Archive for the ‘Harlem’ Category

Happy 100th BSA from the Village of Harlem

February 13, 2010

On February 8th, the Boy Scouts of America celebrated their 100th birthday.  With the help of Hellura Lyle of Docwatchers and the Maysles Cinema we had our own party in Harlem and free screening of “759: Boy Scouts of Harlem” in the community where it was made.

We were lucky to have Anthony Thomas, the two millionth Eagle Scout and his parents with us–all the way from their home in Minnesota.  Photographed below, from left to right, is: filmmaker Justin Szlasa, Assistant Scoutmaster Ann Dozier, Scoutmaster Okpoti Sowah, Eagle Scout Anthony Thomas, Colin Byers, Aubrey Byers and filmmaker Jake Boritt.

We were also lucky to have the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Congressman Charlie Rangel, join us for the film.  He has been serving the Harlem community for about as long as Mr. Sowah and before that he served our country in Korea where he was awarded a Purple Heart.  After the screening Charlie said of Troop 759: “This is just one of the diamonds that we polish to help our kids learn discipline and how to respect each other and to get along.”  We couldn’t agree with you more Mr. Rangel!  Thank you for your support.


An update from the filmmakers…

January 29, 2010

If you subscribe to our e-mail list you may have already received this letter. If not you can subscribe here if you are interested. Meanwhile read on…!

On February 8th the Boy Scouts of America turns 100.  By pretty much any measure Scouting has been a big deal–112 million Americans have been members.  Alumni are as diverse as America itself– Steven Spielberg, Mike Bloomberg, Percy Sutton, David Lynch, Bob Gates, Donald Rumsfeld, Marion Barry, Michael Moore, and Gerald Ford are (were) all Eagle Scouts.  For me it was a place to learn how to light a fire, shoot a rifle, build a tower, sail a boat, capsize a canoe, cook up dinner and tie a tourniquet.  It also reinforced a set of ethics that I think are important but don’t get me started on that…

So what are we doing to celebrate?  Tico Perez, the National Scout Commissioner, will ring the bell to open the Stock Market but our party is further uptown.  We will have a special screening of the film at the Maysles Cinema in Harlem on February 8th.  The irrepressible Hellura Lyle, host of the successful Docwatchers series, has sponsored this screening.  The event is free (but a donation for Docwatchers is recommended) and it is first come first served.  Doors open at 7PM and the address is 343 Lenox between 127th and 128th.  We were pleased to learn that Congressman Charlie Rangel–Harlemite, Purple Heart recipient and Chairman of the Ways & Means Committee will join us and say a few words about the Boy Scouts, Harlem and the film.  If you are in New York and can make it to this special screening we’d love to see you.

Next, an item for you guys on our list more interested in filmmaking than the Scouts…

What is the worst part of the job for most filmmakers?  Raising money.  One of the benefits that Jake and I had when we were making “759: Boy Scouts of Harlem” is that, by design, we kept the production costs very low and did most of the work ourselves.  That meant that we didn’t have to raise any money to compete this film.  This brand of ultra-low-budget-do-it-yourself-yet-high-production-quality filmmaking is realtively new.  It has been made possible by dramatic, disruptive changes to filmmaking that have come down the line in the last decade.  Inexpensive, high-quality video cameras–like the Sony Z1U which was used to make our film–have allowed guys like us to pretty much shoot as much HD footage as we’d like.  Final Cut Pro–Apple’s editing software–has democratized professional editing.  Obviously, just because these tools are accessible doesn’t mean they are easy to use and there are loads of poorly shot, poorly edited independent films out there.  But what these changes do mean is that there has never been a time when you could make a film with so little money.  Sundance, this year, instituted a category for no-budget/low-budget films….I have no doubt more and more films will be made this way.  It will allow filmmakers more time to focus on their art because they will spend less time raising money.

Having said that, I am sad to report that I spent the last several months raising money.  Not for us but rather for Maryland Public Television which is the PBS affiliate that decided to pick up the film for broadcast.  Steven Schupak, our contact at MPT and a great guy, told me and Jake how the Public Television world works: “think of how commercial television works and simply turn everything around.”  That means instead of the TV station paying us to run our film, we need to pay the TV station to run our film.  Why is that?  Well, Public Television is a Byzantine Empire–with 354 local member stations each of which manage what is seen on their channel.  Some affiliates are bigger than others–WGBH in Boston, WNET in New York, WETA in DC are the “big three” and produce a lot of the shows you’ve heard of–Sesame Street, Newshour, Nova.  Other affiliates,  are tiny.  Maryland Public Television (MPT) is one of the bigger affiliates–in part because Maryland is such an irregular shape so its broadcast reaches a large geographic area packed with people.  MPT put the ball in our court to raise money to fund their efforts to present “759” to public television stations.  In practice, what happens is MPT staff charged with “station relations” promotes our shows to the 353 PBS affiliates to get them to pick them up.  This takes time, phone calls and, sometimes, schwag.  The more money we raise for MPT the better job they can do with “station relations” — to make our film stand out in a crowded field–and reach a wider audience.  Sponsors who contribute money are recognized before and after the broadcast (brought to you in part by…etc.).

