The past is prologue at the Jacob Burns Film Center

Sandy Kenyon Image
Saturday, June 23, 2018
The past is prologue at the Jacob Burns Film Center
Sandy Kenyon reports on the Jacob Burns Film Center.

PLEASANTVILLE, New York (WABC) -- Complaints about a lack of diversity at the Oscars threw a big spotlight on an industry that has been slow to change, and many in Hollywood agree the problem can be addressed by training more young women and people of color. And that is where the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, New York, comes in.

Twenty years ago, a couple bought an old theater and a lot next door to it. They learned about a lawyer named Jacob Burns who loved movies, and together with his foundation, they built a cultural arts and education center that is bringing greater diversity to the movie business.

Now, Hollywood's future can be found in the Hudson Valley, where recent college graduates work with mentors like Sean Weiner to finish short films.

"We're looking for film projects that are telling stories we haven't seen before," said Weiner, whose title is Director of Creative Culture Initiative/Senior Curriculum Developer.

It's encouraging the likes of Kerry LeVielle, who graduated from SUNY last year and is now finishing two films.

"We have an incredible variance of people, diverse amount of voices," LeVielle said. "And it's open to anyone, everyone, with an incredible story to tell."

She is part of a program called Creative Culture, but there are also camps for younger kids and after-school programs.

Edie Demas is the executive director of the Jacob Burns Film Center.

"(We are) looking to give kids access to all the amazing tools that we now have to tell stories in this digital age," she said.

The modern campus is located just down the street from a beautiful jewel of a theater. Originally built in 1925 as the Rome Theater, it was once described as "The Show Place of Westchester County." It fell into disrepair in the late 1980s but now enjoys a grand second life thanks to this non-profit organization, which -- in Demas' wordsd -- seeks "to give people the opportunity to view and do, to watch films, to make films."

Everyone has the chance to learn from legends like Steven Spielberg, who brought his last movie "The Post" there and joined Janet Maslin from the New York Times for a post-screening talk.

Young and old can also draw inspiration from those like Greta Gerwig ("Lady Bird"), who are paving the way towards a brighter future for women in Hollywood.

"It's really about creating an environment where the public can come in and have an interactive experience," Founding Director Brian Ackerman said. "(It) gives you that sense of history, that this is an old medium that's still fresh, entirely fresh."

The Jacob Burns Center offers an incredibly varied and diverse slate of movies on five screens, and there is something for every film fan.

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