A little over a year ago Amanda Shauger, host of KXCI-FM’s “30 minutes,” was covering Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s meeting with the Ladies Auxiliary organization at the Sheraton Hotel in Tucson.
After Arpaio finished addressing the media and went inside, Shauger says she was approached by local law enforcement and told in a “firm” and “disconcerting” manner that she needed to leave the property immediately.
“It was kind of frightening,” Shauger says.
It wasn’t until she noticed a member of Pan Left Productions with a video camera documenting the incident that Shauger’s mind was put at ease.
“I felt safe,” she says. “I just thought, ‘Wow, I would always like Pan Left to be in the community, documenting as many situations like that as possible. What can I do to help?’ ”
A couple of weeks later Shauger was an active member of Pan Left Productions, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this month.
The company is a local nonprofit film collective dedicated to creating movies about social issues as well as assisting and promoting liberal film makers and artists. The organization was started in 1994 by Jeff Imig and Lisa Wise, two University of Arizona film students who were looking to make a difference in their community.
“Lisa Wise and I decided we wanted to do something with the skills we were learning that could actually help people and help various organizations we were involved in. The result of that was Pan Left,” Imig says.
Fifteen years later, the collective both creates documentaries and offers guidance and equipment to the public for a small fee or in exchange for work time within the studio. The group also organizes various media classes at local school and libraries.
“We strive to put the tools of production in the hands of people that are often disenfranchised from mainstream media,” Imig says. “We provide both equipment and a system of support for media producers to produce work that has a message or in some way challenges the status quo.”
One of the many filmmakers who got their start through Pan Left is Daniela P. Ontiveros. In 2001, Ontiveros approached Pan Left and proposed a documentary about her hometown of Cananea, Mexico. The small mining town was on the verge of financial ruin when the mine was at risk of closing.
“This was a documentary that would not only teach me a lot about my roots, but hopefully let other people in the world see the impact of globalization in small mining towns,” Ontiveros says.
Pan Left not only allowed Ontiveros to use its equipment but it also helped her acquire a small grant to fund her project. The undertaking would have been too overwhelming without the help of Pan Left, she says. After she completed the documentary, Ontiveros continued to volunteer with Pan Left and has been a member of the collective for nine years.
Over the past 15 years, Pan Left has produced about 30 to 40 documentaries and has assisted filmmakers who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to create movies.
“We believe that everybody has a voice but that it is not always equally represented in the media. So our importance is to give representation to voices that don’t often get heard and stories that you wont see in the mainstream,” says Mary Charlotte Thurtle, executive director of Pan Left.
To celebrate its “quinceañera,” Pan Left has had ongoing events over the past few weeks. The group on Friday will host an art show and auction at Dinnerware Gallery, and Saturday local music icon Calexico will play a benefit show for Pan Left at the Rialto Theatre.
“Many of us have known a number of the folks in Calexico for a long time,” Imig says. “They’re one of the great bands right now and it’s a real joy to have them in Tucson. They’ve always been supportive of us letting some of our folks use their music.”
While Imig says that it has sometimes been a struggle to keep the lights on over the past 15 years, he is confident that as long as people have stories to tell and the ambition to tell them, Pan Left will continue to serve the community for many years to come.
Imig says “(15 years) is a testament to the dedication of dozens of filmmakers that have come through here and donated their time and sweat to making videos that they hope will tell important stories, maybe change the world, maybe just change the way some people view the world. It’s hard work, but it’s always been rewarding.”
IF YOU GO
What: Represent! Our Collective Body Art Show and Auction
When: 6 p.m. Friday
Where: Dinnerware Artspace, 264 E. Congress St.
Price: admission is free
Info: 792-9171, www.panleft.org
What: Pan Left benefit concert featuring Calexico and Sergio Mendoza y La Orkesta
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St.
Info: 740-1000, www.rialtotheatre.com