets his blood “cleaned” three times a week, and was a teenager when his transplanted kidney failed. Just recently he had a second transplant at 23. “Dialysis is very serious,” he says. “You have to take care of yourself.”

Austin and Brown are two young patients who made films to share their stories, express their hopes and fears, and make tough times in the hospital more fun. The films were made through BayKids, a 17-year-old nonprofit whose tagline is “Lights. Camera. Healing!” The nonprofit helps hospitalized youth make mini-documentary-style films, and teaches other genres, including animation, claymation and horror. One objective is to help make sick kids feel better, and another is to give parents a chance to see their kids having fun again.

“We can’t supply the cure,” said Devora Kanter Kothari, BayKids’ executive director. “But we can supply the cameras and the moviemaking expertise to transform hospitals into movie studios and patients into filmmakers, directors, storytellers, and actors. “By guiding children in making movies, we help them overcome the limitations of their illnesses and transform them into the heroes of their own stories.” Kothari added, “We give kids really wonderful outlets so they can go beyond hospital walls and feel like stars. The idea is that the kids don’t have a lot of control over what’s going on with their lives and bodies. BayKids really tries to give these patients something they can control.”

BayKids has worked with a number of Bay Area hospitals, including Children’s Hospital Oakland and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. In all, more than 6,000 children and youths have participated in BayKids’ filmmaking programs. In addition to their weekly hospital programs, BayKids showcases the children’s films at annual premieres at the de Young Museum, through distribution on YouTube, and by entering the works in film festivals.

Michael Towne, manager of child life services at UCSF, said that BayKids brings hope and expression to patients and provides the hospital with a more “humanistic” level of care. “We provide state-of-the-art, cutting-edge research and pioneering treatment,” Towne said. “We get all of that. But in addition to offering state-of-the-art care, we have these programs that are humanistic and heartfelt. We have moviemaking, poetry, storytelling.” He added, “It brings a wealth of things, first and foremost an opportunity for children that’s pretty unparalleled. Children stripped of control can tell their own story and create their own world.”

Leukemia patient Alice Donovan was 14 years old when she spent six weeks at UCSF following a bone marrow transplant. Her BayKids film focused on her love of the band One Direction. Posters of the boy band filled her hospital room, and the band’s songs got her through many tough days. In one scene, she and her mother dance to one of the tracks. “They’ve helped me through a lot,” Alice explains in the film. “I had radiation and it was scary and I had One Direction music going. It made me feel like this would be over soon. They’re lighthearted and want to have fun, and helped me through days when I’m sad or mad or want to go home.” Alice’s film generated enough attention to get her a front row seat at a One Direction concert in Los Angeles.

Not all of the stories have happy endings, but the films forever capture a moment in time. “Some of our kids don’t make it,” said Kothari. “These movies are very important memorials for families after a child dies. We prepare all of the footage and give it to the families. These young filmmakers are forever in our hearts, and we honor them in their films.”

Julian Guthrie is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: jguthrie@sfchronicle.com. Twitter: @JulianGuthrie

BayKids

For more information, go to www.baykids.org.

October 29, 2014

Speak Your Mind

*