'Debaters' event draws a crowd

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The British Academy of Film and Television Arts/Los Angeles' Inner City Cinema, The Weinstein Company, C.U.R.E, Kalicoat Kids and P.C.I. used the impact of film to make a difference Sunday -- presenting a special screening of "The Great Debaters" in Los Angeles' Athens Park Gym at Helen Keller Park, which was once plagued by gang activity.

A packed crowd of families, including many children, came together to see the film and meet actors Jurnee Smollett, Nate Parker and Denzel Whitaker, as well as screenwriter Robert Eisele. The screening was held in honor and memory of LAPD Officer Randal Simmons.

"This is bringing together two rival groups that are coming together to only do good for children," explained BAFTA/LA's Katy Haber. Since June 2005, BAFTA/LA has been holding monthly screenings at Helen Keller Park, in association with CURE, the County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation/South County Community Services Agency, and Hollywood Outdoor Movies.

This and other efforts have made a difference. "We got together in peace for children," said Kenneth Jones, one of the community's organizers, who explained that police estimates suggest that through these efforts roughly 185 lives have already been saved.

While police did maintain a presence at the event, inside the gym, the crowd was greeted with balloons, music and refreshments. The young film stars talked with children, while posing for pictures and signing autographs.

Parker emphasized his commitment to efforts that have lasting positive impact on children. "God gave me this opportunity to be an actor, to be able to have this certain level of celebrity, and there is no greater use of that than to help kids," he said.
Eisele commented that the film underscores the importance of education -- a positive message to bring to the community. "Traditionally these neighborhoods have been seen as under siege," said Eisele, who was thrilled "to reach out and show this movie to young people, to give hope."

He said of the film's young stars: "They are deeply intelligent and very committed. They are going to be activist actors."
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