It doesn’t take a hashtag campaign like #OscarsSoWhite to figure out that filmmaking has long been a white man’s game. Between the enormous costs of producing a film and the uncertain professional prospects of a film degree, the barriers to entry for traditionally marginalized communities have been virtually insurmountable. That is, until low-cost digital technologies put an integrated moviemaking kit in the hands of anyone with a credit card and a dream.
But a decade deep into the digital revolution, we’re just barely starting to see this access reflected in box offices and awards shows – and there’s still a long way to go before we start to see a truly democratic industry. Thankfully there are a few new institutions actively working to cultivate the next generation of diverse filmmakers and unleash them onto Hollywood.
Focusing on the youngest future Oscar-winners, southern California’s Latino Film Institute Youth Cinema Project has programs across 20 elementary school and four middle school districts. Founded by none other than Edward James Olmos, the LFI doesn’t exclusively serve Latino youth, but as board member Bonny Garcia explained, the name is to show that “it’s a gift from the Latino community to all kids.” Focusing on project-based learning, the Latino Film institute teaches practical skills and guides budding creators through each phase of the filmmaking process, inviting them to tell their own stories on their own terms.
On the other coast, CUNY’s Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema, housed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, is the first school of its kind offering a low-cost graduate film education with a focus on fostering a diverse student body. With heavy-hitting A-list talent like Steven Soderbergh and Ethan Hawke on the school’s advisory council, and cult indie director Jonathan Wacks as founding director, the program has already attracted top-tier collaborators. But it’s also sticking firmly to its founding mission with a 45 percent minority student body and thesis production grants to help level the playing field for students who can’t cover expenses out-of-pocket.
The young program was only inaugurated a year and a half ago and hopes to give out its first MFAs in 2018; but even though we have yet to see any alums on the red carpet, we can plan on seeing a loud and proud generation of Feirstein filmmakers taking over the top tiers of the Hollywood machinery before too long.