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  • NYFA BFA Producing Alum Thandiwe Mlauli Founds South Africa’s First Woman-Led Animation Studio

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    BFA Producing alum Thandiwe Mlauli has announced an upcoming project called SOLA. It will be South Africa’s first independently produced and women-led afro-animation, with Mlauli acting as producer, director and showrunner through her animation company Studio Yezi.

    The South African native, who had been told before that there was no audience for afro-anime, decided to take matters into her own hands. “I knew that [not having an audience] was not true. I had friends both Black and Brown, who were interested in seeing representation in animation,” she shared. “I decided to arm myself with the knowledge I would need to make this dream happen and Studio Yezi is the fruit of this decision.”

    Founded in 2019 in Johannesburg, Studio Yezi (short for/inspired by “inkanyezi,” which means “star” in Zulu) aims to create economic opportunities for Black and Brown people in the animation industry, as well as creating accurate representation on screen.

    Studio Yezi, founded by NYFA Producing alum Thandiwe Mlauli

    Studio Yezi has recently launched the campaign #MakeSolaHappen, a crowdfunding initiative to develop SOLA, a story about a magical young girl who awakens in a world where magic is considered dangerous. Set in 22nd century South Africa, the film would also reimagine a world where the country would have been colonized by the Spanish instead of the British. The short film is based on the TV series that Studio Yezi is also developing.

    Founder and CEO of Yezi Studios & NYFA producing alum Thandiwe Mlauli

    “We’re crowdfunding to help us get to the finish line,” explained Mlauli. “We’ve gathered a team of really dope creatives who can definitely bring a product worth talking about. If anybody is interested in supporting us, or becoming a producer, please visit our crowdfunding campaign.

    The film, still in development, is a project that Mlauli hopes will “inspire other young artists to invest in their dreams and pursue them, despite whatever resistance they experience.” The studio CEO also noted how this is a project where more people can recognize Africa for its talents and the people. “We want to create a hub where people refer to us as much as they refer to other places in the world.”

    For other creatives, Mlauli shares that it’s imperative to keep focus. “Remind yourself, as often as you can, why you chose the career path that you chose. When you focus on what you love, and give yourself a chance to dedicate yourself to your dreams, the world will open up for you. I’m an example of that.”

    New York Film Academy would like to thank Producing alum Thandiwe Mlauli for sharing more about her upcoming film SOLA and the vision of her newly formed company, Yezi Studios. To learn more about Yezi Studios and the campaign to develop SOLAclick here.

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    September 24, 2020 • International Diversity, Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 133

  • Q&A With NYFA MFA Filmmaking Student Fernanda Belmar on Her New Film ‘Undocumented’ and the Power of Empathy Through Storytelling

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    Every writer has heard the expression “write what you know,” and MFA Filmmaking student Fernanda Belmar took that advice to heart in developing her intermediate film Undocumented. Inspired by her mother’s experience coming to the United States alone to work in order to support her family home in Chile, Fernanda said, “I can’t even imagine how hard it was for her to be away from her only daughter and her mother in a country where she didn’t even know the language.”

    NYFA’s Director of Film Festivals Crickett Rumley sat down with Fernanda and asked her to talk more about the film ahead of its screening in the New Filmmakers LA In Focus: Latinx and Hispanic Cinema Event this weekend, September 25 and 26, 2020.

    Cricket Rumley (CR): This is such a personal story. Can you tell us more about it?

    Fernanda Belmar (FB): My mom came here to the U.S. with my grandmother and me when I was four years old. We stayed for a year and a half until my mom decided to send my grandma and me back to Chile since it was getting harder for her to support us all. So, she stayed by herself. At that time, she was allowed to stay here for six months then go to Chile for the other six out of the year. But when I was nine, she took the risk and stayed here longer than she was allowed, and ended up working here for four years straight. She made that decision because she wanted to give me a better future. It was extremely hard being away from her, and I can’t even imagine how hard it was for her to be away from her only daughter and her mother in a country where she didn’t even know the language.

