Schmuel Gelbfisz would sit up in his platinum casket and the ghost of Jimmy Stewart would run down the Walk of Fame screaming, “It’s a wonderful life” if they could see what was popping off at Inner-City Filmmakers. Ol’ Schmuel (a.k.a. Samuel Goldwyn) never imagined this. I promise.

ICF is an incendiary device designed to set kids on fire. Creatively combustible, inner-city, movie-biz wannabe kids. A kind of socialist affair, the boot camp/film school grooms a gang of kids from L.A. public high schools to work as writers, directors, editors, producers, grips and grunts, etc., here in the biggest back lot west of Prague.

Burning the midnight oil in two donated suites at the Lantana Center in Santa Monica, kids slave over their projects during the grueling two-month course. Everybody makes a short film, which is screened during a graduation ceremony at the summer session’s end. If they survive the grind, the kids just might get their money shot: a career in the biz.

Most of the films are autobiographical depictions of real-life drama, stunning in authenticity, raw accessibility and stylistic invention. It’s ripe and real and you’d better bring plenty of tissue to the screenings, which are held at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences building in Beverly Hills, because these post-goth, indie-rock, hip-hop, skater punk–alternative marginalized underclass neophytes are puking their virgin cinematic guts onto the big screen. Warning: This is not the usual self-involved, upper-class-brat, babysitting-service film-school fare. It’s a no-holds-barred psychodramatic explosion. Anyone with eyes, ears and a heart will leave indelibly marked.

Alumni of the program are now infiltrating the mainstream in a big way. Witness Gil Kenan, director of Monster House, nominated last year for a Best Animated Feature Oscar.

ICF literally rose from the ashes of the Rodney King riots, when a Hollywood couple, editor Fred Heinrich and producer Stephania Lipner, had an awakening while they watched the city burn. Sixteen years ago, the two started the school so they could put their chops and connections to better use. Heinrich and Lipner still run ICF and bring in Hollywood heavyweights to teach and lecture. They take their students to Sundance and the Oscars and help to place them in real jobs. IFC’s core philosophy is that everybody matters as much as everybody else.

Film producer Lawrence Inglee is one of the pros who lectured at ICF last term. “It’s invigorating to spend time with openhearted kids with a willingness to learn,” he says. “It makes the roller-coaster madness of the everyday movie business feel worth it. I literally found myself reconnecting to the dream that brought me here in the first place.”

On the set of the in-progress ICF feature, Lean Like a Cholo, grad Luigi Ventura recently told me, “Inner-City Filmmakers is the best thing that ever happened. I can’t get anywhere near that place without getting completely inspired.”

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