We tried hard, but raising money for the PBS broadcast didn’t go very well.  We contacted over 250 individuals, corporations and foundations and managed to find only a single, generous donor who will remain anonymous here.  We got through to some of the richest Americans, some of the largest corporations and some of the most famous Eagle Scouts and we were turned down by all of them.  It is too bad…but the good news is that with the modest amount of money we were able to raise MPT has committed to air the film anyway.  They promised to do the best job they can with “station relations” so we are excited.  We are happy to report that the film will be syndicated for broadcast on Public Television Stations in fall of 2010 and we hope your local affiliate decides to pick it up.  If you want to make a tax-deductible donation to this effort (and see your name in the credits on PBS) just drop us a line at

But enough about money–what’s going on with the Scouts from 759?

First, Keith Dozier has had his nose to the grindstone at the KIPP School in Harlem.  He is getting older but he looks as comfortable as ever in front of the camera on this Giro/NBC News report.

Next, Emmanuel Nortey received his first college acceptance letter and expects to receive a few others.  He will be heading off to college next fall.  Nice work!

Devon Howard earned his Eagle Scout.  In a moving ceremony in the basement of Church of the Master, Devon’s Eagle was pinned on his uniform and his parents stood by his side.  He is on scholarship at a boarding school in the wilds of Western Massachusetts and holding his own–despite being surrounded by Red Sox fans.

And finally, Colin “KC” Byers, who many of you know and love, was selected to join a small delegation of Scouts who will give the “Report to the Nation” in Washington in February.  Yep, KC is going to meet Barack Obama.  He will be the fist white Scout from Harlem to meet the first black President in the White House.  How about that?  We will be sure to circulate a photo when we get one…

In other news, we put together a “behind the scenes” video that shows how “Big Scout Grace” the film’s theme, was recorded.  You can see Patrick and Jennifer Byers and Nik Munson playing a wonderful piece of music together here.  You will also catch a glimpse of Roy Coopervasser our bald, talented sound engineer with his own brand of funky-uptown-hip.

Finally, Jake and I would like to thank all of you who have purchased a DVD or helped to spread the word about this film.  If you haven’t yet bought a DVD, so far the film doesn’t seem to be available free on BitTorrent so you might as well just get yourself a copy here.  Also, feel free to forward this message to a friend who might enjoy it or join our group on Facebook if you haven’t already.  We can’t do it without you guys and we appreciate your support.

Thanks & Be Prepared!

Justin Szlasa
917 355 9895

Studio Recording-Big Scout Grace

January 25, 2010

Here’s a new behind the scenes video shot when the theme for our film was recorded at City College in Harlem.

Celebration of Scouting on Capitol Hill…Screening Oct 8th

October 6, 2009

Here is the official invitation to the screening of 759 on Capitol Hill.  All are welcome but you do need to RSVP…


759: BOY SCOUTS OF HARLEM….a documentary film

Sponsored by Senators Jeff Sessions and Senator Ben Nelson

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

5:30 PM sharp

Capitol Hill Visitor’s Center

Congressional Auditorium – CVC 200

Enter on First Street & E. Capitol Street and allow time to clear security

You are invited to attend the Washington, DC premiere of the film 759: Boy Scouts of Harlem to celebrate Scouting and its contribution to American values. The Sponsors, members of Troop 759 and local and national Scouting representatives will be present and a Q&A with the filmmakers will follow the screening.

Please come to this exciting DC premiere of the film.  The event is free but you’ll have to RSVP at or call Justin Szlasa at 917.355.9895.

This is an open invitation so please forward it to friends, colleagues or Scouters who you think might be interested to attend.


The film follows Boy Scout Troop 759, a Troop located in Harlem, NY, and eleven-year-old scout Keith Dozier who takes his first trip to a Scout summer camp. The film shows, in a fun way, how Scouting can transcend geography, age, race and economics to teach practical skills and build character among America’s youth.  It is the first major documentary ever made about a Boy Scout Troop and celebrates Scouting’s contribution to America in one of America’s most iconic neighborhoods. The film is warm, tender, funny and upbeat.  You can learn more about the film and watch the trailer at


The Boy Scouts of America is the largest youth scouting organization in the United States and will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2010.  Since 1910, more than 111,000,000 people have been members of the Boy Scouts of America, including over 215 currently serving Members of Congress and Senators.  In 1916, Congress granted the Boy Scouts of America a Federal charter.

Harlem World Premiere at the Schomburg Center

July 15, 2009

We thought 759 fans would enjoy this video from the red-carped world-premiere in Harlem hosted by the Junior Scholar’s Program at the Schomburg Center in the Village of Harlem.