    Because of that situation, my mom is not allowed to enter the country again. I don’t know if next year that situation will change, but what I do know is that if something ever happens to me here she wouldn’t have the chance to come here because more than a decade ago she broke the rules to give her family a better life.

    Film poster for ‘Undocumented’

    CR: And that’s where the idea for the film came from?

    FB: Undocumented is about a Latinx family with immigrant parents and two American (U.S. citizen) daughters. They live in California except for their oldest daughter, who is studying in New York. A phone call informs the Gómez family that their daughter has been in an accident, and that’s when as a family they have to put everything on the line. Because as undocumented parents they can’t just take a plane and go since the risks of being detained or even deported are higher.

    Still from Belmar’s film ‘Undocumented’

    CR: What was your favorite thing about directing this film?

    FB: My favorite thing about directing this film is the emotions I felt during the whole process. After I met Carolina (who played the mom), Michael (the dad), and Victoria (the daughter who lives at home), I knew it would be an incredible project because when we talked about what Undocumented means to me they just understood. They felt the deep struggle of this family. On set they were the Gómez family. I can’t even put into words how I felt when I saw them bringing these characters and this story into life.

    CR: What a remarkable experience! Tell us, was the most challenging thing about making Undocumented? What did you learn in the process? 

    FB: While I was in pre-production on this film, I was also struggling with how to pay for my school tuition. I had to make the decision to take a semester break, and I wasn’t sure if I would make it back. I was hopeful, but I didn’t have anything secure at the time. And even though it was a devastating feeling, I was so excited about telling this story that I just kept going. We had a low budget, and just two days of shooting, so I had endless meetings with the heads of each department to make sure it would go smoothly and that our schedule will work. It was very hard, but what I learned was that as a director I need a crew that believes in the story as much as I do, because we can make everything happen.

    Still from Belmar’s film ‘Undocumented’

    CR: Which festivals have you been in so far? What has that experience  been like?

    FB: I’ve been in the First-Time Filmmaker Sessions, Life Screenings International Short Film Festival, Lift-Off Film Festival, and I also got selected in the South Texas International Film Festival. The experience has been great. I have had the chance to talk about my film with the audience at some of these festivals. Knowing that people that I don’t know get to see this story makes everything so much worth it.

    CR: I hear this from filmmakers all the time – that seeing your film, talking about your film with complete strangers, is so inspiring and invigorating. So what are you looking forward to with your screening with NFMLA? 

    FB: Wow! I am so excited about this festival. Last year NYFA invited me to this event, and I remember I was so in awe with the whole event, the films, the industry panels, the Q&A with the directors. I remember at some point during the event I told myself: “One day I’ll be part of this festival…” And now I’m actually going to be part of this! I just can’t believe it. I think what I’m most excited about is for the amount of people that are going to see Undocumented, and I wonder how they will react with this story. I’m excited about the entire festival and the opportunities they give us as filmmakers to engage with important people from the industry and the chance to talk about our films.

    CR: It’s going to be an amazing experience! Let’s back up a little. What were you doing before you came to NYFA? 

    FB: I got my undergraduate degree in Digital Audiovisual Communication in July 2018 in Chile. That’s where I found my passion in film after making multiple short films. In my last semester of school, I started my internship at MG Consulting, an important communication company in Chile. After three months as an intern, they hired me full time. While working with them I learned a lot about animation and graphic design. I got the opportunity to make videos for important clients like Sony Music Chile, MG motor, Reebok, and Mobike. 

    CR: Then you came to study at NYFA. What has that been like?

    FB: I’ve learned so many things here at NYFA, it’s insane! The amount of experience I have gotten so far has made me grow tremendously as a filmmaker and as a person as well. NYFA has given me plenty of tools and opportunities to make films and fail and learn and keep making films.

