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Big film industry names like Stacey Snider, Barbara Broccoli, Matthew Vaughn, Emma Thompson, Lily Cole, Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch, Sophie Turner Laing, CEO of Endemol Shine Group, Nik Powell, director of the National Film and Television School, Philip Ilson, director of the London Film Festival and others turned out Tuesday night in London for a Ghetto Film School event at BAFTA’s headquarters near Piccadilly Circus.
Founded in 2000 and based in the South Bronx in New York and MacArthur Park, Los Angeles, the nonprofit focuses on educating, developing and celebrating the next generation of American storytellers by teaching the art and business of visual storytelling to young people from communities traditionally underrepresented in Hollywood.
Last year, the Ghetto Film School brought its Fellows Program to London in partnership with Bold Tendencies, a nonprofit based in the Peckham area of the British capital, to allow students to shoot two thesis films in the city. While the school has regularly sent its students abroad (past destinations have included Paris, Mexico City, Tokyo and Shanghai), this marked the first time that it brought student teams from both New York and L.A. to the same city and also shared its knowledge with a partner organization there.
Tuesday evening’s event, hosted by Snider, 20th Century Fox Film chairman and CEO, and Broccoli, shared the results with industry people, screening both 15-minute thesis projects that students filmed in London last summer. Genesis, a psychological thriller about a surgeon with a dark secret, and Ghost of a Chance, a comedy revolving around a play and the ghost of William Shakespeare, both drew much applause as did student filmmakers Gillian Lyons, Kyra Peters, Keith Burrus and Ray Gurrola, who spoke about their films and London experience after the screenings.
Asked about the importance of diverse voices in the film industry, Snider told THR: “It’s a global business and a global audience. So we have to reach out to new filmmakers from all different backgrounds and all different places in the world to tell their stories.”
Snider also recalled attending an L.A. event where Ghetto Film School students’ scripts, including those for the two films that screened Tuesday, got table readings. “Of course, I had notes,” she told THR. “I wouldn’t be a card-carrying studio executive if I didn’t have a thought or two. So I raised my hand to offer some suggestions.” She said that “the kids knocked me out,” and she was excited to see the finished projects.
She also lauded industry folks for working with Ghetto Film School students and other young talents. “The people in our industry are moved and motivated to support new filmmakers, especially filmmakers that wouldn’t have easy access to our industry,” Snider said. “I am grateful to them for that. I am moved by them setting aside time to do that.”
In an introduction speech before the screenings, the studio boss said: “Ghetto Film School isn’t just a film school — it’s a school that arms young people with tools to succeed, period. As a creative company, the bonus for us is that it’s teaching these skills by giving these kids a glimpse into what it means to do something you love for a living, which is the most inspirational thing I think you can do for a student of any age.”
Joe Hall, a former Bronx social worker who left for L.A. in 1999 to enroll in a graduate film program only to become disillusioned by a lack of diversity among students, has been the driving force of the organization. “London has been on our radar for a long time,” he told THR. “The reason we didn’t get here sooner was we hadn’t really found the right on-the-ground partner. We like to go to a city where there is a filmmaking country and a production infrastructure.”
Overall, London “has all those boxes we need to check off, and also it’s in English,” he continued, before joking: “It’s not entirely English we understand all the time.”
Hannah Barry, founder and CEO of Bold Tendencies, who hosted Ghetto Film School in London last year, told THR: “I met Joe Hall on site in Peckham, which shows he is an extraordinarily intrepid person, in our project. We immediately realized that our organizations had great parallels. I admired very much the work of Ghetto Film School. The idea of creating an international partnership with a very like-minded organization that dealt with film, which is something that we haven’t really done, was extremely exciting.”
They agreed to a partnership benefiting both sides. “We love the Ghetto Film School model, and Joe was very open to us saying if you come to London to shoot the thesis films, then we would like to create our own Bold filmmaking program so that we can give an opportunity to local young people,” she explained.
In New York, the organization runs a high school, The Cinema School, with support from the NYC Department of Education. The nation’s first film high school has a four-year compulsory film program. Its Fellows Program in New York and L.A. offers an immersion in cinematic storytelling that provides high-school students 1,000-plus hours of hands-on training and instruction from leading filmmakers and industry professionals after school and on weekends. The Ghetto Film School says that more than 1,500 individuals are annually engaged in its programs.
In 2014, Fox partnered with the organization to open its first outpost in Hollywood. Fox is also covering all of the organization’s core operating costs through 2019. The organization’s board of directors includes the likes of founder and CEO Joe Hall, Lee Daniels, David O. Russell, Ratpac Entertainment CEO Brett Ratner, James Murdoch and chairman Evan Shapiro, executive vp digital enterprises at NBCUniversal. Among the school’s Hollywood lecturers, partners and other supporters have been Spike Jonze, Sofia Coppola, Jim Jarmusch, Harvey Weinstein and Mark Wahlberg, who sits on the Ghetto Film School’s advisory board.
In his speech before Tuesday night’s screenings, Hall thanked Fox for being a long-term partner and gave shout-outs to its top executives. “Stacey is now officially in the Ghetto Film School hall of fame, hosting an event in a foreign country,” he said. “She has been an incredible leader for us.” And he lauded Murdoch as an “extraordinary champion,” which Snider echoed when she called him a “driving force and believer in this program from the beginning.”
Asked by THR about President Donald Trump’s proposals to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities amid funding cuts for the arts and culture, Hall said: “The last few years, we have been very much focused on building a sustainable, long-term business. For example, we have Digital Bodega, which is run by our alumni, that generates certain income. We are also looking at projects where our intellectual property might be able to generate some funding,” he said.
In terms of cultural funding, “we generally don’t get a whole lot of that, because a lot of that is tied to social service outcomes,” he explained. “We are not really buying into that model and have always focused on developing young talent and building their strengths and pathways to the industry. It’s never been about their self esteem or do they use drugs or so that a lot of arts funding is connected to.”
“Every year, when we showcase these projects, there are people who see the work and listen to the students and think this is an organization I can get behind,” Hall told THR. “When they see the talent, I think that’s the thing that drives our support.”
Over 250 graduates of the Ghetto Film School are currently working in the creative industry, including in film, TV and advertising. What is next for the organization? “We haven’t had someone win a film festival. That is going to come,” said Hall.
“In some companies in New York and starting more so in L.A. now, you have five or six Ghetto Film School people. That’s not insignificant,” he added. “And our oldest alumni are around 30 now, and they are starting to collaborate on projects and telling each other about openings they have heard about. That growing creative community is very exciting for me.”
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