Eight years ago, Vin Diesel’s quest to make “Hannibal” opened the door to another passion. Searching the world for a place where he could film live elephants, Diesel flew to the Dominican Republic to scout locations. While Diesel was there, then-president Leonel Fernandez asked to meet the American movie star to discuss ways to bring the film industry to the island.
“It would be great to open a studio, but it will do no good if you’re not teaching people to work in this industry,” Diesel told Fernandez. Inspired by his own success as a multicultural filmmaker, Diesel developed the One Race Global Film Foundation, hatching a Summer Intensive Institute modeled after the Media Workshop that his stepfather Irving Vincent teaches at New York U.
“The idea was teaching these underserved communities how to be their own filmmakers,” explains Diesel, who was inspired by the idea that the community had not yet found their voice or the means to tell their own stories. “We came up with this deal, where I brought my father down, and the concept was to teach these kids how to do things right.”
Just 16 at the time, Maria Victoria Hernandez was one of the first students to participate in the Institute’s four-week program. Hernandez, who graduated valedictorian of her school, recalls her parents’ fear that she might squander her potential trying to find work in the country’s nonexistent film industry. On the day of Hernandez’s graduation from the program, Diesel personally urged her parents to place a little trust in their daughter and her cohorts, assured that these were the young filmmakers who would turn things around.
Seven years later, Diesel’s prophecy appears to be well on its way. For Hernandez’s part, she’s now a 23-year-old writer-director with small production credits in the DR, Spain and the United States (at NYU’s Media Workshop). She’s weighing her options of returning to Spain for graduate studies or producing a short documentary series about a youth orchestra in the DR, all the while continuing to volunteer with fellow alumni at One Race.
The program has also made impressive strides since that first year. Under Irving Vincent’s guidance, One Race has trained 210 young filmmakers from both the island nation and abroad, several of whom have also had the chance to study at NYU.
In 2007, One Race partnered with Wyclef Jean’s Yele Haiti to bring five Haitian students into the fold, and the org has since expanded to include students from Guadeloupe, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago, Israel, Senegal and Yemen.
While in the intensive, those students collaborate on projects that include a 30-second commercial, a 10-minute TV segment they host themselves, and two short films.
“Our biggest priority is putting a camera in their hand on day one,” says Samantha Vincent, Diesel’s sister and a board member at One Race. “Every student comes out a filmmaker.”
As for the fledgling Dominican industry about which Hernandez’s parents had little faith, it is making steady and optimistic gains.
“Eighty percent of the staff at both the Festival de Cine Global Dominicano and the Instituto Global de Multimedia came through (One Race),” says Omar de la Cruz, who oversees both of those orgs.
Since the first summer intensive in 2006, Diesel has funded the program predominantly on his own (with additional resources provided by Fernandez’s Funglode foundation). According to his sister, Diesel sees One Race as more than an altruistic piggy bank.
“It’s not just about giving money, it’s about teaching people to fish,” she says.