    What is good about NYFA is that everyone in the class has to make a project, so that means we don’t just get to direct, but also we get the chance to be part of the crew of someone else’s project. That’s how we get experience in our field, that’s how we know what we like about filmmaking and what we don’t. That experience is what shapes us to be great filmmakers.

    CR: Do you have any special shout-outs to faculty or staff who really helped or inspired you?

    FB: Shout-out to Kim Ogletree for making me like producing someway, somehow. Shout-out to Nick Sivakumaran who was my first directing instructor and taught me so much more than just directing. To Kevin Richey the best cinematography instructor I’ve had. To Gil McDonald for teaching me the wheel to structure my scripts — now I can’t live without it. To Graham Tallman, a fantastic directing instructor. And shout-out to Missy (Dominguez, LA’s Director of Student Life) for always supporting me.

    Fernanda Belmar (Right) behind the camera during a film shoot

    CR: Several NYFA students were part of your crew. What was it like to work with them?

    FB: The best about my crew was the diversity that was in it. This crew had NYFA students from all over the world: India, Kazakhstan, Russia, Italy, Ecuador, Peru, Puerto Rico, Yemen and so many more. Having on the same set people from so many different places and cultures made the set incredibly rich.

    CR: These are trying times in the world today. Art matters more than ever. Do you want to share your personal views about the importance of film in the lives of humans living right now? 

    FB: Films don’t just entertain us, they also help us understand the world, and they give us the opportunity to see much more than what we are used to from where we are from. Films have the power to open our minds, to make us feel and relate to something we didn’t know we could. Films and the arts in generals are so powerful, and I believe that the arts are what can make us humans be better. 

    CR: Beautifully said! Lastly, tell us when your film screening is and where we can get tickets. Is there anything else we should know about the screening? 

    FB: The film is for two days: Friday the 25th and Saturday the 26th. You can get the tickets here in this link. There are two kinds of passes: 

    • One that is for the whole festival with industry panels, Q&A’s with all the directors and the screening of all the films
    • Or you can get single tickets for specific programs. My film is in Program #3: Generational Echoes, Saturday 26th at 6:15 pm PT, with the live Q&A at 8 p.m. PT.

    Since it is a virtual screening, after you get your tickets you’ll receive an email to watch the respective films at any time you want between Friday and Saturday. 

    I can’t wait to see you all there!

    The New York Film Academy is a proud Academic Delegation Partner of New Filmmakers LA and will be taking a group of students to the festival this weekend to enjoy the panels, the discussions, the networking, and the films. Fernanda, we’ll see you there! 

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  • New York Film Academy Producing Alum Alex Lebovici Produces ‘Bill & Ted Face The Music’

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    One of the long-anticipated films of the summer, Bill & Ted Face The Music, starring Keanu Reeves (John Wick) and Alex Winter (The Lost Boys) was released everywhere on VOD and in select cinemas on August 28, 2020, with NYFA alum Alex Lebovici as a producer.

    The free-spirited and beloved characters Bill (Winter) and Ted (Reeves) from the original films Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991), make their epic comeback in the Bill & Ted series’ biggest film yet, which has been hailed by critics and is being called a “Surprise Summer Hit.”

    Film poster for ‘Bill & Ted Face The Music’ (Produced by Alex Lebovici)

    The long-awaited film was originally shot in 2019 and was slated for a full theatrical release. Like many indie films and blockbusters alike, the film opted for VOD and limited theatrical release due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    On the weekend of its release, it was the top-rented film on FandangoNow, Apple TV, the iTunes Store, and Google Play. Fandango also announced that despite being released for only four days, the film held the most popular spot on their most rented list for the month of August.

    NYFA producing alum Alex Lebovici at a NYFA Q&A event

    Lebovici, who produced the film, posted photos from the production on his Instagram and recalled how the film was such “a blast” to make. “I can’t believe it,” he shared. “This was by far the most challenging experience of my life but I’m blessed to have an amazing family who supported me through it all.”

    Lebovici was also an executive producer on The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019), Academy Award-nominated Denzel Washington drama, Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017), Mom and Dad (2017), