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Open channel; Squeaky Wheel pairs filmmakers, activist groups

Problem 1: You're a documentary filmmaker yearning to make a difference, but you have no money and no brilliant ideas for a film.

Problem 2: You're an under-the-radar activist group working hard to improve the community, but hardly anyone knows you exist.

Solution: Squeaky Wheel's "Channels," an annual project that pairs up ambitious local documentarians with equally ambitious activist groups seeking to clue the public in to the pressing issues they confront.

The program, launched in 2007, has resulted in a series of short documentaries on subjects ranging from Buffalo's refugee communities and the health of local waterways to the work of preservationists and those working to eradicate illiteracy, poverty and waste.

The deadline for applications for the 2012 edition of "Channels" is June 4, with an informational meeting for interested organizations and filmmakers slated for 7 p.m. Tuesday in Squeaky Wheel (712 Main St.).

Info and applications are available at

"Channels" coordinator Goda Trakumaite said the program provides clear benefits for both filmmakers and the city's small activist organizations.

"It is useful to the groups because it gives them a way to kind of succinctly communicate a message about the issue that they're working with, which helps them educate the public, raise awareness, garner more volunteers or whatever they need, more support for their work," Trakumaite said.

"The point is not to make a promotional video about what the group does, but instead to really make something that will educate the public about the issue that this group is an expert on because they're working with it every day."

As for the filmmakers, Trakumaite continued, the project provides a paid opportunity to work collaboratively on meaningful projects that reach large numbers of people.

"A lot of times, the filmmakers who apply are people who already have activist leanings or are interested in the kind of work that these groups are doing, so it's not out of the range of their interest and they're excited to be paired up with somebody who gives them access to a lot of information, research, community members to interview, something that they wouldn't necessarily have just going into a project on their own," she said.

Previous "Channels" documentaries, of which there have been four per year since 2007 (with the exception of 2011, when the program took a hiatus), are viewable on the Squeaky Wheel website. The documentaries will be shot and edited over the next several months and will screen in the spring of 2013.

In addition to helping spread the word about the work of local activist groups, "Channels" projects have helped to improve the very groups they document, Trakumaite said, pointing to a positive response from the Clean Air Coalition, a group featured in the 2011 version of the program.

"It kind of boosted morale for everybody because having somebody come in from the outside and document all the work that they're doing made them realize just how much they were doing," Trakumaite said. "It was just a chance for them to step back and look at themselves the way they might appear to somebody else."