Adey Ahmed, Abdullahi Abdi, Zamzam Elmoge, Fadumo Mohamed and Abukar Abdi, members of thegenzproject, pose for a photo on the interview set used in their film, “Reason 4369,” at Lewiston High School. (Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn)

LEWISTON — In a new documentary, a dozen teenagers talk unflinchingly, and sometimes optimistically, about the city’s reputation, about community, about how they want to be remembered, about life.

“The whole entire rag of fire went all over my body,” says 15-year-old Nasra, remembering an accident while her mom was cooking that left her with severe burns a decade ago. “I never took life for granted after that.”

“Reason 4369,” by five Lewiston High School students, set out to give voice to teens who are not listened to very often, said director Zamzam Elmoge, 16.

“People see this perception of Lewiston, they already have a stereotype in their head about Lewiston kids,” she said. “It’s a film about breaking stereotypes.”

Last year, they put out the call at school and among friends that they were looking for people to interview for a project talking about their lives and about 20 teens, most of them immigrants, answered the call.

“We didn’t tell them what to say or ask them what to say, they would feel what they feel,” said Abdullahi Abdi, 17. “That’s what made it beautiful, I guess.”

Elmoge attended a Seeds of Peace summer camp in 2017, which eventually sparked the idea of “Reason 4369” and, after that, of forming the group of five they call thegenzproject. (The numbers 4369 spell “genz” on a phone keypad.)

“I always knew I wanted to be a filmmaker,” Elmoge said. “I wanted to be a change maker while being a filmmaker at the same time.”

They used the school’s multimedia room for interviews against a white backdrop that were later cut into the movie with scenes of downtown life. They borrowed cameras for most filming and used school computers to edit in their free time.

“Every single day we’d hear stories about people that we thought we knew,” Elmoge said. “Once they open up to you, it’s, ‘I didn’t really know you and I’m glad to have heard your story.’ That was the best part of the film.”

Added Adey Ahmed, 18, “It was just kids who wanted to be part of something.”

In the film, the teens are honest and philosophical, telling the camera:

“I want to be known as that kid who stood out the most and took risks that no one else would take.”

“Change the name ‘Dirty Lew’ and give the place an actual meaning.”

“Yes, we do have bad parts, but we also have the good parts, that’s what people don’t want to see.”

Nasra shares that she lives with nine siblings. It is crowded with little privacy.

“I’m surrounded by love, but also by hatred at the same time,” she says.

“Reason 4369” debuted at the Lewiston Middle School last June. It is being screened Thursday at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Norway at 7 p.m., with a filmmaker Q&A after.

The students said thegenzproject is already at work on its next film, part documentary, part scripted, and was casting last week.

“The biggest thing is to listen,” Elmoge said. “Before you make a judgment about somebody, just to listen.

“I think the youth is the most important thing in the world right now. Make sure to listen to kids who you don’t necessarily get to see or hear their stories every single day.”

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