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Local family salutes young filmmakers

Himkar Tak, a Bethesda filmmaker, was inspired to make "Medicine Man" by his contact during his high school years with soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He watched how the families' struggled with paralysis and other wartime injuries. His 20-minute fictional film follows two city boys who go to the Adirondack Mountains to look for a magical plant that might be the cure for one of their wounded parents.

Himkar Tak. (Courtesy: Courtney Messinger)

The film's compassion impressed the judges from the Jesse Thompkins III Foundation for Young People in the Arts, shortened to JT3 Art, who are searching for unique voices and stories. Tak is one of five finalists, who will be receiving grants from the foundation Thursday night at a celebration at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

The work and drive of aspiring artists stirred Judith Thompkins, who along with her husband, Jesse, established the foundation to help young filmmakers like their late son Jesse, who in 2008 was killed by a SUV on a Brooklyn street. He was 26. His family and friends set up a living memorial for him. "We chose to invest in emerging artists who best embody our son's pursuit of artistic passion," said Judith Thompkins.

Born in Washington, Jesse Thompkins was a stand-out student at Sidwell Friends School, serving as co-president of the class of 1999, and had initially studied engineering at Columbia University. But some early exposure to acting and the film industry drew him into scriptwriting and directing. As a youngster he appeared in a Nike ad and a video for the Navy. After college he worked as a production assistant on several films, including Spike Lee's "Inside Man." He had completed a number of small film projects and scripts and was training for marathons as a way to raise money to make movies.

Judith Thompkins, with a full-time job, has teamed with her volunteers to learn about fund-raising and organizing a competition. She realized that her juggling is not so different from the challenges of the striving generation the family's group wants to help.
"They are all trying to work and earn a living. Many are living in expensive cities like New York, Los Angeles and Washington. They have to pay for rent, student loans, equipment and production costs. Then they have to find time to write and create," said Thompkins. "For me nurturing the foundation is important because I felt there was still more to be done with Jesse's life."

The contest, open to filmmakers aged 18-32 who live in the Washington area or Brooklyn, attracted 23 applications this year. The grants are based on the group's fundraising tally and this year range from $500 to $2500.

Tak, 31, entered the JT3 Art contest because "I was intrigued by who Jesse was and what he did. In film generally people like the idea of journey."

Tak works on film crews doing commercials and short films to pay his living expenses. "This is a grant where you can actually spend the money on filmmaking," he said. Earlier this year "Medicine Man" landed a best short film citation in the Washington D.C. International Film Festival. He is doing pre-production work on a longer film about a World War II British pilot who crashes in India and is rescued by a prostitute and an orphaned girl. "They hope turning him over to the British will lead to a better life," Tak said.

By Jacqueline Trescott  | October 27, 2010; 9:42 AM ET
Categories:  Films, Jacqueline Trescott  | Tags:  foundation for filmmakers, himkar tak, jesse thompkins III, judith thompkins  
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