Honoring Ghetto Film School's 20th anniversary by presenting stories and art that reflect our evolution as an organization



The 2019 GFS International Thesis Team

Nat Geo Global Storytellers in Rome

We asked Class of 2019 GFS Fellows, Alejandro Ayala, Celine Gimpirea, Jourdain Pita, and Ed Therese (pictured clockwise) 

about their GFS stories, and how they approach making art now. 

What’s the best thing you’ve learned from being a Fellow at Ghetto Film School? 

Alejandro, GFS LA Alum: When I started at GFS, I was a high school Junior and I was terrible at time management and balancing out my day. But after you're on set as a director, and have to map out 20 shots in an hour, I learned how to approach each day like I had a shooting schedule. I'm a Junior at Cal State Long Beach now, majoring in communications, and the things I learned at GFS still help me to this day. I learned how to rely on others, especially when we were shooting the International Thesis Film in Rome, which was one of the most intense experiences of my life. That was the biggest crew I've ever had to lead, but it also meant I had all those people I could turn to when I started to feel burnt out. Our partners at National Geographic were incredible too - the film we were making, Cults, was a mockumentary inspired by NatGeo documentaries. So it was really cool when we visited the NatGeo offices in D.C, they showed us the storyboarding and editing techniques they used for their actual documentaries, and that really inspired us when we were feeling creatively blocked. Click here to watch Alejandro's short "Ambivalent Connection"

Celine, GFS LA Alum: I found some of my closest friends at GFS! Working in tandem with other people to create a film that was completely under our control was empowering.  When I first heard about everything the Fellows program offered, and that it was free of cost, I thought it was too good to be true. Even the interview I took to apply for the Fellows program was one of the most creative interviews I've ever had. The filmmaking framework that GFS gave us, is something I can fall back on throughout my life. They give you all the tools and teach you all the rules, then invite you to break them as long as you tell good stories. I now work as a Project Coordinator at Black Bicycle Entertainment, and I love my job. This job was also a connection through GFS and the Erika Film Foundation (EFF), and I've learned so much from people like Montea Robinson (Executive Director, GFS LA) and Erika Olde (Founder, Erika Film Foundation), about maintaining my drive and protecting my creativity. 

Jourdain, GFS NY Alum: GFS changed my life. It taught me about professionalism, how to believe in myself, and how to stick by my ideas. Being surrounded by confident teachers and confident students made me confident. It helped me understand that I had stories worth telling and that I could call the shots. I'm currently a Film and Television Freshman at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and I don't think I would've had the confidence or pushed myself to apply without my time at GFS.  Working on sets and making films with other Fellows taught me how to do even the smallest job with passion. And I'm so glad I learned these lessons when I was still young, because the consequences of not fighting for my vision would've been so much worse down the road. I learned how to speak up as a director, and I learned how to be an effective leader in my personal life as well. 

Ed, GFS NY Alum: Before GFS, I thought of myself as a lone filmmaker, at the most, maybe making films with my little brother. But I learned the value of collaborating when I started the Fellows program. A singular vision can sometimes suffer, but learning how to have a give and take with people and working together to create something we all care about, is priceless. We learned the importance of peer networking - forming connections with people around you who are on the same level as you, so you can grow and rise together, instead of trying to connect with people above you. Right now I'm a Freshman at Brooklyn College and an intern at Kunhardt Films - and I've definitely taken these lessons wherever I go. I wrote the New York International Thesis script, "The Manuscript" , which was shot in Rome. It was simultaneously rewarding and humbling to see everyone working on something that just started in my head. It really made me understand how I had to value and respect their time as much as I valued mine. 

What does it mean to be an artist right now? 

Alejandro: The movies I make come from personal experiences that are fictionalized, and when people relate to them, I feel validated. This is the same experience I have watching my favorite films. Artists allow us to empathize with feelings we all understand but can’t quite explain. The role of an artist is to give people room to feel, and the art gives you a way to not be alone in your feelings.

