Jamaican-born filmmaker Diane Robinson will present her first film, youth voting, at this year’s American Black Film Festival (ABFF), which celebrates its 26th anniversary in Miami Beach from June 15-19, followed by virtual events on ABFF Play from June 20-30.
The youth vote is a feature-length documentary that follows a diverse group of students and activists during the 2020 United States election. The Young Vote puts you on the streets with young leaders as they knock on doors, engage in the largest voting effort in US history, challenge the status quo, and attempt to create a dynamics of change outside traditional political channels. . Viewers get a glimpse of their victories, frustrations, and harrowing and complicated political analysis.
Robinson believes the film will reveal why young people aren’t voting in greater numbers – and why we should all work urgently to change that. “I hope this documentary inspires viewers to get involved in promoting ideas to dramatically increase the extent to which Americans vote and become civically involved.” She made the film to highlight the critical need to ensure that all voters truly have a voice in democracy at a critical time when voter rights are being taken away. “Now, more than ever, we must fight to expand voting and participation, especially for young people – and alarmingly, we are seeing organized efforts to do just the opposite.”
BECOME A FILMAST
For Robinson, the path to becoming a filmmaker was not straight forward. Born and raised in Jamaica, Robinson knew from an early age that access to a high quality education was essential to success in life. A student at Suthermere Prep in Kingston before moving to the United States with her mother at the age of seven, Robinson attended public schools in Brooklyn, New York, before graduating at the age of 16 from Midwood High School and attend Vassar College. After Vassar, she joined Teach For America to ensure other students had the educational opportunities she had. What she thought was a two-year commitment to Teach For America has turned into more than two decades of work to help build the education equity movement. She served as executive director of Teach For America Los Angeles, then spearheaded their national efforts, and eventually served as the senior executive to develop the international version of the work, Teach For All.
Robinson wanted to understand what it would take to bring about deeper change in the education system. This led her to pursue her PhD in Educational Leadership at Harvard University. There, she had the opportunity to reflect on her decades of work in education and what more she could do to bring about change for young people and in the communities she had served during decades. She found herself thinking about the idea of culture – and how values and beliefs shape individuals and systems and can drive societal change. She was particularly intrigued after discovering World Bank research on how movies and TV can influence behavior. Robinson shares, “I asked myself: what would it take to change values and beliefs more broadly? Could cinema play a role in this?
Robinson said the strong values she learned as a child have stuck. “My early life in Jamaica cemented the values that drive me to this day,” Robinson said.
It was this education and his time at Harvard that inspired Robinson to change careers. His first movie, The youth vote, is truly a passion project that has forced her to overcome unimaginable challenges. She started shooting the film when the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020 and other productions ceased. “It’s funny how many people tried to talk me out of going ahead considering it was my first film, the COVID-19 restrictions were near impossible and the state of the film was in real jeopardy …but I stayed true to my Jamaican values to persevere and achieve my goals.” The film ended up taking him more than two years and is now premiering at a recognized festival that curates the work of creatives from the African diaspora.
“It’s an incredible honor to have my first film considered in this year’s Best Documentary competition at the ABFF. I’m excited to see more films and meet the filmmakers and industry executives at the festival. this year,” she shared. Robinson hopes to find a distributor for the film who shares her vision and values – and will help her get as many young people as possible to see the film. She is also looking forward to embark on her second film, a project she is currently developing that will pay homage to her Jamaican roots.
To learn more about Robinson’s work, visit Yard Girl Productions at https://www.yardgirlproductions.com.