Ghetto Film School in contention for award

Students from The Ghetto Film School shoot a film in Spain during a recent trip.
Photo courtesy of Ghetto Film School

One Bronx-based organization is being recognized for its work educating the next generation of filmmakers.

The Ghetto Film School was recently named a semifinalist in the 9th annual New York Community Trust Nonprofit Excellence Awards.

The film school is one of ten semifinalists across the five boroughs, Westchester and Long Island who are in the running to win $60,000 in prizes as well as tuition scholarships for the Columbia Business School Executive Education Programs in Social Enterprise.

Six finalists and then three winners will be announced later this year.

The Ghetto Film School was founded by president Joe Hall and started as a summer program out of a store front in Hunts Point almost 15 years ago.

It transitioned into a full-time program in 2004 in Mott Haven and later opened the nation’s first public film school with the Department of Education in 2009 called The Cinema School.

The idea rose out of Hall’s experience at film school at University of Southern California, where he realized there was a lack of diversity in film making, said GFS artistic director Derrick Cameron.

So he returned to the Bronx, where he had roots as a community organizer, and started teaching high school students film.

In addition to providing programming for The Cinema School’s film curriculum, GFS also offers an intensive fellowship for a select group of the Cinema School’s junior and seniors with after-school and Saturday programming. They also run the Digital Bodega, a professional production company that gives alumni paid opportunities to grow their film reel and supports GFS with additional revenue.

GFS also provides instruction for students about professional skills like networking, and helps them establish contacts in the business, said Cameron, and a recently established outpost in L.A. will support students if they move west to pursue the craft.

“We’re the Coppola family for students that don’t have connections in the industry,” said Cameron.

In addition to teaching teens how to write scripts, work a camera, and use editing programs, a filmmaking education also provides lessons about collaboration, problem solving, and empathy, said Cameron, which are valuable whether or not they decide to pursue careers in the field.

“Storytelling in general lends itself to transferable skills,” said Cameron.

A recent graduate of the Cinema School and participant in the fellowship, Natalie Popoter, said GFS helped her grow and gave her real-world skills.

“This program really helps you see things, and not just from the filmmaker perspective,” she said.

Popoter recently traveled with a small group of students to produce a film in Spain based on a script she wrote, which she called a life-changing experience, thanks to GFS.

Being part of the NYCT’s ongoing awards process has given GFS a chance to evaluate the many things they’re doing, said Cameron.

“It really allows you to reflect as an organization,” he said.

The 10-month process involves application workshops and multiple rounds of interviews that act as a kind of group training and coaching for the more than 50 nonprofits who participate, said Michael Clark, president of the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee, which created the Nonprofit Excellence Awards in collaboration with NYCT and Philanthropy New York.

“It’s a lot of work, but people keep coming back,” said Clark. “It amounts to expert consulting.”

The awards are sponsored by WNYC as well as supported by The Clark Foundation, Ford Foundation, McGladrey LLP, and Columbia Business School Executive Education Programs in Social Enterprise.

Reach Reporter Jaime Williams at 718-260-4591. E-mail her at

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