Paul Ginocchio’s new video documentary A Place Named Destiny opens with a telling statistic: In California 85 percent of public school students living in low-income areas have no arts education programs. Like many of us, Oakland filmmaker Ginocchio believes that human beings need the arts. That’s one reason he was attracted to the Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company, a North Oakland after-school program that gives teenagers a chance to channel their energy into creative expression — and evidently transforms their lives.
Ginocchio was working for KRON-TV when he discovered Destiny. In the spirit of two earlier video projects on religious festivals in India and Australian Aborigines (profiled in the Express, December 24, 1999), Ginocchio once again investigated grassroots culture, but this time much closer to home. “I didn’t have to travel to India or Australia to observe this; it’s right here in Oakland,” says Ginocchio. “In TV news we usually focus on what’s wrong, and this was something very right. Destiny is a place that’s overcoming obstacles. There’s something about youth empowerment that struck a chord with me, possibly because I had a rough time as a kid. It’s insane that arts are not a priority in our educational system.” On his own time, the former substitute teacher shot a four-minute segment on Destiny’s exuberant multicultural kids and their annual performance. It aired, and he was hooked. Soon after that, he quit the station to devote his time to the project. The 75-minute documentary will have its premiere at 7 p.m., Saturday, June 8 at McClymonds High School (2607 Myrtle St., Oakland), in the West Oakland neighborhood where many of Destiny’s kids come from.
Ginocchio and his August Productions hope to line up more screenings of A Place Named Destiny, possibly at La Peña this summer, then later on at film fests. But by that time he’ll be back among the Punmu community in Australia’s Great Sandy Desert to put the finishing touches on Keep Your Culture. Ginocchio sees parallels between the two locales: “We’re building a diverse culture here; they’re battling to save theirs.”