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Together Apart: Reel Youth reminds us that COVID-19 can’t cancel community

This is the second blog post in an emerging series, highlighting how Tides Canada projects and programs are reacting and adapting to rapidly changing circumstances and limited resources amid an unprecedented global pandemic. From transferring offline programs online to building awareness and empathy for marginalized populations, and fostering leadership in at-risk youth, innovative community-led initiatives are finding ways to continue their essential work in communities.

Reel Youth, a Tides Canada Shared Platform project, is a media empowerment initiative that delivers community development programming to youth and adults across Canada. Their film production and distribution workshops are designed to create positive change in young people’s lives through technical knowledge-building, leadership training, creative collaboration with peers and mentors, and increased connection to community resources. Reel Youth participants learn to create content about issues they care about, and gain tangible skills in the process.

Participant testimonial

Reel Youth reminds us that #CommunityWillNotBeCancelled.


In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, Reel Youth has had to quickly shift its in-person programming to the online space. But what does this mean for an initiative whose core values are rooted in building connectivity through creative processes and shared learning? At the end of March, Reel Youth launched “Together Apart”: a free online portal consisting of four virtual sessions. Participants are introduced to the basic principles of filmmaking as a tool for social change, and they practice media production skills by shooting original short films with their camera phones at home.

The first iteration of the “Together Apart” gathering filled up 90 spots within 24 hours. In response to such strong enthusiasm, Reel Youth is looking to host a series of Together Apart cohorts as the pandemic continues. The first cohort of Together Apart includes youth as young as age nine, adults, and even seniors. Together Apart explores how we can continue to connect as communities, even in the midst of physical isolation from one another, and even reach out beyond pre-existing social, physical, or digital divides to nurture understanding and build cohesion through storytelling.

Together Apart poster


The finished films created by the Together Apart participants went live last week: you can watch them here.

Reel Youth is as much about filmmaking as it is about helping marginalized youth and communities build personal resiliency to overcome challenges and break out of cycles of vulnerability or socio economic disadvantage. Over 15 years, Reel Youth has produced more than 2,000 films, and over 5,000 youth have participated in their programs in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. Reel Youth has also led the youth component of the Vancouver International Film Festival for over ten years.

Now, perhaps more than ever before, Reel Youth’s efforts to connect youth and communities through storytelling is a critical path toward building empathy and linking commonalities across physical and social divides.

Screen shot of video conference

The opening check-in circle of REMEMBER THIS.


Recognizing that young people have unique perspectives on a wide range of issues affecting the world and their local communities, Reel Youth helps young people find empowerment through creativity, skills-learning, and participatory activities.

Reel Youth is now delivering their second online film program, “Remember This,” designed to engage participants across British Columbia to share what is most important to them during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the world responds to COVID-19, frontline services are working around the clock to ensure essential supports continue to be made available to Canadians across the country.

In the midst of physical distancing and social isolation, community-led initiatives for social change that are in many ways critical to the health and well-being of unique localities from coast to coast are striving to continue their programming in innovative and impactful ways. If you’d like to find out more about Reel Youth, please visit their website.

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