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'Ghetto Film School' Nurtures Future Filmmakers

The Hollywood movie industry captivates people the world over. And people in the movie industry often say it is a place where anything is possible. But for many young people who grow up in underprivileged neighborhoods, becoming a Hollywood filmmaker is a long shot. So a program was established for the not-so-well-connected in the South Bronx, New York state's poorest congressional district, located in a part of New York City. Paige Kollock reports for VOA.

One film is called "Desperate Choice." It was made by 17-year-old Brian Neris. He is a student at Ghetto Film School, a training ground for aspiring filmmakers in New York. He describes his facination with movies as, "Even when I was little, I always knew the old films."

Brian wanted to get into filmmaking, but he did not know where to start. Then he discovered a program called "Ghetto Film School" on the Internet.

The program takes only 19 students. The screening process is rigorous, but once accepted, students are given all of the tools necessary to become the next big filmmaker. Skills like shooting, editing and directing; one-on-one instruction; resume-building workshops; and film analysis and networking seminars with top film executives. They even get to go on an overseas trip. But if students miss a deadline, they are expelled.

Program Director Stosh Mintek explains, "We ask a lot of them, we push them really hard and we're constantly reminding them that it is all about what you actually do. It's not enough to be playing with the camera, you have to be making things, you have to be producing and you have to be getting internships."

Student Alma Osoiro is 15 and wants to be a film writer. She says Ghetto Film has given her the confidence to do that. "I was intimated before I joined Ghetto Film School because I felt like I didn't have any experience," she said.

Mintek is encouraged by the students, he says. "They're loaded with talent, and they're coming from a place where their voices are not being heard in mainstream media."

But Hollywood also has its pitfalls. Magazine covers reveal its reputation for cosmetic surgery, alcohol and drugs. Does the staff ever worry that the program introduces students to a lifestyle of superficiality?

"It would be very irresponsible of us to give them nothing but the prep and rosy glow on what this industry is about, and then kind of let them venture forth and get eaten alive," Mintek said.

That is why lessons include how hold a fork and how to look someone in the eye. As for the rest, what students choose to do with the skills is up to them.

Brian may have the key to a successful career, he says, and "I don't care about the money, the fame or the glamour. I really care about the legacy and the story I have left behind."

The school relies on a $1 million grant from the city of New York, as well as corporate sponsorships and generous donations from Hollywood stars. Ghetto Film is working with the U.S. Department of Education to develop a cinema-themed public high school.