Thursday, December 12

Project:Involve film event features shorts by filmmakers from underrepresented backgrounds

Jarrett Lee Conaway's "Foolishly Seeking True Love" is one of the films featured in Project:Involve's seventh annual showcase of short films.

Jarrett Lee Conaway's "Foolishly Seeking True Love" is one of the films featured in Project:Involve's seventh annual showcase of short films. Courtesy of Jarrett Lee Conaway

The talent development program Project:Involve ““ yielding alumni such as Effie Brown, producer of “Real Women Have Curves” ““ is back with its seventh annual showcase of short films by filmmakers from underrepresented backgrounds.

The program, put on by nonprofit organization Film Independent, will show films made by past and present Project:Involve Fellows at Disney Hall’s Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater tonight.

The objective of Project:Involve is to give opportunities to a diverse range of filmmakers, according to Josh Welsh, Film Independent’s director of talent development.

“We are looking for the most talented, remarkable filmmakers who come from underrepresented backgrounds but who have the most visionary, distinct voices,” Welsh said. “There are so many people with talent and ability, and we want to give them support.”

Welsh said the 17-year-old program began as a mentorship for young women of color just getting into the film industry but quickly expanded to include a wider range of diversity.

“Now, “˜underrepresented’ includes ethnic diversity, different sexual orientations or physical disabilities, and we try to keep as broad a definition as possible,” Welsh said.

Filmmakers apply to the program on a career track, such as “Writer/Director” or “Producer,” while those interested in the business aspect of film can apply for the newly launched “Industry Track.” The program lasts for nine months and consists of four components: a one-on-one mentorship with an experienced professional in the Fellow’s career track, monthly workshops encompassing business and creative aspects of filmmaking, an induction into the Project:Involve Fellows community and the production of a short film. In the past two years, the film production element of the program has become most central.

“We were thinking, “˜What better way can we help the Fellows?’ So we decided to use more of our resources to do little things like provide location insurance and secure Screen Actors Guild actors so filmmakers don’t have to worry about those things and can focus on production value,” said Francisco Velasquez, Project:Involve manager and UCLA alumnus.

Last year, the program received sponsorship from Banana Republic and Vanity Fair, a relationship which consisted of $2,000 in funding for each short, wardrobe provision by Banana Republic and free equipment rental from NBC Universal.

“Prior to last year, the Fellows did make short films, but they weren’t funded and were, for lack of a better term, more of a bonding exercise for filmmakers,” Welsh said.

With the increased support given to the films’ production, the quality of the shorts rose, an aspect reflected in the success of the short film “Steps,” directed by 2009 Fellow Barney Cheng, which went on to win awards at a slew of international festivals, such as U.K.’s Black Film Festival.

“As a filmmaker, the most important thing is to keep practicing to learn. But it’s kind of expensive to make films, and this program gave me that opportunity again,” Cheng said.

Another Fellow from that year is Josephine Green-Yang, who graduated from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television in 2007. She won the award for Best Undergraduate Short for her film “In Case of Emergency” and has now returned for her first year in the screenwriting program.

“Project:Involve definitely gave me the opportunity, as someone pretty fresh out of film school, to really take what I learned and find a way to apply it to the real independent film world,” Green-Yang said, who co-produced two short films in the program last year.

Project:Involve helped Green obtain two entry-level jobs in the art and post-production departments of the film “Mother and Child” through a relationship she had forged during the program.

“The program is usually beneficial for providing access, since filmmakers get to meet so many people in the industry, from the mentors to guest speakers at film festivals and filmmaker forums,” Welsh said.

Past mentors for the program include UCLA alumni such as “Sideways” writer and director Alexander Payne, “Real Women Have Curves” director Patricia Cardoso, “Little Miss Sunshine” director Valerie Faris and “Twilight” director Catherine Hardwicke.

Velasquez said Project:Involve also aims to help filmmakers network through four annual screenings: the REDCAT showcase, a Los Angeles Film Festival showcase and two community screenings.

“One of the things we focus on is promoting the filmmakers. I could call up a big producer and say, “˜Hey, you should work with this filmmaker,’ but (showcases) are better to show the caliber of their work,” Velasquez said. “While you’re in film school, you have a community of actors and colleagues, but once you’re out in the real world, it’s like, “˜Now what?’ … Project:Involve becomes that community and gives encouragement ““ once you know you’re not alone and not crazy for wanting to make films, that gives you more freedom and confidence.”

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