Lights, Camera, ART!

Posted on Tue., March 7, 2023 by Sandy Masuo
Expand image Ghetto Film School participants inside the Scott Galleries.

The Nov. 10, 2022, premiere of the current series of Ghetto Film School works was an opportunity for students, faculty, family, and Huntington mentors to celebrate. From left to right: Kyle Provencio-Reingold, Armando Morales, Andres Barragan, Danny Vasquez, Gavin Lee, Aidan Bae, Kat Torres, Maximus Corona, Myra Soto, Raigan Irons, Sophia Lafaurie, Xochilt Garcia, Diego Medina, Valeria Zacarias, Melanie Cho, Brian Arrieta, and Gloria Alvarez. Photo by Sarah M. Golonka.

The Huntington’s art collections began with Arabella Huntington’s passion for old masters, medieval and Renaissance devotional images, and antiques. Yet, Arabella’s pursuits were not limited to historic art. “She was hugely interested in the design and art of her time,” said Christina Nielsen, the Hannah and Russel Kully Director of the Art Museum.

An ongoing partnership with Ghetto Film School adds a new, contemporary dimension to Arabella’s legacy: The nonprofit introduces young filmmakers to The Huntington’s three collections—art, library materials, and the botanical gardens—as a source of ideas and inspiration for their work. “Every year we learn a lot by seeing our historic collections anew through these bright, emerging artists,” Nielsen said. “The space that we’ve dedicated to showing their films makes our galleries feel alive. We hear voices. We hear music. Every time I go into that space, there are young people watching the films. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement.”

Expand image Ghetto Film School participants watch a film inside the Scott Galleries.

The Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art’s intimate black box theater was originally installed for the exhibition “Made in L.A. 2020: a version.” The Huntington’s first dedicated space to new media has proven ideal for screening works by Ghetto Film School students. Photo by Sarah M. Golonka.

Ghetto Film School was founded in 2000 by former social worker Joe Hall while he was studying cinema at USC. The idea for the school arose as a response to the lack of diversity that he perceived in his graduate program. Building on advice from USC educators, he met with young people he knew from his 10-year community service career in the South Bronx and learned what would make film school appealing to them. Their responses were clear: They did not want a thinly veiled social service program. As one respondent wryly put it, they did not want a “ghetto film school”—and so the name for Hall’s endeavor was coined.

In 2015, GFS launched a collaboration with the Frick Collection in New York that encouraged students to explore narrative and visual arts in their film work. Nielsen was familiar with the Frick Film Project and met Hall in 2017 when she was a fellow at the New York–based Center for Curatorial Leadership. “He led a class on mentorship there,” she recalled. “And the biggest takeaway for me was that mentoring is not top down. Anytime you’re in a relationship with anyone, you learn from each other.”

Expand image Xochilt Garcia standing with Kyle Provencio-Reingold.

The Eastman Kodak Company is now sponsoring Ghetto Film School’s collaboration with The Huntington. The company’s support consists of gifts in kind of film and processing services as well as grants for the students. Xochilt Garcia, standing with GFS LA’s Kyle Provencio-Reingold, was the first grant recipient. Photo by Sarah M. Golonka.

Nielsen’s experience at the Center for Curatorial Leadership eventually led to a March 2019 meeting among Stosh Mintek, then-CEO of GFS; Montea Robinson, current CEO of GFS; Nielsen; and Elee Wood, who at the time was curator of The Huntington’s Jonathan and Karin Fielding Collection of Early American Art. The initial plan was for GFS students to explore and respond to objects in the Fielding Collection.

“From the beginning, Christina’s and my goal was to get young and fresh perspectives on The Huntington’s art collections,” said Wood, who now serves as the Nadine and Robert A. Skotheim Director of Education and Public Programs. “It was an opportunity for new voices to tell stories about the collections, to see what sparked their imaginations, and to learn what elements of our collections connect with new audiences. It is very much in keeping with The Huntington’s goal to see how art of the past informs art of the present. We see that clearly in each iteration of the GFS-Huntington partnership.”

Expand image Three GFS participants film a scene in the Ahmanson Reading Room.

Through the Ghetto Film School–Huntington partnership, high school- and early college-age students spend 10 weeks immersed in a study of The Huntington’s collections to create short films. Photo by Vanessa Wilke.

The inaugural project got underway in February 2020, but COVID-19 stalled progress. Eventually, the first cohort of 17 students conceptualized, planned, and shot motion picture self-portraits based on the theme “Portraits in Light.”

Expand image Two people in a scene of “Trapped.”

In her film Trapped, Ghetto Film School student Sarah Jean-Williams used such portraits as Isabel (Swinburne) and Thomas Crathorne, by Francis Cotes (British, 1726–1770), as points of departure for short narratives.

Prompted by the 2021 theme, “Reimagining Portraiture,” the second cohort immersed themselves in the work of Kehinde Wiley and grand manner portraiture in The Huntington’s European art collections. Last year’s students delved into Sandy Rodriguez’s works in the “Borderlands” exhibition and created visual narratives focused on the theme “Nuestro Pueblo” (“Our Town”), capturing the diverse and complex cultural fabric of Los Angeles. This year, a new group of students explored the idea of cultural dichotomies (“Everywhere and Nowhere”) in the work of LA-based artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby (whose paintings are on view now in the Huntington Art Gallery) and the “Borderlands” exhibition. All the films produced to date are accessible via The Huntington’s website.

Expand image Xochilt Garcia and Ixchel Cruz film in one of The Huntington’s gardens.

Ghetto Film School students Xochilt Garcia and Ixchel Cruz set up a scene during a February 2023 visit. Photo by Tatyana Cooper.

Kyle Provencio-Reingold, the program director of GFS Los Angeles, cites the late Carlos Almaraz, a leading member of the Chicano art movement, as a source of inspiration in his work with young filmmakers. Almaraz was known for creating colorful vignettes of everyday life, primarily in his Echo Park neighborhood. “When you think about Black and brown culture in Los Angeles, it’s very important to understand that what we see around us is contextual. It’s temporary,” Provencio-Reingold observed. “We need to preserve our stories. When we see value in our own stories, then other people will think that it’s important to preserve our stories. And that’s what we’re doing here: celebrating the power of our voices, the power of community, and the power of looking back in order to go forward.”

Sandy Masuo is the senior writer in the Office of Communications and Marketing at The Huntington.