United Nations Association Film Festival
Screenings will take place:
October 22-31, 2010. Showtimes: TBD
Michael Smith, Producer/Story
Executive Director, From Us With Love
Michael Smith was born in Johannesburg and spent the first years of his life in the Old Houghton community. The ‘60s and ‘70s were turbulent times in South Africa and thus his American-born parents ultimately moved his family out of South Africa while he was still young.
Michael began his phone book business and found great success. Always politically minded, when Hurricane Katrina hit the coast of New Orleans, he felt if he didn’t take action, he would lose the right to continue discussing and critiquing cultural issues concerning social change. He and his brother then organized donations from their neighbors and packed up a truck of supplies to drive down to New Orleans.
These experiences proved to be significant and led Michael to begin the organization, From Us With Love (FUWL). While in New Orleans, he observed that there were many local organizations that had great passion for their work as well as understood the needs in their community. What they lacked, however, was adequate funding and access to the resources and information that were available around them. From Us With Love wanted to fill in these gaps.
This took Michael back to the place of his birth. FUWL began work in the townships of the Western Cape and joined forces with nursery schools and orphanages, providing specifically what these organizations shared they needed, rather than beginning a new organization all together. This not only met the unique needs of these communities but it also provided a formula to achieve significant developments with minimal administrative needs.
One of the projects closest to Michael’s heart was the work of the street soccer program in Cape Town. Alongside of his then-photographer, Demetrius Wren, he got to know the stories of the players in the league and believed they were of significance and should be shared with a broader audience. Having grown up drawn to the arts, Michael has found his involvement in Streetball a rewarding experience and looks forward to future creative endeavors.
Demetrius Wren, Director, Co-Producer
Demetrius Wren began his artistic training at an early age after enrolling in the Davidson Fine Arts School in Augusta, Georgia. Davidson provided eight years of study in music, dance, drama and video. While in high school, Demetrius worked and volunteered for the Jewish Community Center in his hometown, working predominantly with special needs students. He has taught saxophone lessons and tutored at local schools in Augusta.
Christina Ghubril, Writer, Co-Producer
Christina Ghubril began theater training when she was seven and while in high school, started to devise and direct original pieces of work. She went on to receive her BFA in Drama and Pan African Studies from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. At Wits, she studied Arts and Culture in Post-Apartheid South Africa. While at NYU, she studied at the Collaborative Arts Project of the 21st Century, the Experimental Theatre Wing and at Stonestreet Film and Television Studios.
Christina grew up on the Northside of Pittsburgh, in a family committed to urban community development. She has volunteered in her community through home repair, tutoring, arts education programs and supplemental education programs, beginning these experiences while in kindergarten. As she developed as an artist, she began to focus her work around using the arts and storytelling to empower young people to develop their voices and to understand the significance in their own unique stories. She has worked predominantly in communities that struggle with issues of poverty and violence.
In 2007, she directed Still Speaking, an original, multi-media, devised theater piece on Pittsburgh’s Northside community. She also worked with New York’s Opening Act, teaching and directing devised theater to students in underserved Brooklyn high schools. She has taught performance and writing workshops to middle and high school students throughout the country and assisted in the development of teen-girl programming at Girl Scouts of the USA. She has performed professionally in film, television, music videos and in live theater.
Mike Mastrocinque, Associate Producer
Operations Manager, From Us With Love
Mike Mastrocinque became Operations Manager for From Us With Love in June of 2007. Prior to beginning his career with From Us With love, Mike visited South Africa on two occasions as a tourist developing a deep love for the beauty, culture and people of South Africa. Mike’s curiosity of the Townships that are scattered across the country could not be contained and he requested that his guide take him for a tour one afternoon. The tour guide suggested visiting a pre-school and stopping along the way to purchase sweets for the children. “Spending time with the children at the pre-school and the people of that community prepared my heart for the position I am in, which came several months later.”
In the early Summer of 2007, From Us With Love Founder, Michael Smith, asked Mike if he would consider traveling to South Africa to build relationships with organizations helping to bring change to the country. Mike accepted and From Us With Love began to model Compassionate Humanitarianism to children and families living in South Africa through Education, Health Services, Nutrition, Sport and Cultural Arts.
Taryn Aveley, Associate Producer
Regional Coordinator, From Us With Love
Taryn Aveley grew up in Cape Town. She is married with two children and now resides in Knysna in the Western Cape Province. From a young age, Taryn knew that she had a purpose. In 1994–when she was fourteen years old–she was involved in a Church massacre while South Africa was going through political changes. At that moment, Taryn realized there was a reason for her to be in the world and so shifted her goals to center around serving others. For Taryn, one of the biggest lessons learned in her life is to have compassion and will.
Taryn started working for FUWL in 2007. Within the last two years, she has identified various needs in the Knysna community and obtained assistance for those who struggle to support themselves. For Taryn, working for FUWL has shown her that there is always a way to help change someone’s life, no matter how big or small one’s impact may seem. Through the various projects she has been involved in, she has learned that there are some challenges that we all face that we cannot face on our own. Representing FUWL has been a fulfilling and rewarding opportunity for her.
For Taryn, a highlight of working with FUWL is assisting the Street Soccer program. In particular, a proud moment was in September, 2009 when the SA team arrived back from Milan, Italy. Taryn was present to welcome them home at Parliament in Cape Town and seeing the acknowledgment the players received was an overwhelming experience. Having witnessed this program first hand, Taryn feels strongly that through something like Street Soccer, the lives of young people can be transformed. Street Soccer has given these young men hope and courage and has shown them what value they have as people. Through this film about Street Soccer, her hope is that people will see, feel and understand the journey these young men take and witness how the program has affected their lives. She hopes that when people see Streetball, their perceptions of street kids will be changed; that the viewers will be captivated and place themselves in these characters’ shoes, and that audiences will develop an understanding of the brave journey these young men have taken. Most of all, she would like people to approach this film with an open heart and mind and to draw on their compassion in order to understand the difficulties of others–and how such difficulties can be overcome.