AT LACMA Mon 9.14.2015

Celebrate the Next Generation of Filmmakers with Ghetto Film School LA

When this year’s Ghetto Film School LA Fellows take their seats in LACMA’s Bing Theater on Friday, for many of them it will be only their second visit to the largest art museum in the western United States.

“We take the students to the museum during the summer to introduce them and for a lot of them that’s their first time at LACMA,” said GFS LA Program Coordinator Alvy Johnson. “They’re 14 to 16, they don’t have cars and it’s hard to get around the city. So students aren’t necessarily leaving their neighborhoods to visit museums.”

And this time, they’ll be there to see their own work on the big screen. The September 18 Film Independent at LACMA screening will feature the 11 six-minute films voted the strongest by the 31-member class. It’s the second annual GFS LA Screening Showcase and the public is welcome to attend. The program, which offers a group of diverse young storytellers a free, 30-month college-level pre-professional immersion in digital storytelling and production training, is in its second year in Los Angeles.

Johnson said the Fellows are excited for the screening. “It’s an opportunity to showcase their work to their friends and family and say, ‘Hey, this is what I did with my summer.’”

After the screening, the Fellows will take to the stage for a conversation with Film Independent Curator Elvis Mitchell. Johnson said it’s a thrill for the students to be treated like experts in their field.

The films have also been viewed by a panel of industry professionals that includes director/cinematographer Jan De Bont (Die Hard, Speed) and director Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight, Miss You Already). The jury will award scholarships to three of the filmmakers.

The Ghetto Film School has been operating in New York for 16 years. In 2009, they partnered with the NYC Board of Education to open The Cinema School, a four-year magnet film high school offering a rigorous liberal arts curriculum grounded in creative activity. GFS LA was created with the support of founding partner 21st Century Fox.

Johnson said the goal for the instruction is to make it “the best of every film school the staff has been to.” GFS LA staff members have attended Columbia, Yale and USC, among others. In the summers, the Fellows are in classes four days per week. During the school year, the students take classes on Saturdays and are encouraged to put in time after school as well.

While there is a precedent for expanding the program into a full four-year school, Johnson said that’s not their focus just yet. “I think GFS waited something like 10 years before they even started talking about a school in New York. And we haven’t even hit two years out here. We’re just working on the Fellows Program as it exists and trying to perfect it.”

Johnson said the LA community has already been very supportive of the Program. In addition to 21st Century Fox, GFS LA has forged strategic partnerships with Heart of Los Angeles and Loyola Marymount University, and has secured major funding and programmatic support from New Regency, RatPac, Lions Gate, CBS, Dreamworks, the John W Carson Foundation and the Wasserman Foundation, among others. Johnson hopes events like the Film Independent at LACMA screening will help rally the community behind these young filmmakers even more.

“That’s one of the things that we hope will set us apart from other film programs is that direct connection with working professionals so we can create opportunities for these students to work in the industry,” said Johnson. “When they finish our program, yes. But absolutely when they graduate college.”

Tom Sveen / Film Independent Blogger