David O. Russell and Jim Gianopulos Host Ghetto Film School’s Thesis Premiere

David O. Russell and Fox’s Jim Gianopulos hosted the premiere of Ghetto Film School Los Angeles fellows’ thesis film “Demon’s Gate” Monday at the Hammer Museum in Westwood. Ghetto Film School (GFS), which originated in the Bronx, came to L.A. two years ago, bringing a free 30-month immersion program in storytelling and film production.

The fellows, who range in age from 14 to 18, meet after school, on weekends and two consecutive summers to hone their filmmaking skills. In January, this first class of L.A. fellows was given a task for their final project — write a script set in Tokyo. After pitching and round table reading, the group of 25 fellows chose Alexi Gonzalez‘s “Demon’s Gate” and shot the short film on location in Tokyo over a week in June.

“Demon’s Gate” marked the first thesis film in GFS history that boasts the same writer and director. GFS Executive Director Stosh Mintek notes Gonzalez, now 19, is a remarkable GFS student, but emphasized how each student is carefully selected for the program.

Simone Walker, Imelda Mercado, Francis Arana, Alexi Gonzalez and Katherine Oliver at the screening Q&A of “Demon’s Gate”
David Buchan/Variety/Rex Shutterstock

“I think there’s an audacity to wanting to live a creative life,” Mintek said. “What I love and admire about our students — I’m speaking both about the L.A. kids and students I’ve known now for 10 years in New York — is that there’s that persistence of vision. There’s a focus and there’s an understanding that this takes a while so that our students have a hunger and an ambition that doesn’t fade with time.”

Russell, a GFS board member, has helped cultivate students’ ambitions by offering his advice at both the GFS high school in New York and the fellows program in L.A. “David is also a true mentor and a champion for new voices, extraordinarily dedicated for many years now to Ghetto Film School and has worked to develop the next generation of great American storytellers,” Gianopulos said.

Russell often brings in guest speakers and takes GFS students to his set, emphasizing that learning in a professional environment helps aspiring filmmakers set tangible career goals. “It’s a wonderful gateway for everyone,” Russell said. “It’s a gateway for us to learn about the community these kids live in and it’s a gateway for them to start telling all of us their stories to bring everything they know into cinema.”

After the screening, former New York City film commissioner Katherine Oliver led a Q&A with the student filmmakers. The female-dominated crew, headed by Gonzalez, Francis Arana, Imelda Mercado and Simone Walker, shared their advice for the next class of fellows students.

With the first-year students sitting attentively towards the front of the theater, Oliver announced the location for their thesis project next year — London, England.

(Pictured: David O. Russell, Stosh Mintek and Jim Gianopulos)

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