NEA Arts Magazine

Through New Eyes

Hecho en Encinal Brings Filmmaking to Rural Texas

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Camera and sound crew on a small bridge on a rural road in a hilly location

Young filmmakers from Hecho en Encinal, Appalshop, and Indonesia shoot footage for their documentary on energy with filmmaker Tom Hansell as part of the 2008 Rural Filmmaker Exchange. Photo by Maritza Bautista.

In the rural southern Texas community of Encinal, the scarcity of opportunities to become involved in the arts is a fact of life. Since 1996, local arts organization Art's For Everyone, or Hecho en Encinal as it's better known, has provided a variety of dance, music, literary arts, theater, and visual arts programming for the community, including after-school art clubs, theater and dance performances, and oral history projects.

One discipline Hecho en Encinal hadn't explored, however, was the media arts. Working with local filmmakers, Hecho en Encinal reached out for guidance to Kentucky's Appalshop, whose signature Appalachian Media Institute (AMI) provides media production training for youth, teachers, and community groups in central Appalachia. With help from the NEA, Hecho en Encinal and Appalshop created the Rural Filmmaker Exchange to help the two organizations share ideas.

The exchange began in June 2007 in Encinal with a mixed group of 10 young people from Encinal and from the AMI program, two Appalshop filmmakers, and a professional filmmaker from nearby Laredo, Texas. The filmmakers and youth from Appalshop's AMI program joined the Encinal community for film screenings and a three-day intensive youth media workshop. The young filmmakers together planned, shot, and edited two short topical documentaries, which they shared with the community during a special screening.

Prior to the workshop, the attitude among Encinal youth was that their town did not have any interesting material for a documentary. The Appalshop students helped the young Texans to recognize what made their community unique. The first documentary produced during the workshop explored life on a South Texas ranch, while a second film, Bus Ride Stories, featured a series of interviews by students making the 55-mile round trip from Encinal to the area's middle and high schools.

A year later a group of Encinal filmmakers and two young participants traveled to Appalshop's Kentucky headquarters in Whitesburg for another three-day AMI workshop and film screenings by participants. Their experience at Appalshop overlapped with a visit by a group from rural Indonesia, an opportunity that allowed the Texas group to see how filmmakers from a very different rural area were tackling issues in their own community. The Encinal group joined the international filmmakers on several projects, including a documentary about energy consumption.

As a result of the Rural Filmmaker Exchange, Hecho en Encinal developed its own annual youth media workshops modeled on the AMI program. Media del Monte is a six-week summer program to study and discuss documentaries, learn to use the filmmaking equipment, and create their own films. As Hecho en Encinal board member Sean Chadwell noted, the greatest lesson taught by the program was that "you don't have to be from New York or Los Angeles to be a filmmaker."