Storytelling, Ghetto Film School-Style

Filming in Uganda i i

Students from the Ghetto Film School filmed Live, Joseph in Kampala, Uganda. The movie tells the story of a man who is bitten by a snake and has only 24 hours to live. Ghetto Film School hide caption

itoggle caption Ghetto Film School
Filming in Uganda

Students from the Ghetto Film School filmed Live, Joseph in Kampala, Uganda. The movie tells the story of a man who is bitten by a snake and has only 24 hours to live.

Ghetto Film School

In a converted former piano factory looking over the East River in the Bronx, kids from all over New York City learn film-school techniques — and don't pay a cent for the experience. It's the Ghetto Film School, founded by former social worker Joe Hall, and its mission is to teach the art of narrative storytelling to kids in the city.

As for the school's name, Hall explains that he wanted to take a negative term and turn it into something positive: "Our program is certainly not ghetto, when you think about travel and students interacting with really top-notch industry professionals and filmmakers."

Competition for admittance to the school is fierce; out of about 120 applicants, only 20 are accepted into the 15-month program. Students meet after-school once a week and on weekends, and they receive film cameras, top-level guidance and plenty of feedback. Everyone writes a thesis script, the best of which (as judged by the group) is then shot on location in a city outside the United States. Last summer, that city was Kampala, Uganda.

"When I was like 12, [if you told me] you're going to shoot a movie in Uganda when you're 16, I'd say, 'You're crazy,'" says cinematographer George Velez, whose 17th birthday is Sunday — the same day as the 2009 Academy Awards.

This year's film, Live, Joseph, is about a man who has 24 hours to live after being bitten by a snake. Shooting outdoors in Kampala was tough because of Uganda's "unforgiving sun," George says. "The lighting needs to remain consistent. You can't have a cloudy day and then have it sunny in the same scene, you know, for continuity and the scene doesn't flow as easily."

Live, Joseph will screen at the Red Bull Space in downtown Manhattan on March 27. Meanwhile, the Ghetto Film School is expanding its mission: In September, Hall and his associates will be opening a magnet high school in the Bronx, called the Cinema School. Admission will be competitive and the school promises to prepare New York City's high school students for top-level colleges and work in the film industry.

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