Aspiring filmmakers, proud parents, and an Emmy-nominee came out for Film2Future's awards ceremony on Thursday
Credit: Lauren Elisabeth Photography

The Golden Globes and Oscars may still be months away, but for Film2Future, it’s already awards season.

After months of hard work, the 25 students who took part in year two of the non-profit organization’s film program gathered in Los Angeles Thursday night to unveil their own animated shorts, celebrate their achievements, and take home a trophy.

It wasn’t easy getting to this point for anyone involved. For 17-year-old Damian Vasquez, it’s a daily commute of nearly two hours on three buses and a car ride to get from where he lives in Riverside, California. For Film2Future founder Rachel Miller, making it to a second round was a near miracle, considering after the inaugural year, they lost both their location and funding due to the their grant not being renewed by the Trump administration. “We were scrambling to beg, borrow, and plead,” says Miller.

But they made it happen, even as they were faced with less staff and more kids. Aided by guest speakers like The Last Man on Earth stars Will Forte and Kristen Schaal, Lionsgate and CBS as sponsors, as well as Deutsch LA advertising agency stepping in to house the students in their new 60,000-foot studio, Film2Future returned, following up last year’s program on narrative filmmaking with a focus on the art of animation.

“I wish I had this program when I was a kid,” shares Miller, also the founding partner of management production company Haven Entertainment. “I pictured what I wished I had at 15, and then, I brought it to life.”

And that’s what these teenagers from underprivileged and at-risk areas did with their animated shorts, which ranged from the love story between a cue ball and 8-ball to five talking fingers whose only common interest is the hand they share.

“The enthusiasm these kids have for entertainment is so incredible and so heartwarming and so interesting that you’re just, “What the hell? They’re in our backyard and we aren’t giving them a chance,'” says board member Samata Narra, who, during the day, works as the senior VP of comedy programming and development at FOX. “That’s the thing that was most exciting about working with Film2Future is that we have the opportunity to take kids out of our backyard, kids that would have never ever had the opportunity to be in the entertainment industry and tell them it’s an option.”

Having been given the tools to learn the industry is one thing, but the possibility of success was on full display for the students as they received an inspiring message from someone who once lived in their neighborhoods, dealt with their struggles, and made it out — and into Hollywood.

“You young men and women are the chosen ones,” declared American Crime alum Richard Cabral in a passionate opening speech. “You are the game changers.” A former gang member, Cabral grew up in East L.A. without a father and was incarcerated at the age of 13. Now, he’s an Emmy-nominee and has a recurring role on Fox’s Lethal Weapon. “There is nobody telling the truth of where we come from, telling the stories that we hold dear to our hearts.” he continued. “For there is nobody that can tell them better than you. It must be you. Be grateful for the streets we came from, we are stronger because of them. We are survivors. We chose to rise up, to stake our claim.”

The message and opportunity isn’t lost on the students, including 18-year-old Jenna Flores, who has already seen the benefits through an internship on ABC’s Scandal, where she jokes she finally discovered what a grip is. “I feel really honored to have something like this at such a young age,” she says. “You just have to try and take advantage of it and appreciate it and grow from it.”

Miller is hopeful that her current students and possible new additions will continue to be able to take advantage of the program. “All of our students are very excited for year three and we’ve been getting a lot of emails from word of mouth, and now, we just need to raise the money,” she shared, revealing that the next focus would be on virtual and augmented reality. “The more money we raise, the more kids we can help.” Thankfully, a recently acquired grant for $50,000 from the DeLaski Foundation to help with staffing brings another year closer to reality.

But no matter the future of the program, the impact has already been made. “I’ve always wanted to do film,” says Vasquez, “and after this, I feel like nothing is going to stop me.”