BAFTA/LA's community outreach draws big crowds

For an inner-city space like Helen Keller Park in Los Angeles, just a few years can make a major difference.

“Three years ago, people were afraid to go into the park,” says Donald Haber, executive director and chief operating officer for BAFTA/LA.

That was then. This is now: the feeling of being free to enjoy what has become a community treasure.

Through film screenings with BAFTA/LA in association with CURE (Common Unity Reaching Everyone), the County of Los Angeles Dept. of Parks and Recreation, and Hollywood Outdoor Movies — in a program called “BAFTA/LA’s Inner City Cinema” — the park has become a fun place to go.

For BAFTA/LA, the biggest development since the screening program began has been the growing relationship between BAFTA/LA and the Los Angeles County Parks system.

“The park is in the process of tearing down the community center and building a state-of-the-art, highly technical building, with BAFTA/LA involved in the design and the infrastructure, working with the L.A. County Parks and their architects,” Haber says.

The plans call for an outdoor amphitheater to be connected to an indoor screening room, which will be able to hold hundreds of people. There will be three rooms; a large community room (also used for screenings), a computer lab and a third room that may be a weight room. Hollywood Outdoor Movies also has been involved in the creation of the building plans.

Word of mouth about the regular screenings of films at the park has increased the level of attendees from a few years ago. In September, BAFTA/LA screened “The Longshots” for 500 people there, with the ages of people attending anywhere from 8 to 60.

“We also talk to the community to see what kinds of films they want; we don’t dictate to them,” Haber explains. “We want to provide films with a positive message.”

The upbeat feedback from the community seems to have made L.A. Parks and Recreation take more notice. The county has stepped up its efforts to refurbish the park: trimming trees, restoring the dilapidated swimming pool and changing rooms and refurbishing the football field and baseball field. Individuals have chipped in financial support, too, as well as A Better L.A., USC football coach Pete Carroll’s gang-intervention nonprofit.

BAFTA/LA has also had its first series of screenings at another park, Athens, which led to sports activities between the two parks, with teams of players from both parks mixing together.

Other BAFTA/LA community projects are slower moving — for instance, Haber’s plans for the kids at Helen Keller to get together and write and produce a film that could be entered in the BAFTA London film competition “60 Seconds of Fame.”

For now, though, the screenings seem to be playing a big part in getting the community together.

Michael Ealey, recreation service supervisor at Helen Keller Park, says the screenings program can’t be measured in dollars and cents.

“I’ve been a year at this park, and the war stories I’ve heard …,” Ealey says. “It’s been a transformation.”

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