How does a child define their identity when growing up in two different value systems? In Kingston, Jamaica, respectability is the hegemonic value system, supported by elite and the (white) churches. Its values are an inheritance from colonial times and shape Jamaica’s social stratification based on race, wealth and respectability. The rationale of respectability is put forward by those in the superior position; and they thereby retain the right to define the conditions of their own identity. Thus the notion of respectability is used as a way of preserving social stratification by including and excluding people based on their degree of respectability. Reputation refers to the alternative value system of the street, where equality is valued. According to this principle every person has to make a name (reputation) for him- or herself. The purpose of this value system is to distort the hegemonic value system of respectability.
Children growing up in the marginalised inner city areas of Kingston (such as Trenchtown) have to make sense of these seemingly opposing values as they are growing up. While at school respectability is valued, at home the rules of the streets apply. This film explores how three young teenagers growing up in Trenchtown navigate through these values systems and succeed in creating an identity for themselves. As the film shows, the value systems might not be so neatly separated as the literature implies.
Made in Trenchtown is the product of a participatory video project with three teenagers from Trenchtown. The film documents an unusual meeting between a young Dutch filmmaker and three very promising students of the Trench Town Reading Centre, a grass roots NGO that tries to provide for a much needed after school learning opportunity for Trenchtown’s youth. While being taught how to film, the teenagers are given small film tasks by the filmmaker (they are asked to film an action that they find interesting and interview a person who can share something about their life), allowing them to decide themselves who to film and in which way. As Philomena, Diamond and Stephan hold the camera, we get to know their friends, family, talents and dreams for their future. The story of making the film, as shot by the filmmaker, is interwoven with the stories of the children. The collaboration allows us to get to know the teenagers on their own terms, while the reflexive nature of the film explores the reality and struggle of ghetto life. This way we get to see a completely different insight into a neighbourhood that up to then merely enjoyed media attention on the topics of crime, gangster war and teaching Bob Marley how to play the guitar.
The film uses participatory video as a method to investigate as well as to translate to a Western audience by showing the experience of the filmmaker, providing the audience a context for the images shot by the teenagers. Participatory film became, besides a research method, a way of exchanging something with the community, rather than just taking images from it. This allowed for the access that made this film a unique document about everyday life in Trenchtown. Children in Trenchtown are not only poor in the sense that they have little means to reach their goals, they are also often deprived of the opportunity to define themselves, due to discrimination and prejudgement about people from inner city communities. To give them the cameras and allow them to decide what to film about their lives, is to turn this system upside down. The project is intended to teach the teenagers something about the way film is used, to support their self-expression, but also to give the audience an opportunity to hear a different story. Both the film and the promising young teenagers are proudly made in Trenchtown.