SVA’s BFA Film Department Gifted With A Generous Donation From The Charles & Lucille King Family Foundation
April 29, 2021 by Maeri Ferguson
Ahmari Ly-Johnson

A still from BFA Film student Ahmari Ly-Johnson's most recent film, The Robot Who Loved Art.

Credit: Ahmari Ly-Johnson.

Last week, SVA announced that it had been chosen as a recipient of one of the largest one-time endowments in the College’s history. The Charles & Lucille King Family Foundation has donated $450,000 to the Visual Arts Foundation—the nonprofit that funds SVA student scholarships—specifically to rising undergraduate juniors and seniors in their final years of study in SVA’s BFA Film department. Dedicated to supporting individuals and organizations committed to educational excellence and professional development in film, television and related media/communications studies, the newly formed Diana King Memorial Scholarship Fund honors the King Family Foundation’s founder, who passed away in 2019. As part of a streamlining of its operations, the Foundation chose to provide endowment grants to schools that have historically offered it with the largest number of scholarship winners, including SVA. The first five scholarship recipients were recently named by acting BFA Film chair Mary Lee Grisanti


All heading into their senior year, Diego Garcia, Ahmari Ly-Johnson, Amit Lerner, John (Jack) Murtha and Elizaveta Voznesenskaia are the inaugural Diana King Memorial Scholarship fund recipients. “The first recipients were chosen not only for excellence, talent, hard work and discipline, but also because they give of themselves so generously to our film community,” Grisanti said. “They have taken advantage of our new curriculum to go beyond mastery in their specializations and become better all-around filmmakers.”


Currently working on his thesis film about a young gaming developer who brings her video game character to life to enact payback on the company that stole her work, directing major Diego Garcia says, “The grant honestly means the world to me. I feel a great sense of responsibility and care that I plan to give to this project. It means that trusted people looked at my work and saw something special, which is absolutely life-changing for me to think about.”

A still from third year BFA Film student Elizaveta Voznesenskaia

 A still from a recent editing project by BFA Film student Elizaveta Voznesenskaia.

Credit: Elizaveta Voznesenskaia.

Israel-born, documentary directing major Lerner will be heading back to Israel to film a thesis project focused on an eccentric 80-year-old American woman named Effie, who’s been living there for the past 60 years. Another directing major, Ly-Johnson, is being more tight-lipped about next year’s thesis film but hints that it’s a sci-fi adventure.


In his time at SVA, directing major, Murtha has learned that art school is what you make it, working on more than 40 television and film sets in the tri-state area since he arrived in 2018. “Getting to work within the epicenter of film and television and even just seeing film sets on the sidewalk on my way to class was massively inspiring,” he says. “Whatever you put out into this little ecosystem, you will get right back, and learning to be forward and candid in what you want is very helpful. Take every opportunity as a blessing. Be tenacious and bold; this is the time to try new things and explore.”


And editing major Voznesenskaia says of next year’s thesis work, “I hope to make something really valuable, to bring out the deeper meanings in the stories through editing - to make art in all of its independence and uniqueness.”


Diana King grew up in the world of television, a daughter of the late Charles King (who founded King World Productions in 1964) and his wife, Lucille King. King World became the leading distributor of television syndicated programming in the United States, including such iconic series as The Little Rascals, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy!, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Inside Edition and Dr. Phil. King began working in the accounting department of the family business in 1972. At the time of King World’s acquisition by the CBS Corporation in 2000, King had served as executive vice president, corporate secretary and director. During her 30-year tenure as board chair and president, the Foundation awarded hundreds of scholarships to students at colleges and universities around the country, in many instances to individuals who would have been financially unable to continue their studies without this assistance. In addition, the Foundation has acted as a longtime sponsor of programs at several leading cultural and educational institutions around the country.


“The Diana King Memorial Scholarship gives five student filmmakers a chance to achieve their best work in their final year without compromising their talent or imagination for lack of funds,” said Grisanti. “It is not just a gift of money, but a gift of hope and confidence, as they are about to enter the professional world of film and television. It tells all our filmmakers: work hard, keep dreaming, despite hardship. Because of Diana King, there is more opportunity to realize your goals.”