Celine: Art has always kept me up and kept me going. Right now, even though I can't be out there making everything I want to make, I have more time to prepare creatively, and to set goals for when this is all over. Prior to this our job was more external - to create, to produce, to showcase our art. Our job now is internal, we have to take in new information, while learning and unlearning. I get to study more film history and all the other filmmakers who came before me, so I can explore the kind of artist I want to be. 

Jourdain: During a time like this, it's really easy to get caught up on what’s worth making and what’s not worth making. It’s very easy to feel like you’re not doing enough, or that your voice isn't necessary. But the silliest comedy and the most serious documentary can both be helpful in different ways. All art is necessary and they all have roles to fill. We just have to make sure that whatever we’re doing has passion and love behind it, because if it's there, the world will see it too. 

Ed: I'm grateful that I can even ask myself that question. I feel very lucky to be healthy, safe, and financially secure during a time like this. I'm trying to be very mindful of the art I create, and listening to other voices. I think it's important to only create when you have something to say.  

Celebrating Our Partnership with

National Georgraphic

A pivotal moment in Ghetto Film School history, came in January of 2018. Longtime supporter and GFS Filmmaker Council Member, director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed, Black Panther) visited GFS LA for a class with our Los Angeles Fellows to discuss filmmaking and his artistic process. As an additional surprise, Coogler concluded his class by inviting all the students to the purple carpet premiere of his newly released film, Black Panther.

GFS Fellows with actor Angela Bassett, at the 2018 premiere of Black Panther (dir: Ryan Coogler)

At the premiere, our students got some of the best seats in the house, and were introduced to the entire cast of the film, including actor Michael B. Jordan, who was chosen as one of our honorees at the GFS Fall Benefit later that year.

The 2018 GFS Fall Benefit was hosted by longtime board member James Murdoch and his wife, Kathryn Hufschmid​, in their Los Angeles home. Guests at the Benefit included Ghetto Film School founder Joe Hall, Robert De Niro (The Irishman), Jamie Hector (The Wire), Tony and Obie Award-winning playwright and performer Sarah Jones, Malcolm Mays (Snowfall), David O. Russell (Joy), John Singleton (Boyz n the  Hood), Lena Waithe (Master of None), Shane Smith (Founder, Vice Media), Christian Slater (Mr. Robot) and other renowned GFS supporters in the entertainment industry.

2018 GFS Fall Benefit Honorees: (from L to R) Courtney Monroe, Michael B. Jordan, and Melina Matsoukas

Our honorees for the evening, Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther, Creed), Melina Matsoukas (Queen & Slim), and Courtney Monroe (President, National Geographic Global Television Networks) were introduced and honored as creative leaders and barrier breakers, by GFS students themselves.

During her speech, Courtney Monroe made a big announcement that NatGeo would be funding the NatGeo Global Storytellers, a year-long implementation of the 2019 GFS International Thesis Project to Rome.

In preparation, all GFS Fellows began writing original short scripts in 2018, out of which two scripts -

The Manuscript, and Cults - were peer selected to be shot in Rome in 2019. Prior to filming, bi-coastal table reads were also sponsored by NatGeo and Erika Film Foundation (Los Angeles) and Bloomberg Philanthropies (New York) so students could watch their scripts be read by A-list talent, and receive first-hand feedback from industry leaders to hone their scripts further.

With the indispensable support from our partners at NatGeo, a week-long shoot in Rome concluded in the Summer of 2019, and the finished films were scheduled to premiere in Spring of 2020. But due to the global pandemic and ensuing lockdown, the event was postponed and the films are now set to be screened virtually later this year.

GFS International Thesis Crew, on set in Rome, 2018

We are so grateful for the support of partners like NatGeo and other industry leaders, who donate their time and resources to help us educate, develop and celebrate the next generation of great American storytellers. Our work would not be possible without their support.

GFS Film Highlights


by Alyse Arteaga


(2019, Episodic Pilot)

"Ambivalent Connection"

by Alejandro Ayala


(2018, GFS 101 Short)

Relationship with GFS


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