BECA students travel to Mexico, produce films for NGO

A group of students stand behind the camera

SF State students (left to right) Lucy Sanchez, Sofala Ntweng-Knapton, Jacob Crowell and Casey Ticsay film videos in Mexico for the non-governmental organization Access Exchange International.

Students in BECA international service-learning course see social justice in action

Iván González Martínez lives in Chilcuautla, Mexico, with his mom and has big dreams. The 13-year-old is obsessed with video games and eventually wants to become a computer programmer. The only problem is he’s paralyzed from the neck down and in the past he’s had difficulty traveling to and from school. Iván and his mother are one of the families featured in a short film about Access Exchange International (AEI), a non-governmental organization based in the Bay Area that advocates for accessible transportation for seniors and people with disabilities around the globe. Last summer, students in a San Francisco State University Broadcast and Electronic Arts (BECA) international service-learning course traveled to Mexico and shot and edited films that will help AEI raise awareness and funds around the issue of accessibility and public transportation.

San Francisco State senior and lead producer Jessi Fry said the highlight of her journey was meeting families and hearing their stories. “They are all stories of struggle, but they are all very positive,” she said. Since returning home, she’s been working “like a maniac” to finish the three videos of varying length. A screening on campus has been set for Thursday, Nov. 9, and the United Nations will show one of the videos Dec. 1 as part of its International Day of Persons with Disabilities celebration.

Professor Emerita Betsy Blosser started the BECA class in 2001 and since then has led international trips nearly every year. Her students have traveled to Peru, Tanzania, Mexico, Indonesia and Brazil. They’ve produced videos for organizations that help homeless children become artisans, provide health care to women and children, teach children English, and assist children who have disabilities.

Through the class, which is structured as a two-course sequence, students connect with and produce videos for a local nonprofit during the spring semester. This year, students made four videos for Mission Neighborhood Centers, a nonprofit that provides multigenerational services to low-income families in the Mission District and surrounding neighborhoods. This project serves as a test run for the summer abroad portion of the course. The students also get to know the country they’ll be visiting, learn about the organization they’ll be working with and begin pre-production on the films. Over the summer, they travel to the chosen country and spend several weeks shooting and editing. When they return there’s some post-production editing, followed by a screening in the fall.

“This is a transformational experience,” said Blosser, who retired last summer. “Students get to see social justice in action locally and internationally. They are often different people when they return home. Often they are struck by the poverty and also by the happiness of people living with nothing.”

Jessi Fry said she experienced culture shock when she first arrived in Mexico. “Our first day of shooting was in Huejútla, Mexico, and that’s deep in indigenous country. It’s in the jungle, it’s hot and it’s muggy,” she said. “There was a huge tarantula on the wall where we were shooting.” But she adapted quickly and was infused with a sense of purpose. “I want everything I make to have a lot of heart and passion. People are sharing their stories with me, and it would be an injustice to give people a platform for their voice and not put everything I have into it.”

The BECA videos on AEI and the Mission Neighborhood Centers will be screened Thursday, Nov. 9, in Studio One of the Creative Arts building at 7 p.m.