08-22-2017  11:09 pm      •     
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Thirteen years ago Hazel Malone was a homeless teen with a heroin addiction. Her childhood had been marred by abuse and instability.  Her sister, Alex, was murdered. And at age 19, she lost her boyfriend to a drug overdose and her best friend to an illness brought on by drugs.

What saved her, she says, was a project by the Northwest Film Center that unleashed her creativity and set her on a path to healing.

 "When you have that many struggles in your life, sometimes it helps to have something you feel passionate about," Malone says. 

"I realized I had something meaningful to live for and something to look forward to. And it really helped me clarify my goals and what I wanted to find in life."

Today Malone works as an animator in a film studio, as she continues her studies at Portland Community College and now at Reed College. She also will be a mentor with Project Viewfinder, the film center's latest outreach program for homeless youth.

Project Viewfinder will work with 12 young people aged 17-25, who are in transition from homeless to self sufficiency,  teaching them filmmaking skills and working with them to make films based in their own life experiences. The goal of the project is to change lives through empowering youth to tell their stories on film, working behind and in front of the camera.

"Film is a way for them to believe in themselves and their aspirations," says education director Ellen Thomas. "I've seen over and over again how filmmaking can change people's understanding of themselves.

"Art has the power to change you."

The film that Malone worked on in 2000 drew from her experiences as a homeless teen

Helping disadvantaged youth has been an enduring part of the North West Film Center's work, Thomas says. But even the center's biggest fans often don't know that.

"Last year we celebrated our 40th year, and we decided we wanted our 41st year to be about taking this to the next level," she says. "So we've been fundraising since November, and we're in the process of selecting our candidates."

The film center is committed to working with youth from nonprofits, such as, New Avenues for Youth, Sisters of the Road and PEAR. And they want their Project Viewfinder class of 2013 to be as diverse as the city's youth.

Today Malone makes animated films and is a student at the NW Film Center, PCC and Reed College
Photo by Jason E. Kaplan

Isn't it difficult for young people in transition to attend consistently and stay committed to a project?

Malone says the energy and excitement you feel when you are engaged in creative work can keep you focused.

"You form strong bonds with people when you are just trying to stay alive," she says.  "Even though basic pieces like food, housing and emotional support are missing, if you have one steady thing that can be consistent: that can help you."

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