Ghetto Film School Tribute to David O. Russell: What's in a Name?

David O. Russell and Melissa Leo in matching summer suits at the Ghetto Film School spring benefit. (Patrick McMullan)

David O. Russell and Melissa Leo in matching summer suits at the Ghetto Film School spring benefit. (Patrick McMullan)

Greg D’Alba, the chairman of Ghetto Film School and chief operating officer of CNN, told The Observer that his nonprofit’s name was intentional at their spring benefit. “It’s meant not to shy away from the notion of the term ‘ghetto’—to use it in a positive way, a creative and educational way.” The charity teaches filmmaking to young New York students; its benefit was held in the intimate beer garden of the Standard Hotel thanks to hotelier Andre Balazs’s largesse.

“David O. Russell enlightened me,” said the actor Luis Guzmán. The director was to be honored at the dinner. “He mentioned, ‘hey, I’d love you to be there.’” He hadn’t been sure about the event given the name, but “you know—it’s okay to be different. Anything can be provocative. The word ‘good’ can be provocative. It is what it is.”

Joe Hall, president of the Ghetto Film School, was the next down the red carpet, though he paused before speaking to The Observer. “Are you the one who wrote that awful thing?,” he asked, referring to the Eight-Day Week calendar entry for the party, which referenced Mr. Russell’s history of fighting costars. “It was so dated! It wasn’t fresh. It wasn’t new,” he told us. What was fresh, we asked? “The people that are here! André Balasz—he can clear out his beer garden for us.” Ghetto Film School was also to give out eight scholarships. But doesn’t that name restrict potential interest? “It’s a reminder for us, if we ever do get ghetto, and slack, and all that bullshit. There are a few people in the foundation world who don’t like it, but”—he laughed—“you can’t please everyone.”

Mr. Russell’s leading lady Melissa Leo, of The Fighter, came down the red carpet, though the publicists were anxiously awaiting Mr. Russell, who was a bit late to his own party. Dinner would soon be served. What was Ms. Leo’s favorite film by David O. Russell, we wondered? “You know, I’ve only seen bits and pieces of Flirting With Disaster,” the gold-eyeliner’d Oscar winner told us. “I don’t have any less respect for him not having seen his films. I know what kind of director he is.” Will there be a Fighter sequel, as reported? “I don’t know! Tell me what David says.”

With Mr. Russell nowhere in sight, we darted into the restaurant for the last ten minutes of cocktail hour. Soledad O’Brien was showing Lloyd Grove photographs on her cell phone. Sanaa Lathan, the actress whose By the Way, Meet Vera Stark just closed Off-Broadway, had been brought by the movie producer Rachael Horovitz after Ms. Horovitz saw the play. “I didn’t know what to think of it,” said Ms. Lathan. “That name! But she explained there’s a bit of irony involved.”

Back outside, we were told to wait for Mr. Russell. The final guest arrived about twenty minutes later, with dinner well underway. He grabbed an entertainment reporter’s camera and pointed it at two reporters, giving them a motivation. “You’re a biracial couple. People are being hard on you guys.”

The Observer asked Mr. Russell what he thought of the Ghetto Film School name. “What’s your name?” he asked. We told him. “Maybe we should just call it Dan D’Addario High School!,” he replied. “Seriously, maybe we should call it the High School for Cinema. No, needs another syllable.”

ddaddario@observer.com :: @DPD_

Ghetto Film School Tribute to David O. Russell: What's in a Name?