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by Sarah F. Wimberley

Big Picture Alliance (BPA) was awarded a $50,000 grant from Impact100 Philadelphia in 2022. Support from Impact100 has enabled BPA to expand their reach, deepen their impact, and produce numerous powerful projects that have uplifted youth and community voices. 

The mission is to empower Philadelphia youth to define their own narrative through filmmaking & digital media arts. Big Picture Alliance provides transformative learning experiences and a supportive pathway for youth to have their voices heard, develop as young professionals and reach their full potential. By uplifting underrepresented stories and amplifying marginalized voices, the organization cultivates a new generation of storytellers who contribute towards a more inclusive, equitable and just society.

BPA brings media professionals into classrooms & communities to teach digital filmmaking through a hands-on project-based curriculum. Youth (ages 12-24) develop digital literacy, self-expression, social-emotional empowerment, and 21st-Century skills through producing original films from script-to-screen. Youth collaborate in writing, shooting, & editing films that communicate their life experiences, perspectives, and imaginations. They connect with media professionals through industry field trips and present their films to the public through youth-led screenings and broadcasts – including our annual Big Picture Film Fest. 

BPA’s pathway of school, summer, and workforce programs annually serves 250 youth through 1,000 program hours across ten Philadelphia zip codes through partnerships with schools, industry leaders, and cultural institutions. These programs provide youth access to digital media tools, creative community and professional mentorship – empowering them to define their own narrative from script-to-screen and from curiosity-to-careers. 100% of our alumni are placed at paid industry apprenticeships with some of the region’s top film and media companies through the Media Futures workforce program. Alumni also produce works-for-hire – uplifting local community organizations through BPA’s production company – Big Picture Productions. Since 1994, BPA has served over 9,000 youth through 150 partnerships resulting in academic achievement, 150 scholarships, 250 internships, and 850 films. 

In 2022, BPA served youth excelled: 98% graduated, 92% passed assessments, 92% completed/screened their films, and 96% built confidence & community. Youth produced 50 films engaging over 600,000 people through 10 screenings, 6 broadcasts, and 6 social media campaigns. Ten films were featured at film festivals and 6 won awards, including an Emmy for “COVID Resiliency Project”. 80% of our workforce alumni attained Industry Certifications, 50% entered college and 100% were placed at paid apprenticeships with some of Philadelphia’s top media companies.

Through BPA’s After School & Summer Programs youth produced over 40 films exploring themes of Love, Resiliency, and Imagination. They explored their personal experiences through narrative fiction and community issues through research-based documentaries. 

“We really got to know each other and it felt like a family of artists supporting each other. Filmmaking helped me become more outspoken and learn how to communicate my ideas in a whole new way.” – Camila Vasquez, BPA Youth Filmmaker

Film Futures participants created 3 original short narrative films including Lover’s Anonymous (a comedy about love at first sight), You’ll Always Have Hope (a horror thriller about loss), and Magenta (a drama about police brutality against black youth). These films allowed participants to explore and express both personal and social themes that were of importance to them and their peers – and produce their debut films as emerging filmmakers. 

“It’s such an amazing opportunity to learn from these talented mentors and be part of a creative community that not only looks like me, but it feels like me and it’s for me.” – Demi Sills-Toomer

Our Big Picture Film Fest premiered 14 films representing over 50 youth from our school, summer and workforce programs to an audience of over 100 people – including youth, families, and civic & industry leaders. These films have since reached broader audiences through additional TV broadcasts, community screenings, film fests and online.

Our Media Futures participants collaborated with Philly Community Wireless on a documentary about a free community-based wifi network in Philly’s Norris Square neighborhood. The film has been used as part of a broader campaign to expand the network and advocate for the internet as a human right. We also partnered with Philadelphia Lawyers For Social Equity to produce a docu-series about their campaign to help community members expunge criminal records that are holding them back from achieving their social and career potential. In 2023, we are partnering with the Philadelphia Orchard Project, another Impact100 Philadelphia Grantee, to produce a docu-series uplifting local Environmental Justice movements. The project aims to educate the public and civic leaders about reforms that put land back in the hands of communities for agriculture, recreation, and housing.

BPA was the recipient of a 2022 Sony Create Action Grant – providing equipment & funding to our youth filmmaking and workforce programs. 

In June 2023, BPA will launch “GroundFloor Studios” – a social enterprise in partnership with ChatterBlast Media. This youth-centered digital media hub will include a state-of-the-art media lab, production studio, and screening space. It will be home to BPA’s program pathway – providing hundreds of Philly youth access to its programs and the youth a “seat-at-the-table” accessing professional networks and the opportunity to present their work to civic and industry leaders. GroundFloor Studios will serve as a creative workforce incubator – cultivating community-driven content and careers from the “ground up.”

Big Picture Alliance welcomes volunteers. For more information email Aleks Martray, Big Picture Alliance’s Executive Director.