When she was just 16 years old, Dr. Aida Takla-O’Reilly was Egypt’s youngest female pilot. Today, she is the newly appointed president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.
A HFPA member since 1956, Takla-O’Reilly has great hopes for the non-profit and its impressive 17-year history of philanthropy.
Through its annual grants program, HFPA has given, as of last year, more than $12 million to entertainment related orgs across the spectrum. The nonprofit has been a generous donor to causes ranging from preserving the culture and history of film to professional mentoring to promoting cultural exchange.
This year’s record-breaking tally is $1,579,500. The Film Foundation is the largest single beneficiary at $350,000, followed by the Sundance Institute’s grant of $100,000.
One of the causes dearest to Takla-O’Reilly: financial assistance to talented but underprivileged students. This year, HFPA will give a total of $120,000 to six grantees in such pre-professional training orgs as Inner-City Filmmakers, the Ghetto Film School and Los Angeles County High School for the Arts Foundation.
“We want to encourage anything that has to do with public schools, the arts and talented youth,” says Takla-O’Reilly. “We’ve got to encourage talent. We have to put wind under the wings of these students so that they can excel.”
Due to massive and prolonged government cuts, public schools are struggling to fund arts programs of any kind at every grade level.
“Public schools are suffering because, unfortunately, for years the country was not paying attention to the liberal arts. We’ve got to support what the government has not supported for a long time,” the HFPA topper says.
Ali Sar is the org’s newly appointed treasurer. “HFPA stands out in terms of contributing to the community,” says Sar, who is the org’s former chairman of the board. “We have, for the last few years, (raised) going up in excess of $1.5 million each year.
“The people who started the foundation had the foresight to give, not only to inner-city schools but also to major schools like UCLA.”
Newly elected VP and five-time prexy Jorge Camara concurs. “They all really need and appreciate our help. My desire would be to be even more generous to them.”
The HFPA is better known for its largesse to the cause of saving deteriorating films. It was during Camara’s tenure that the Michael Powell-Emeric Pressburger 1948 classic “The Red Shoes” was restored.
“I love the idea that we contribute to film preservation and film restoration but I am really proudest of the grants that we give to young people to help them with their studies and scholarships,” Camara says. “That is my personal pet.”
Serge Rakhlin, HFPA’s recently elected executive secretary, would like to see an increase in grant amounts.
“It is very important for us, from an emotional and creative point of view, that we give much more money to promote young talent,” he says.
Looking toward the future, Rakhlin says “I deeply care about us being up-to-date for the digital era. This is one of my top priorities: for us not to miss the train on this new era of digital community.”
A former employee of Voice of America’s Russian service, the secretary says, “When and if we have a foreign language part of our website, then I volunteer to participate in promoting HFPA in foreign languages — to make people know why our decisions are interesting to film lovers all over the world.”
Another source of pride for Rakhlin is his role on the foreign film committee. “Unlike the Academy we have no limits for foreign film submissions,” he says. “It is very important for me that no significant foreign film goes unnoticed.”
Another of Takla-O’Reilly’s passions is the promotion of cultural exchange through film. Such programs include the efforts of FilmAid Intl., Latin American Cinemateca and American Cinematheque.
“I thought about minority images in film. I want to bring awareness to how sometimes information is tilted and affects the different minorities,” she explains. “It is very important for me to heighten the awareness of the importance of different cultures and how to look at different cultures. Not judge them — understand them. This is very dear to my heart.”
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