Gregory Hernandez believes there are three key components to becoming a filmmaker: You watch films, you meet filmmakers and you make a film yourself. But if you’re in a borough with less filmmaking resources and opportunities, fulfilling those criteria can prove challenging.
That’s why, in 2016, Hernandez and his three colleagues founded Bronx Film 48, the community film initiative behind the borough’s 48-hour filmmaking challenge. But their work has only just begun: In part as a response to the pandemic’s economic impacts on the film industry, the group launched a $20,000 fundraising campaign this winter to finance an outdoor film series, a dedicated screenwriting club and additional networking events.
The outdoor screenings would give local filmmakers the opportunity to screen their work on a large scale. The summer series, Hernandez said, would demonstrate to the larger film community that there were new and exciting films coming out of the Bronx.
“It would be a game changer,” he said, later adding: “You need somebody to look at you and believe in you. To open the door for you.”
The Bronx fares quite poorly when it comes to filmmaking and networking opportunities. In this year’s film and television industry economic impact report, the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment noted that 88% of jobs in motion picture and video production in 2019 were based in Manhattan.
From 2001 to 2019, jobs in the sector grew at an annual rate of 9% in Brooklyn and 8% in Queens, according to the report. No statistics were given for the Bronx.
The report did make note of several soundstages that were in development in the northernmost borough, notably Silvercup Studios North, a 115,000-square-foot facility on 295 Locust Ave. which opened in 2016, and the more recent and even larger York Studios in Soundview.
Sound stages are large, soundproof structures where movies or television shows are filmed. They are physically big to accommodate a lot of equipment, technology and people. For this reason, soundstages are often in areas with lower density, such as industrial zones and suburbs.
Bronx Film 48 came into creation when Hernandez met Edwin Torres while working on a documentary project. Hernandez then met the additional two future co-founders, Ayariz Perez and Christine Garmendez, at a networking event. The four creatives all agreed that there wasn’t enough of a film scene in the borough, and wanted to do something about it.
“We always feel like we’re the forgotten borough,” Hernandez said, “We were like, let’s create this ecosystem here, let’s elevate the culture of cinema in the Bronx.”
This month, the city Department of Cultural Affairs announced that it would award $51.4 million in grants to more than 1,000 nonprofit arts organizations to help them rebound from the pandemic. A portion of the funds, approximately $5.1 million, is being set aside for more than 650 groups working in underserved communities.
Several Bronx institutions are on the list of grantees, including the Bronx Documentary Center, BronxArtSpace, Bronx Arts Ensemble, Bronx Council on the Arts and the Bronx River Art Center.
But Hernandez believes developing a community of filmmakers in the Bronx requires more than just funds.
“Definitely financial assistance is a necessity, but I would even say beyond that is the need for people to come up here with good intentions of collaboration and mentorship,” he said.
Several filmmakers who took part in the 48-hour film challenge echoed Hernandez’s concerns. Harry Santiago, who goes by Cappytann, said permanence was a big goal.
“What I and many other filmmakers want to see is an independent movie theater here in our borough. We need another outlet for filmmakers to reach the audiences we create our work for,” Santiago said.
Indeed, Hernandez hopes to one day have a brick-and-mortar space dedicated to screening independent and local films.
“We want to make this infrastructure sustainable, to keep this going,” he explained.
People interested in participating in this year’s 48-hour film challenge, learning more about programming or making a tax-deductible donation can visit Bronx Film 48’s website at bronxfilm48.com.
This story was updated on Jan. 20, to correct an error. The name of the initiative is Bronx Film 48.