The youth-driven documentary series Red Button is back for a second season. All six episodes are streaming now on CBC Gem.
In its first season, Red Button gave homeless youth in Toronto the opportunity to share their experiences on camera. The series rejected the traditional documentary format in favour of a more intimate and personal approach to storytelling — the documentary subjects became the filmmakers. The youth used smartphones and other film equipment to document their lives and authentically capture their unique perspectives. When filming wrapped, the filmmakers sent their footage to producers and editors.
Executive Producer Rob Cohen says “the culture of self-documentation on social media” inspired Red Button’s innovative concept.
“It’s fascinating to see the shift in the last 10 years of people telling their own stories freely online,” Cohen said. “I think our films are really wonderful because they take us inside worlds that we think we have heard about, but I don’t think we have seen with the same kind of clarity or honesty before.”
The focus of season two is youth living with health conditions.
Born with Treachers Collins Syndrome, Taryn Byers lives with hearing impairment and a facial difference. The 17-year-old competitive dancer jumped at the opportunity to participate in Red Button because it was a chance to “get [her] voice out there.”
“Yeah, I have a facial difference, but no, I don’t struggle in school,” Byers said. “It’s just the way I look. It doesn’t affect me mentally.”
Since each subject decided the story they wanted to tell, the first-time filmmakers decided the duration of their shooting schedule. Byers documented her life for four weeks. Years of public speaking and developing her presentation skills helped Byers feel comfortable in front of the camera.
As part of her story, Byers filmed herself walking the runway at Light Up the Night, a charity fashion event in support of AboutFace. The fashion show featured models with facial differences.
Byers says Red Button strengthened her commitment to advocacy.
“We don’t have the same facial differences, but we go through the same struggles,” Byers said. “I’m trying to speak on their behalf too and not just mine.”
In the fall, Byers will be studying Environmental Science/Studies at Trent University.
“I find what they have done is extraordinary,” Cohen said. “It takes courage and perseverance to be part of the filmmaking process. Every filmmaker knows that. If you are a new filmmaker, it’s even more challenging. They came through. I’m happy for them.”
Would Cohen have participated in Red Button as a teenager?
“I don’t think I would have done this project actually, because 17-year-old Rob was in the closet,” Cohen said. “If someone had asked what is your story, and why are you different? That would have obviously been it. Thinking of the cultural landscape at the time, it didn’t seem as possible to tell that story in that climate. I look at Tosconni’s episode and how honest and brave he is to share his experience about being a trans youth and the challenges that he’s facing. It’s amazing to me. No, I don’t think I would have had the bravery to do it at that time.”
Cohen hopes Red Button will challenge misconceptions and prejudices “that we sometimes have against people who are different.”
Founded in 1985, AboutFace promotes and enhances mental and emotional well-being of individuals with facial differences and their families through peer and social support, information, educational and experiential programs, and public awareness.
AboutFace is the only charity in Canada offering support to individuals of every age, with any type facial difference.