AT LACMA Wed 9.17.2014

Meet the Next Generation of Indie Filmmakers


This past Monday, ten filmmakers officially joined the ranks of independent artists making and screening movies in the city of Los Angeles. They made their debut at Film Independent at LACMA, where their work premiered for a raucous crowd of fans, film lovers, peers, family and friends. The first annual public screening of Ghetto Film School Los Angeles featured ten shorts—sans dialogue, as the assignment dictated—by diverse teenagers from neighborhoods throughout the city. The stories varied from horror (there were plenty of teen zombies and vampires to go around) to a love triangle, to LGBT rights (one film centered on the conflict between a teenage girl and her mother, when the daughter comes out). The teens are part of the 30-month program that’s a spinoff of Ghetto Film School New York, which was founded in the South Bronx 14 years ago and has since captured the attention and support of heavy hitters like David O. Russell and Lee Daniels (both are on the board). GFS provides youth with a free, rigorous, college-level immersion in digital storytelling and production training. 

Following the screening, four of the GFS filmmakers took the stage for a Q&A with Roya Rastegar, Film Independent Associate Director of Programming and Curated Content, where they talked about how they coped with all the usual pitfalls that typically trip up first-time filmmakers—failing equipment,  flaking actors—and shared the universally overwhelming feeling that comes with seeing the finished product in a theater full of people—particularly those who supported them along the away. “It’s really nerve wracking,” said Francis Arana, (Bloody Game). “You want to make them proud.” As Alfredo Salazar (Respect Must Be Earned) said, “You get that pride and sense of accomplishment, I mean, ‘Holy crap, you just made a film.'”

We asked GFSLA filmmaker Alexi Gonzalez, 18, to tell us about her passion for filmmaking and her experience in the program. Alexi first joined GFS in New York, and was thrilled to learn that her move to Southern California coincided with the program’s West Coast expansion. Here’s what she wrote:

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After visiting the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for the first time together during the summer we were ecstatic to hear our films were scheduled to screen at the Bing Theater in LACMA on September 15. I ventured into the theater to get a sneak peek before the show. I was washed over with amazement when I saw the theater and knew that at such a young age my short is being screened at a grand spot. When people started pouring into the lobby it was a rush of excitement! I saw old friends from NYC, new friends from the summer, instructors, eager cast and family members all there to see what my peers and I can do with a camera and a story.

After everyone filed into the theater, GFS students were treated like super stars with all the lights from the photographers in our eyes. Once the lights dimmed we tiptoed into the front row more nervous and excited than ever. Roya Rastegar, Film Independent Associate Director of Programming and Curated Content, and Alvy Johnson, the Head Instructor of GFSLA, opened the event with enthusiasm. Music filled the theater as the curtain rose to reveal the first GFSLA short. The glow from the screen lit all of our faces as we watched with high spirits. We traded proud looks and friendly nudges to each other as their films appeared on the big screen for the first time. The last short of the night was Abby Normal, a film by yours truly. The feeling of having your film out for all to see is a terrifying yet magnificent experience. I smiled to myself and listened to all the reactions while I looked up at the screen with a feeling of accomplishment. It’s those moments—amongst many others—that assure me that I’m meant to be a filmmaker.

The ending title faded in and the audience roared to life.

The lights exposed the stage and our hosts appeared to thank the supporters of GFS such as Film Independent, 21st Century Fox, HOLA, LACMA, David O. Russell, Lee Daniels and many others. Alvy then invited GFS filmmakers Jevonne Davis, Chantal Serrano, Alfredo Salazar and Francis Arana for a Q&A with Roya Rastegar. The students gave an accurate depiction of their experience from taking a project from paper to the screen.

After the last applause for all the students, one of our esteemed jurors Myron Kerstein, the editor of Wish I was Here announced the top three shorts of the night—each filmmaker won a $1,000 scholarship: Unexpected Expectations directed by Francesca Pizznorno; Me, Myself and Pride directed by Chantal Serrano, and my film, Abby Normal. I closed my acceptance speech with these words: “The Ghetto Film School has given me the best possible opportunity to create, showcase and pursue what I love the most. My art, my passion, my career: filmmaking.”

All of the students and myself had an immense amount of fun but also an immense amount of work. From time to time we would get completely stressed out but we keep encouraging each other to push forth. Filmmaking for me is about the ability to share something as personal as a thought by composing all elements of art to present on a big screen. Watching and working with all my peers to create their first film was beautiful. I’m proud of all the students for working through the hard times and creating something that’s their own.

It was a wonderful night filled with relief, inspiration and joy. I’m beyond grateful for all the opportunities that have been presented. I look forward to all the crazy experiences that will come with my next steps in my filmmaking career. I’m taking a gap year before I go into college, giving me the time to completely appreciate the work and internship experiences that I hope to gain through the year. Thank you, Film Independent, for being a part of the Ghetto Film School Family.

Film Independent At LACMA Presents Ghetto Film School Los Angeles

Alexi Gonzalez, guest blogger