Ghetto Film School Awards Student Prizes to Young Filmmakers

Film Independent at LACMA - Ghetto Film School Shorts -Q&A - Getty - H 2016
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With an eye to greater diversity in the entertaiment industry, the nonprofit, which just added its first-ever chief operating officer, Kisha Cameron Dingle, boasts such board members as David O. Russell and Lee Daniels, who mentor young filmmakers.

It was a big night for local teens with Hollywood dreams on Thursday when Ghetto Film School, a nonprofit servicing diverse young artists, handed out its annual film awards at LACMA’s Bing Theater. Following a screening of the student shorts, some of the filmmakers sat with Film Independent curator Elvis Mitchell to answer questions about their process, and three of them walked away with $1,000 scholarships.

Chosen by a panel of industry professionals, the winners include Mya Dodson, whose Areli focused on a girl with a gem in her head that enabled her to experience mental connections with others. Alice Vargas won for Mars and the Mime, about a girl who befriends a mime, and Tiger Safai won for her playfully surrealistic Strawberry Milk, starring her mom as a free spirit killing time with Safai’s dad as her bunny-headed friend.

Ayo Abigail Afolayan’s More Than One focused on gun violence in a public school. “I was inspired by some of the recent events that have been happening like the Orlando shooting, Sandy Hook,” the young filmmaker told the audience. “I wanted to do a film that kind of brought out the discussion of shooting and got people talking about it. I was hoping that through my film I can spark some change, spark some conversation.”

Founded in the Bronx in 2000, Ghetto Film School established its Los Angeles outpost in 2014 with a grant from 21st Century Fox (James Murdoch is on the board), which recently announced it would make an additional grant to cover the organization's core funding (for overhead and operational costs) through 2019. Additional support comes from public sources ranging from the city to the NEA, also including private donors and volunteers like Murdoch’s fellow board members, Lee Daniels and David O. Russell.

The school’s first-ever COO, Kisha Cameron Dingle (pictured), who recently started her new role with the organization, followed a course similar to many of the students. As a 13-year-old from Brooklyn she enrolled in the Future Filmmakers Workshop at NYU, and later worked as an intern at Spike Lee’s 40 Acres and a Mule. “When someone gives you an experience, you feel like wait a minute, maybe I belong here,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter. “A diversity of perspectives, background, races, experiences, once you actually get all different kinds of people in the room, it’s about having a table that is representative of diverse perspectives and you get a better product because of it.”

The New York-based organization runs a high school, The Cinema School, with support from the NYC Department of Education. The MacArthur Park-based L.A. branch serves about 75 students with a 30-month college-level program undertaken on weekends and after school. The process involves table reads with professional actors and critique from industry professionals.

“What you’re seeing is a peer-to-peer interaction, whether it’s Lee Daniels or David O. Russell giving feedback to a director,” recalls executive director of the L.A. branch, Stosh Mintek, of the students’ thesis project, ready to premiere early next year.

Earlier this year, the school’s alumni-managed Digital Bodega partnered with Warner Bros. and the Entertainment Industry Foundation to make a pair of anti-smoking PSAs. And according to Mintek, more than 250 alumni have secured full-time paid positions in the film, TV, advertising and tech industries.

“We can create pathways,” smiles Dingle. “Someone cracks open that door and it’s up to you to walk through it.”