Over the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing you to some of the world-changing storytellers that will be speaking at Story Movements, our new catalytic two-day convening September 15-16 that examines platforms and genres of civic media storytelling through the lens of social justice. From documentary film to investigative journalism to virtual reality to participatory storytelling to persuasive gaming to photography, the convening examines and captures the current and future-looking moment in story-led demands for social change.
Today, meet Jonathan Skurnik, a filmmaker, media activist and the founder of the Youth and Gender Media Project.
At the Youth and Gender Media Project, we believe all young people should be encouraged to be themselves, free from the fear of bullying or discouragement. Our mission is to support educators, families and youth who want to create inclusive communities by providing them with ground-breaking videos and curricula about gender expansive youth. Our films open minds and hearts, and invite viewers to examine and challenge everything they thought they knew about young people and their relationships to gender. Our ultimate vision is to create a world where all people are free to express themselves fully and are celebrated for who they really are.
CMSI: How did you get started in documentary filmmaking?
Jonathan Skurnik: When my father gave me a movie camera at age eight, I immediately started making little animated films, which over the years grew into a passion for movie making. In college, I was fortunate to be mentored by an extremely talented team of film professors who led me towards documentary filmmaking as a means to tell powerful stories that are under-represented in mainstream media. After college, I worked in other fields for almost ten years, then made my way back to filmmaking through personal storytelling. Once I remembered how powerful, important and fun it is to make films, I found a partner and started making documentaries for PBS and educational distribution and have been doing that ever since.
CMSI: What inspired you to start The Youth & Gender Media Project?
Jonathan Skurnik: I was a gender expansive child who loved to play with both dollhouses and Hot Wheels, wear pants and dresses. Like any child, I wanted it all! Then I started to get teased and bullied and gave up “girly” things. In the early 2000s I read about children who were gender creative and transgender and were living in communities that supported them. These children and their families were doing what I hadn’t been able to do as a child. So I created the Youth and Gender Media Project, a series of short films about these modern day heroes, in order to make the world safe for all flavors of gender identity and expression.
CMSI: How have young people responded to the films and curricula of the Project?
Jonathan Skurnik: Young people are consistently moved by the films, which lead to passionate discussions afterwards about the issues brought up in the films. They inevitably relate the stories to the way that gender has played out in their own lives and the lives of their friends, and are consistently inspired by the heroism and determination of the film’s subjects. Two fifth graders (11 years old) had this to say about I’m Just Anneke at a recent screening: “We just watched your films and were amazed by them. Right now I think we are your #1 fans. From a GSA standpoint, we loved the way the movies brought up how you don’t have to be woman, man, transgirl, or transboy. There are so many ways to express your own personality and gender. It was so interesting getting to really understand Anneke’s life. As filmmakers in the making, we loved your use of music and choice of film angles. We really liked how you were able to express so much information in such a short time.”
To learn more about The Youth and Gender Media Project, click here.
To see the complete Story Movements line-up, click here.
To register for Story Movements, click here.