Scholarships help students in wake of cutbacks

The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. doesn’t just hand out globes of gold. It awards pots of gold, too — plenty of them.

Little known even within the industry is HFPA’s ongoing and robust philanthropic outreach, to the tune of more than $11 million over the last 16 years. This year alone, the foreign scribes will allot more than $1.2 million to some 28 entertainment-related public service endeavors, many of them education initiatives hard hit in an era of tight budgets and shrinking governmental support.

Says philanthropy consultant Laurie Bernhard, “They really are passionate and compassionate about spreading the funding to multiple organizations with different target participants.”

HFPA generosity helps U.S. undergraduates enter the industry and overseas grad students get their thesis films completed. It funds health-education videos for viewing by East African refugees, and contributes to preserving classics like 1948′s “The Red Shoes,” unveiled to cheers at Cannes in May.

Group’s largesse is based on the annual Golden Globes ceremony vid license fees, which boomed in the late 1990s’ move from cable to broadcast network. (Current 10-year deal with NBC runs out in 2011.)

“A team of big-time Century City lawyers,” HFPA president Philip Berk wryly recalls, expressed the need for a charitable trust into which at least 5% of the group’s gross revenues would be deposited. “Yet we’ve actually given more like 20%,” he reports.

And even in Globes-challenged 2008, when the WGA strike put the kibosh on a lavish ratings-pleasing bash, the HFPA was able to pony up more than $750,000 for its cherished causes.

Berk emphasizes that nothing goes to members’ “pet charities,” and “the reporting is impeccable. If we give scholarships, we want to be sure they go to the individuals they’re supposed to.”

As applications begin arriving early each year, Bernhard sums up the appeals for a grants committee in May. Approval is reserved for the board of trustees in June and the general HFPA membership in July.

Most grantees can rely on HFPA support in their yearly planning, a welcome source of extra help in uncertain times. “If we’ve determined these are worthwhile programs and they’ve satisfied the requirements, it’s pretty hard to say no the next year,” Berk says.

Biggest chunk by far goes to colleges and universities in the form of institutional support and scholarships. California got special attention this year, Bernhard says: “The committee members were well aware of the need for support in the educational field, leading to the decision that only higher educational institutions would receive higher dollar amounts.”

Not surprisingly, this international journalists’ association seeks international impact. UCLA MFA candidate Adriana Montenegro won HFPA’s Excellence in Film Directing Award in 2005, using her $10,000 grant to complete her thesis short “From the Core,” which won a DGA Award and has been screened worldwide.

“I believe that sharing stories and filmmaking is the essence of transcultural communication, and philanthropy is fundamental to help these voices develop, a way for the film industry to invigorate and possibly reinvent itself,” she says.

“As the only Bolivian woman director, I believe that organizations like the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. have given me a chance to develop my voice and become part of a thriving global filmmaking community.”

Other global communities benefit as well. HFPA support for relief organization Film Aid — a “desperately needed” $50,000 in 2008, according to exec director Steve Mendelsohn — is earmarked for two Kenyan refugee camps, one of which was built for 90,000 residents and now holds 270,000.

Supplies of food, clothing and shelter don’t ameliorate the trauma and boredom of camp life. FilmAid does, through mass evening screenings of features (chosen by refugee committees mindful of cultural and religious sensitivities) as well as daytime showings of films on maternal health and female empowerment made by young refugees themselves. “We provide psychosocial relief for people’s minds and hearts,” Mendelsohn says, “and vital information to save them.”

HFPA money also relieves pain through entertainment closer to home. The Lollipop Theater Network ($10,000 in 2008) brings brand-new films, along with younger stars like Anne Hathaway and Jordana Brewster, to kids fighting for their lives in hospitals. Reports director Evelyn Iocolano: “Most in the industry take moviegoing for granted. But when sick children hooked up to an IV can watch movies they’ve seen advertised on TV, their reactions are amazing. … Just for that hour or two, they forget how ill they are.”

The association is surely proudest of its preprofessional training endeavors, especially for disadvantaged youth: a dozen scholarships to arts summer school InnerSpark; funding for the Fellows program and public screenings of the Ghetto Film School Inc.; job development through Inner City Filmmakers, for the likes of Kanica Suy, the daughter of Cambodian genocide survivors who has found entree into the industry thanks to HFPA support.

“I am grateful that the HFPA chooses to support ICF,” she says. “Their generosity and kindness shows that they believe in us, and, in turn, we can believe in ourselves. It’s no longer impossible to achieve our dreams. Anything is possible now.

“We hear about so many bad things happening to people from ethnic backgrounds all over the world. Minority youths need organizations like the HFPA and ICF to make a positive impact and give hope.”

TIP SHEET

What: HFPA Luncheon

Where: Beverly Hills Hotel

When: Tuesday at noon

Hosts: Rose McGowan and Philip Berk

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