Ethnic Studies Lecturer Steven Cleveland’s dedication to his community and passion for filmmaking has led him and his students to create a public service announcement dedicated to raising awareness about Alhambra Creek and its importance to the Bay Area. The spot starts running in late January on television channels throughout the area.
“My vision has always been to help the community,” Cleveland said. “We wanted to inform and inspire people about the environment.”
In fall 2009, Cleveland taught a film production and script-writing class at Briones Independent Study School in Martinez. With his coworker, they assigned their students to create a film outline about how Alhambra Creek had been neglected over the years. Cleveland ultimately promoted the class’ proposal to the city council. The City of Martinez awarded the student project $10,000 to make the film a reality.
“We’ve had a huge, positive response,” Cleveland said.
The 90-second PSA, “Creek Without A Voice,” encourages viewers to use water in a resourceful way and keep creeks free of pollutants. Bay Area residents need to be aware of the fact that sedimentation in creeks can cause the bay to become shallow and ruin habitats, Cleveland said. The PSA ultimately emphasizes the question: If a creek could talk, what would it say and what advice would it give?
Through the grant and Lunch Box International, his own film production company, Cleveland was able to sign film industry professionals to take part in the project, including Film Editor Susan Vaill of the popular TV show “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Approximately 100 Martinez residents served as extra actors. Collaboration between high school and college students during the 13-month project brought a sense of unity to the production, Cleveland said. Former Cal State East Bay Student Erik Pena also played an important role in providing a positive influence to his younger colleagues, Cleveland added.
Pena was a CSUEB student during the PSA’s production and is now finishing his bachelor’s degree in cinema at San Francisco State University. He served as the student producer helping write the script and handling budget tasks. Cleveland credits Pena with helping acquire the funds from the City of Martinez to create the film.
“It’s been an experience of a lifetime working with professionals and creating friendships,” Pena said about taking part in the PSA. “The film is an important piece of cinema, because it’s not an average commercial. It teaches and gives advice on what to do. It creates social change.”
The PSA has been entered in film festivals across the Bay Area, receiving positive feedback. Cleveland and his colleagues are working on future film projects and planning to teach summer workshops for students.
“I want students to keep having a voice,” Cleveland said. “When the project was done, students were blown away, and they now believe anything is possible. I want to continue doing that.”