Greenpoint Gazette
Reel Works Teen Camera Workshop

Reel Works to Produce Teen Feature Length Film

BY Tanay Warerkar

In 2013, Bilal Ndongo, a Brownsville-based teenager came across a girl sitting in a park in his neighborhood. For Ndongo, it was love at first sight. But the girl left soon after, and Ndongo didn’t get a chance to talk to her.

But, he decided to find her. And to make a film about his search. Ndongo, and his friend Cesar, spent 72 hours walking through their neighborhood trying to locate the girl, which became the subject of their short film, 72 Hours: A Brooklyn Love Story.

It was a part of their project for Reel Works Teen Filmmaking, a non-profit organization that provides at risk and low-income teens one-on-one mentoring and challenges them to share their stories at no cost to the students.

Now that project is no longer just a short film.

Inspired by the efforts of the teens, the co-founder and Executive Director of Reel Works, John Williams, decided to work with an additional group of teenagers and create a feature length film.

“I thought: when was the last time we saw a depiction of young black men searching the ‘hood for love?” said Williams. “Bilal and Cesar are hilarious and streetwise – but they are not gangbangers. In fact they are smart and ambitious young men whose life journeys are likely going to take them far away from Brooklyn and the poverty and distress that currently surrounds them. Also, it was a great story.”

Reel Works hired a theater director, and last winter a group of students was given acting and writing workshops, and enabled to create larger, complex characters in their film.

Soon after, a director came on board to work with the students and create a screenplay, which the group has worked on since April.

North Brooklyn students are playing a big in the production as well. One of the schools that regularly participates and recommends its students for Reel Works programs is Brooklyn Preparatory High School on North 6thStreet. Students from the school are taking part in the film project currently underway.

Last month, Reel Works launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $20,000 to produce the film, which is slated to begin in August.

A few days before the campaign ended last week, the group successfully raised $21,504, backed by 213 donors.

Williams started the organization along with his wife in 2001. They ran a program with 17 students from the Prospect Park YMCA. Today they serve over 500 teenagers across the city. 99 percent of the students who have participated in the program have graduated high school, 88 percent have entered college, and 43 percent are now working in the film and media industry.

With the Kickstarter campaign now funded, and momentum on their side, a teen masterpiece is now in the works.

Reel Works is continuing to accept donations for their production. To make a contribution visit and to learn more about the organization visit


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