Mobile Moviemakers

Childrenunity Byline: Melissa Montalvo

If you're ready to enjoy a heartwarming video, like I was on a recent afternoon during my internship at Liberty Hill, go to this blog and click on the picture. At first, you'll see small children enthusiastically dancing to mariachi music on a beautiful southern California day. 

The video depicts the Watts community coming together for its 20th Annual Watts Multi-Cultural Cinco de Mayo Fiesta at the Watts Towers Amphitheater. And while any local news station could have covered the event, Madelou Gonzalez, Mobile Voices filmmaker, gives her report a uniquely personal insight.

Despite being a native Spanish-speaker, she confidently interviews attendees in English and Spanish. Furthermore, she does not hesitate to bluntly ask her interviewees their thoughts on African American and Latino children coming together to dance on stage; her question elicits unanimously tender responses.

The Institute of Popular Education of Southern California (IDEPSCA), a Liberty Hill grantee, is one of the leading partners in the Mobile Voices program, a project that allows low-wage, immigrant workers in Los Angeles to express and share their feelings, experiences, and culture through videos, pictures, and audio made using simple cell-phone technology.

“We are not about commercial things, we are about community…families, voices, and hearts,” explains IDEPSCA’s Executive Director, Marlom Portillo. Which community, exactly? Their immediate families? Their neighborhoods? Their zip codes? Perhaps the entire community of the city of Los Angeles.

To put things into perspective, a word about my own community. During my first semester at the University of Southern California, I was shocked by the large number of students enrolled in the film school, all of them hoping to one day be the George Lucas of our generation. I quickly realized, however, that this should come as no surprise—I’m in Los Angeles! The city of Hollywood, blockbusters, and celebrity-home tours. What better place to pursue a career in film? In the School of Cinematic Arts, these USC students are learning the techniques and practices that will empower them as filmmakers.

Like the USC film students, the Mobile Voices participants train to improve their filmmaking, in their case through weekly meetings in which the participants gather to offer constructive criticism for each other’s pieces. As described in this report shown on Univisión in October 2011, these weekly meetings walk the filmmakers through the process of development as filmmakers and reporters.


Just as you’d expect to find in any film school, Marlom Portillo explains, participants “learn how to edit. They become more focused, more organized. They are able to cover any event. They become photographers, producers, audio specialists. They have a better understanding of media.” Through these weekly workshops, IDEPSCA members—many of whom hold jobs as day laborers or household workers—are empowered to create a variety of different types of media for various reasons, be they political, aesthetic, or journalistic.

Voz mob

In a city synonymous with film, it comes as no surprise that making movies is part of life for many Angelenos, whether equipped with professional equipment or with a simple cell-phone. Mobile Voices participants are able to give insightful depictions of their lives and communities, sharing movies that the mainstream media will oftentimes miss. I invite you to explore the Mobile Voices website, a platform where participants upload their media on a continuous basis. The home page features the newest stories and active reporters have their own personal blogs.


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