Project VoiceScape: Meet Filmmaker Jesus Manuel Villalba

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View the full Project VoiceScape documentary short films and vote your favorite until Sept. 30, 2011!

Project VoiceScape is a partnership with Adobe Youth Voices, PBS and POV to mentor today’s best young documentary filmmakers. Keep up with news from the filmmakers and their mentors on the Project VoiceScape blog.

View a clip from teen filmmaker Jesus Manuel Villalba’s Project VoiceScape documentary, Gardens Of Justice.

Jesus Manuel Villalba - Project VoiceScape

Project VoiceScape filmmaker
Jesus Manuel Villalba

Teen filmmaker Jesus Manuel Villalba, of Bronx, N.Y., always knew he loved movies. But he when realized he was more interested in the “making-of” special features than the films, he knew his path was laid out for him.

In his sophomore year he began attending Global Action Project, a New York City youth media organization, and Jesus found himself writing scripts, drawing storyboards and using DV cameras. But beyond the mechanics and technology of filmmaking, Jesus saw a bigger opportunity.

“I realize[d] that with the right combination of visual and auditory stimuli, I can influence someone’s worldview and actions — not just provide information.”


An open browser window on a Global Action Project computer caught Jesus’s attention, and he remembered a few keywords — Project VoiceScape, young filmmakers, and documentary.

“‘Documentary’ really stood out for me because I was already working on documenting,” Jesus says. “The idea of a documentary opened up a world of possibilities.”

When he got home and searched for those keywords, he found the Project VoiceScape home page and was soon applying for the teen filmmaking grant in between college applications.

“I developed a very peculiar strategy to keep me from going crazy with anxiety,” says Jesus. “When I’d think too much about my college application, I’d try to think about the VoiceScape application, and vice versa. I’m not sure how efficient this strategy was, but it was all I could do.”

Jesus earned a Project VoiceScape grant for his film Gardens of Justice, which documents how community gardens in New York City are helping immigrants maintain their culture. Jesus was drawn to the subject because of what he’d seen and the people he’d met on internships with Just Food and the New York City Food and Fitness Partnership, two organizations that supply fresh food to high-need communities in New York.

“My experiences have taught me that the cultural flavors we grow up with is really how we find a sense of belonging and a sense of self,” Jesus says. “Without food, we have no culture. And without culture, we do not have ourselves.”

Linda Goode Bryant (Off and Running)

Jesus’s mentor is
Linda Goode Bryant
(Flag Wars)

He found it difficult to pare down his documentary, but guidance from filmmaker Linda Goode Bryant (Flag Wars) helped Jesus focus his storytelling.

“[Linda] laid out a very intuitive frame of thinking for creating a story: Character motivation and obstacles. The interesting part is the collision of character motivation [with] an obstacle,” says Jesus. “This advice makes it so much easier when looking through hours of interview footage.”

With his completed film set to be part of an October showcase of Project VoiceScape films in Washington, D.C., Jesus hopes audiences will understand that “food has a deeper value than a price tag: culture.”

And also this fall, Jesus is looking forward to studying film while attending Bennington University. He was accepted with a scholarship and is the first in his family to attend college.

“Sounds like a documentary waiting to be made,” says Jesus.

Follow the progress of all the Project VoiceScape filmmakers and their award-winning documentary mentors, along with videos and more behind the scenes coverage, at the Project VoiceScape blog.

POV Staff
POV Staff
POV (a cinema term for "point of view") is television's longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. POV premieres 14-16 of the best, boldest and most innovative programs every year on PBS. Since 1988, POV has presented over 300 films to public television audiences across the country. POV films are known for their intimacy, their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues.