Bloomberg Philanthropies hosted the Ghetto Film School’s annual table read, which included stars like Ansel Elgort, Tony Danza, James Ivory, Trevor Jackson, Sebastian Stan and many more.
Philanthropy and filmmaking don’t often come together. They exist in separate world’s, each vying for their own mission and goals. One is based in creativity, adventure, and risk-taking. The other in charity, benevolence, and humanitarianism. One wouldn’t think the two would mix, but on June 5th, that’s exactly what happened. Bloomberg Philanthropies, the sizable charity organization founded by former NYC mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, invited the Ghetto Film School’s students to their headquarters in Stuyvesant Fish House, the opulent mansion that rests on the corner of East 78th Street and Madison Avenue. Stosh Mintek, executive director of Ghetto Film School LA explained how not much has changed since their first years in public rental locations, “the thing that’s never changed here is the authenticity. The authenticity and our approach to the kids looks identical tonight to when we were in a public recreational center in the South Bronx where we had a classroom next to a pool and a weight lifting room. So I’d be teaching Fellini and dumbbells would be falling on the ground [laughs].” In rooms filled with joy, hope, and admiration, the new London-based and local students eagerly discussed their respective projects, upcoming aspirations, and dreams. Our approach The London campus’ Chris’ Casting Call and the New York campus’ His Diana had some of the best in Hollywood come to read their films, provide feedback and give advice. It was a night to remember to say the least.
Something that was increasingly apparent was the earnest support of all the stars that night. Many had involved themselves through their own agency, often hearing about the organization through word-of-mouth. “My best friend from growing up at PS 41 is on the board of this place!” exclaimed Sakina Jaffrey (House of Cards). The actress was invited to the table read as part of His Diana, saying “I’m reading a piece by Elsa Chung. It’s a lovely little film about a young man who’s obsessed with a famous star. He has expectations of her and she really can’t bear the expectations of any of her fans. She’s not a very happy camper. Jill Henessy is playing that character.” The two have had quite a rapport before the table read, with Jaffrey noting, “we did a film twenty years ago. I haven’t seen her in a little while and so we’re bonding again [laughs].” When asked if she plans to continue to work with the Ghetto Film School, Jaffrey eagerly proclaimed, “if they ask me to, absolutely.”
Fellow His Diana table reader Jill Henessy (Law and Order) was just as happy to be at the event, particularly when she saw that her old friend Sakina Jaffrey was there. “It’s joyous, ecstatic, and sublime to see her. She’s one of the most beautiful people I’ve worked with,” said Henessy. Similar to Jaffrey, Henessy became involved with the Ghetto Film School by her own voilition, explaining, “I heard about it through a friend. I heard they needed actors and I tried to throw my name in and thankfully they agreed to accept me into the building [laughs].” Henessy explained her film and her role in it, saying, “the film is by a woman named Elsa Chung, which is directed by Nia Stanford–they’re two young women.” The actress continued, “it’s about an actress who is a very troubled, fractured human being who presents one facade to her public and even to her own husband and herself. That wall is shattered after one of her final shows. She meets a young man who works for a news organization that is doing a piece on her. He’s then forced to drive her to her lover’s apartment. Wildness ensues. But for the film to come from a young girl in New York, I was very impressed.” She also couldn’t help but show-off her jubilation, exclaiming, “I’m actually incredibly excited. The scripts looks tremendous.”
Speaking to Elsa Chung and Nia Stanford, the two young filmmakers were glowing with pride and excitement at being in the same room with some of their idols, but remained poised and focused on showcasing their hard work. “I wrote the script and when I was walking through the Frick space, I kept my eye on art pieces and sculptures that communicated raw emotion,” said writer Elsa Chung. She went on to explain, “when you’re in a museum, you expect abstract, almost intangible art history. But I saw a sculpture that really spoke to me. It was that gut reaction that immediately made me think, ‘I should really explore the emotions that these sculptures invoked in me. That’s how the script process really evolved.” The filmmakers were indeed dealing with heady material, one that certainly spoke to the extreme dedication that these two young women showcased in pursuing their filmmaking dreams.