The Ghetto Film School
's Eighth Annual Spring Benefit honored Robert De Niro's contributions to the program and featured appearances and presentations from several notable filmmakers, actors, and TV personalities. The non-profit, independent film organization seeks to provide young filmmakers, primarily from middle-lower income families, with valuable filmmaking experience and connections to established industry professionals. Over the course of the program's intensive 15-month Fellows Program, students meet with a variety of filmmakers who help them realize their cinematic aspirations. Founder Joe Hall posed his elevator pitch as such, "If you're not born into the Coppola family, we're your Coppola family. We're that connective tissue. The kids have these great, loving, supportive families, and we are just the add on to get them into this world."
The event had a positive and energetic atmosphere. At the end of the Fellows Program, students shoot a final short film in a foreign country. This year's students spoke to Indiewire about their working on a horror film in Shanghai. Fresh from finishing their final projects, GFS graduates being honored for their work sipped cocktails and posed for red-carpet pictures with the A-list clientele.
"If you're not born into the Coppola family, we're your Coppola family." - Joe Hall, Founder of Ghetto Film School
David O Russell, director of such notable films as The Fighter and I Love Huckabees, serves as a member of the GFS's Board of Directors and has been one of the most committed professionals to the GFS. Russell functions as a mentor of sorts for the students, listening to their pitches and helping guide their narratives. Russell described how he tries to "get" the students' stories and see if he can, "help them focus their narratives better in terms of what they are saying emotionally or narratively." While Russell admits he has a bias towards stories that feel emotional and real, ultimately he wants to help the students do what they want to do to their fullest ability.
So how does the program get Academy Award nominated/winning filmmakers involved? Their pitch is deceptively simple. Hall states that he often simply looks up prospective film tutors on IMDB Pro and shoots their agents an email. Given the GFS's unique mission and place in the film-world, many directors take very little convincing. Hall states that many filmmakers identify with GFS' DIY ethos and industry outsider perspective. In an aside, Hall mentioned that Quentin Tarantino, despite being by far the most requested filmmaker by the students, has eluded the film school's efforts. Tarantino- if by any chance you or your people are reading this, exit out of this article and contact Mr. Hall.
Once everyone had taken their seats for dinner and had a few drinks, De Niro addressed the attendees with a brief speech. De Niro spoke about his experience as a young person in the film industry and how important institutions like GFS are to nascent filmmakers. As an actor and founder of the Tribeca Film Institute, De Niro saw the GFS as a part of an important legacy of institutions that provide opportunities for the next generation of New York City filmmakers.