Visual literacy: Needham's evolution of thought

Just 10 years after graduating from Albemarle High School, Richard Needham was using his new degree from the University of Miami's graduate film program to... well, never mind.

"I goofed around. I surfed, I worked in ski shops. I had no direction," says the 39-year-old ex-Freestyle sports employee.

That's precisely the sort of aimlessness he's now trying to prevent as executive director of downtown film studio Lighthouse, which offers low-cost film and video training to local kids.

"Summer filmmaking camps cost a lot," he says. Lighthouse does charge $200 or so for its programs, but that pales in comparison to the competition. "If you go to somebody's film studio or a school in New York or Paris, they'll charge $4,000 for this sort of thing," he says.

Add to that the fact that Lighthouse is a non-profit organization and provides scholarships to students who can't afford their fees, and it's a no-brainer.

"We offer workshops every year– animation, directing, and so on," says Needham. "It's good to have some sort of mentorship or some sort of structure."

And how. Among Lighthouse's supporters is Paul Wagner, a local director who has both Emmy and Oscar awards under his belt.

"I've been blown away by what this community has to offer kids," says volunteer Todd Free, who recently moved to Charlottesville to start a production company. "Having Paul come in to help a kid edit his video is just incredible. I do this for a living now, and these kids are just so far beyond what I knew at their age."

So much so, in fact, that they have taken to offering their skills to the community. In an annual fundraiser with the lumbering name "Technoliday," students help families from the community compile and edit custom video greeting cards.

A year of hard work will blossom this Tuesday at Lighthouse's annual Youth Media Festival, a huge bonanza at Live Arts– complete with a swanky rooftop soiree– at which most of the projects will premiere. Among the films to be shown are a string of music videos and four documentaries compiled by refugee children from Zaire, Afghanistan, and Bosnia brought to Charlottesville by the International Rescue Committee.

"The visual medium in general– whether it's television, video games, or on the Internet– is what kids are presented with everywhere they turn these days," says Needham. "Part of what they learn at Lighthouse is visual literacy, so that they're not passively looking at something," says Needham.

In an age when school arts programs are progressively being edited out, Free offers a further explanation: "In this generation, it's just the evolution of presenting thought."

Richard Needham




Holiday 36