Announcing Oakley Fugate's Fellowship!

Photograph provided by Oakley Fugate

Photograph provided by Oakley Fugate

The Appalachian Media Institute is proud to share exciting news about one of our favorite filmmakers! Oakley Fugate, long-term AMI intern, Peer Trainer, Photographer & Filmmaker was recently selected as one of Open Society Foundations’ Youth Exchange Fellows!

The Youth Exchange Community Fellowship supports dynamic activists aged 18-25 who want to implement a project of their own design that advances human rights in their home communities. Through these fellowships, the Open Society Foundations (OSF) aims to provide young people at the early stage of their work with the support they need to develop great ideas that contribute to dismantle challenges in their communities and advance the values of an open society.

Over the next 18 months, Oakley is receiving a full-time stipend with benefits to produce a feature length documentary about the experiences of LGBT-Q  youth growing up in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. He will also be working alongside Dustin Hall to create a safe space for LGBT-Q youth to convene, share resources, host film screenings and events.

To initiate his exciting new fellowship, OSF flew Oakley and Dustin to Detroit for an orientation with a group of fellows from across the country to share insights, experiences and expertise before they each endeavor on their new projects.

During the application process, Oakley submitted a film he produced during the Appalachian Media Institute’s 2016 Summer Documentary Institute, entitled Not a Daughter. Reflecting on this exciting new opportunity, Oakley shared:

My name is Oakley Fugate. I was born in Whitesburg, Kentucky and have lived in Blackey, Kentucky most of my life. I’ve been making films since I was 12 and it has always felt like something I wanted to do with my life. I bought a $20 camera that could shoot 15 seconds of video and have worked my way up from there. For the most part, I make horror films. It’s what inspired me and is easily the funnest thing to do. I’ve worked on numerous documentaries and eventually made my own about what’s it like to grow up in your home never feeling like you belong.

Though I always wanted to do big elaborate productions, I believe in just filming. Many wait for the right gear or the right moment, but nine times out of ten, I saw to just film. Go out and do it! I have grown a lot as I’ve gone through the Appalachian Media Institute over the years. I’ve learned how to properly edit and create videos.

I’ve always enjoyed films about the underdog. Kids standing up for their rights at school, miners standing together against exploitation, etc. AMI youth interns have made films that are more genuine than most documentaries I’ve seen and I think it’s because they’re often the ones affected by the issues they’re addressing.

I’ve always been an advocate for human rights and have wanted to make a film about LGBT-Q rights. When I was in high school, there was no such thing as coming out. If you did, kids would harrass you and teachers would turn a blind eye. I have seen blatant discrimination, which hits home for me. I was often picked on for having Aspergers. A teacher openly called me an offensive term and mocked me. What do you do when that happens? Anyone who opposes others for standing for their right has never been in a position where they had to be defenseless while someone with power treated them as subhuman. For this reason, I always admired two of AMI’s documentaries about LGBT-Q rights A Little Piece of Me and Beyond Me. While speaking with my friend Dustin Hall, he told me that “no piece I’m in has told the story I wanted them to tell”. It hit me that I could tell that story by focusing on one person’s experience and allowing them to speak without asking questions or cutting out parts of their narrative. So I made Not a Daughter

After the film was made I thought it would go on a shelf and be forgotten about, but something happened. A week later I met a man on the street and he praised the film. Then I was invited to screen the film for educators at a conference in Denver, Colorado. I felt honored that people loved this film and that it made a positive impact on the lives of my community members. I felt that I had made a documentary that hit its mark and it gave me a desire to make more films focused deeply on the stories of people I care about. 

I heard about the Open Society Foundations’ fellowship through AMI and applied after some convincing. It was a dream come true but I didn’t think it was possible for me to get it. It seemed too gigantic. I was told that it never hurts to try, so I tried. When I made it into the second round I thought, “at least I could say I made it that far”. Then they requested an interview and I was more nervous than I had ever been. After months of waiting and anxiety, I got picked.

I am so excited for this project. Not only will I get to make a film for 18 months, but I will get to work with my friends to open a safe space for LGBT-Q youth that will make an important change in my community. I’d love for any LGBT-Q+ identifying youth to get involved!

Over the coming months we will be sharing information on how to get involved in the LGBT-Q+ safe space and will be hosting community input sessions. Please stay tuned for information and look out for Oakley’s forthcoming documentary!