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The Westlake District is the hot new neighborhood among members of Los Angeles’ creative cutting edge, and the area around MacArthur Park will get even hotter in June, when the Ghetto Film School LA opens its doors to its first class of 25 aspiring cinematic storytellers.
The original GFS is a highly acclaimed program that trains young filmmakers in the South Bronx. Now, working in partnership with 21st Century Fox, the program is expanding to Los Angeles, where students will be recruited from high schools across the city. Fox’s James Murdoch told The Hollywood Reporter, “for us as a creative business, supporting a center like this is a natural.
“Supporting storytellers is what we do, and aspire to do, every day in our company — so to be able to support new storytellers at the Ghetto Film School just feels right,” said Murdoch, whose company will provide both financial and in-kind support for the program.
GFS LA initially will open as an after-school and weekend program based on the rigorous creative education model used at the South Bronx campus. Senior Fox executives and other members of the entertainment industry will serve as mentors and lecturers for a student body, which will increase to 75 carefully selected students over the next few years.
There will be no charge for the program that initially will allow young people to complete a demanding 30-month college level, preprofessional immersion course involving not only cinematic storytelling, but also production. The MacArthur Park facilities will be made available by Heart of Los Angeles, a nonprofit that encourages minority young people to pursue programs in academic achievement, the arts and athletics.
Founded by Joe Hall in New York in 2000, GFS has come to be regarded as one of NYC’s premier cultural resources, nurturing a new generation of storytellers from low-income, mainly minority neighborhoods.
“No one was really out there saying, ‘We’re going to train young people of color, give them an experience, and help them connect the dots,’ ” said Hall, a nonprofit consultant who came up with the idea for the program while studying film at USC. “Once we got into it we realized that filmmaking at a young age was teaching participants a whole lot of other skills that they can apply in all kinds of ways.
“Whether they become a filmmaker or not wasn’t as important as giving them a creative voice and an opportunity to actually make something,” Hall said. “A lot of teenagers nowadays don’t get a chance to actually make things, certainly not in a structured way at school.”
Academy Award-nominated writer-director David O. Russell, a longtime GFS board member, told THR, “I’ve seen films these kids have made about the streets. But I’ve also seen films they’ve made that are magical, like E.T. They bring a very different point of view on the world and on life. These are voices that need to be heard.”
He added: “It’s good for our storytelling business that is our film world.”
The original GFS in the South Bronx has evolved from a dynamic extracurricular program for promising young cineastes into the nation’s first full-time high school devoted to the education of filmmakers. In 2009, the New York Department of Education embraced the program as a highly selective school of the arts, and its first class graduated last year with a 100 percent college acceptance.
“This was such a perfect program for us,” said former NYC film commissioner Katherine Oliver. “Our goal was to create unique and innovative educational models and workforce training models that would really connect the community. Also the diversity program was very important to us. The incredible thing about the Ghetto Film School, it provided hands-on experience and mentoring education in a very creative environment. It was amazing to connect these young filmmakers with award-making filmmakers. The result was astonishing. The experiences were mutually beneficial. They learned from each other.”
In addition to its Bronx — and soon, L.A. — campus, Ghetto Film School operates a number of preprofessional programs in other creative enterprises, including promotion, documentary and the development of branded content. GFS MasterClass is an online tech platform that shares curricula and recorded workshops with educators around the world in partnership with Google Creative Lab. Filmmaker Stosh Mintek, a graduate of GFS, will be heading up the program in L.A.
Murdoch said when Hall proposed expanding to Los Angeles, he didn’t hesitate to get involved. “It seemed like a shame that GFS wasn’t here,” he said. “We’re hugely excited about it.”
“What Joe and his team have built in the Bronx has delivered real results from an incredible focus and a feel for storytelling,” Murdoch said. “They’ve discovered talented kids and have made a difference in their lives.”
He added: “We want the whole of the creative community behind this, too.”