What is filmanthropy?
It’s helping kids from the Bronx, Los Angeles and the Dominican Republic land jobs in the movie industry.
It’s preserving and restoring films.
It’s showing classic movies to thousands of people living in Macedonian refugee camps.
Here’s how Caroline Baron, Vin Diesel, David O. Russell, Martin Scorsese and Jon Turteltaub practice filmanthropy.
David O. Russell
Ghetto Film School
“Why shouldn’t we help kids in poor urban areas of New York make films? Let’s see their films,” David O. Russell says. “The school is like the High School for the Performing Arts, but it’s for cinema. The goal is to build a magnet school. Right now, it’s this after-school program in the Bronx that’s spreading to public schools in other boroughs.”
Russell serves as a fund-raiser and educator, and has tag-teamed filmmaker friends like Spike Jonze and Gavin O’Connor to lend support to the school, which was founded in 2000.
In the workshops, he takes pitches from 30 kids. Then they get his feedback.
“I say things like, ‘I think this is cool. This is smart. That’s funny. I think this part could be better,’ ” says Russell. “Some of the films are fantastical. Some of them are really funny. Some are really gritty and urban, but by no means are they just stereotypically from the streets. One kid made a really funny movie using a stuffed squirrel that was terrorizing a house. It was this really simple kind of filmmaking that I could do with my own kids.”
Sometime in the late 1980s, Martin Scorsese learned that more than 75% of silent films had either deteriorated or disappeared completely. “It was even more disturbing to realize that 50% of all films made in America before 1950, sound and silent, were gone.”
So, in 1990, Scorsese gathered together his friends Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Coppola, Woody Allen, Robert Redford, Stanley Kubrick and Sydney Pollack and started the Film Foundation. “We were able to get the archivists into the front offices of the studios and begin a program of systematic restoration of all the major titles in the vaults.”
In addition to film preservation, the foundation offers educational programs that teach students how to interpret the language of film.
“And because visual language today is so important — much more than ever — it’s essential for them to understand how to express themselves using the grammar of film as opposed to the grammar of advertising, which is something very different, made with a very different purpose,” Scorsese says.
He draws on the sci-fi classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”
“Why does it seem so immediate when it was made 57 years ago?” he asks. “You can start by examining the writing, the acting, the lighting, the framing, the use of music. And then the political context of 1950-51, when that film was made: You can learn a great deal about the history of America at that point, and understand how what’s going on outside the movie can inform the action, the story choices, the emphases. And it gives you a way of looking at our own period, the one we’re in right now, seeing the similarities and the differences.”
Nine years ago, “Capote” producer Caroline Baron heard a report about one of the refugee camps in Macedonia. The big problems: idleness, fear, trauma and boredom.
Baron thought she could help: She would show films to create a diversion, an escape.
“Imagine that you have just survived walking thousands of miles, your life at risk every minute of that time. You manage to get to a refugee camp and you have nothing to do. You don’t know what your future holds,” Baron says. “Would it be crazy to bring screenings into refugee camps?”
Six weeks later, Baron, with one screen, one projector and three crews, was on her way.
“We had an audience of tens of thousands of people watching Charlie Chaplin films and ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ” Baron recalls. “But in addition to feeding their imaginations, we realized that they needed information on land-mine awareness. So we showed this PSA on land mines.”
Baron sees the screen as a tool — a communicator. “When you’ve got 70, 90 or 100,000 people in a refugee camp, there is no Internet, no phone no BlackBerry to communicate. But a big movie screen does communicate. It’s very old-fashioned but very effective.”
One Race Global Film Foundation
Four years ago, Vin Diesel met with Dominican Republic president Leonel Fernandez.
“He wanted me to bring the film industry there,” Diesel says. “The president and I came up with this four-week summer course where we pull 32 kids from these impoverished neighborhoods and give them the education and tools to become filmmakers.”
The foundation, now in its third year, has achieved real success — so much so that when the “Fast & Furious” crew recently flew to the Dominican Republic to shoot there, they were able to employ 10 former students.
“It was like a dream come true,” says Diesel.
“What’s great about this program is that you don’t have just a group of kids all of whom want to become directors,” Jon Turteltaub says of ICF, which provides free year-round professional training to inner-city students. “These students want to work in the wardrobe department, the camera department, the editorial department as well as wanting to write and direct.”
The program seeks out students with obvious potential. “One young woman’s first gig was in the wardrobe department on ‘National Treasure,’ ” Turteltaub says. “Now she’s in the union. She’s now a costumer, and the only reason she’s there is because people want her. This is a career and a life she has — something she’s good at, something she worked hard to learn.”
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The moviemaking business has never been an easy one to get into even for someone who has lived in the heart of it her whole life.
“Before I got started in the Inner City Filmmakers program, my confidence was low, and I was a very quiet person,” says Jenny Caceres, 21. Born in Honduras and raised in Southern California, Caceres says she never really had a “successful role model” to motivate her to follow her dreams. Thanks to ICF, she became a post-production assistant on Tina Fey’s “Baby Mamma.”
“This program has opened so many doors and led me to so many opportunities I wouldn’t have heard of without it,” Caceres says. “They called (the program) a film family, and that’s what it feels like to me.”
— Justin Kroll
Alma Osorio and George Velez
Two teenagers from the Bronx recently visited Africa and got to make a movie, too.
As participants in the Ghetto Film School Program, Alma Osorio and George Velez, both 16, were given the opportunity to shoot a film in Uganda as part of their final thesis project.
“I view film differently now because of the program,” Osorio says. “I view film as a form of art now, which I couldn’t say I did prior to this program.”
Adds Velez: “Since joining this program, I now know what it’s like to write a script, make storyboards and various other things to make your film better. My concept was to write a movie and shoot it, and they have given me the fundamentals that I can use on future filmmaking projects.”
Both students will enter their junior year of high school this year.
— Justin Kroll