Ghetto Film School gives young filmmakers chance at stardom

NEW YORK — Aspiring young filmmakers are getting their chance at stardom thanks to New York charities and the Cigna Foundation.

The mission was simple: to address health disparities seen in some of New York’s poorest neighborhoods.

Cigna wanted to do more than just write a check, so they joined forces with the Ghetto Film School in the Bronx to harness the ideas of young filmmakers.

Students pitched a panel of professionals with their vision for how they would showcase several New York charitable groups focused on health.

Then they were each given $1,000 to produce a short film.

Antonello Velez, one of the director/writer/producers summed it all up, “For me, it was something special to make something I was proud of.”

Another student, Kecia Romiel said, “We are all passionate people who are storytellers, who tell stories through film.”

Velez elaborated, “The people from the Bronx and my background don’t have avenues and windows to opportunity. That’s why I value the Ghetto Film School.”

This 22-year-old filmmaker knew the parallels between the Achilles Track Club and his own personal mission. Achilles helps disabled athletes compete in mainstream running races.

Romiel also found similarities in the story she told as her own mother chose plant remedies to augment her traditional treatments for breast cancer.

“My family is from the Caribbean and NY Botanical Garden is focused on plant research and plant medicine,” she said.

Kecia, born and raised in Harlem, focused on how the New York Botanical Garden is studying the native plant medicines many immigrant Latino and Caribbean communities use and how they talk about them with their doctors.

Antonello tells the story of Achilles and the athletes with disabilities that they support, and how success in physical pursuits breeds success in life.

The Cigna Foundation funded the films with their mission to end health disparities in the communities they serve.

Mary Engvall, Executive Director of the Cigna Foundation, said the group’s partnership with the Ghetto Film School and their group of budding filmmakers helped tell stories about New Yorkers.

“Our mission is around health and wellbeing and sense security. If you don’t have all, you won’t be healthy. It goes way beyond sitting in a doctor’s office and talking about your health. We offered them up for food for thought and they took it from there.

A stipend helped cover the filmmakers costs; they spent months scripting, shooting, editing. Then, they showcased their works at a glittery screening, knowing their success plants seeds for those who will follow.

Said Velez, “I don’t have an idols that are Hispanic filmmakers. Hispanic American filmmakers aren’t really that big and I want to be a person to break through and be an inspiration for the next generation.”