Project Involve: Creating diversity and inclusion for 25 years

LAPACAZO SANDOVAL and ART SHRIAN | 3/1/2018, 3:41 p.m.
Every single year—like a grotesque rite of passage—an annual report detailing the lack of diversity, inclusion and income in Hollywood ...
Forest Whitaker

Every single year—like a grotesque rite of passage—an annual report detailing the lack of diversity, inclusion and income in Hollywood is circulated, and for a brief moment of time, all tongues are wagging and heads are swiveling around in disgust. Murmurs of “something must be done” swell in a cascade, and then another year rolls around, with another report, and the ritual begins anew.

But 25 years ago, the team at Film Independent said enough and actually did something about it, creating Film Independent’s Project Involve, a brave move, especially in 1993.

Twenty-five years in Hollywood, where the “normal tenure of an industry exec rivals the lifecycle of a mayfly” in its brevity, is an accomplishment not to be ignored.

Project Involve—Film Independent’s signature diversity mentorship program—has remained in place, steadfast in its mission to support and enable the visions of independent artists and visual storytellers hailing from every facet of our multi-cultural community.

Here is an excerpt from a conversation with Angel Williams (Project Involve Fellow, Directing Track and current manager of Artist Development at Film Independent); director and producer Mel Jones (Project Involve Producing Track 2012) and Kady Kamakate (Project Involve Producing Track, 2017).

AmNews: Looking back when you first stepped into Project Involve, and now, what did you expect?

Williams: Project Involve is Film Independent’s signature program dedicated to fostering the careers of talented filmmakers from communities traditionally underrepresented in the film industry. Project Involve runs annually for nine months and selects filmmakers from diverse backgrounds and filmmaking tracks. During the program, participants create short films, receive one-on-one film industry mentors, access to production-based master workshops taught by top film professionals, career development training, industry networking opportunities and more. My good friend and frequent collaborator Mel Jones had gone through Project Involve—it was how I became aware of the program. Going in, I already had an outline of sorts of how to maximize the opportunity. I knew that I needed to be thoughtful and intentional about my mentor, and that the value of the program could extend long after the program ended, building relationships with talented artists that I could create a body of work with.

Jones: Speaking from my experience, mentorship is paramount. After all, Hollywood is an apprenticeship business. And no matter how many degrees you have, there is nothing like seeing someone in action, and then modeling your approach from what you’ve learned. I am the producer I am today because of my Project Involve mentorship with Stephanie Allain, who is now my producing partner. And as a developing storyteller, it meant giving me access to the world in ways I would not have been able to experience.

Kamakate: I participated in previous shoots before as an AD and PM, so I was familiar with the production side of things but not the curriculum. My expectations were for those to be fairly formal and routine, and I was really surprised to see how candid the guests are and how intimate the setting is. It really feels as if you’re having a personal conversation, and they really are open to the industry and their filmmaking journey.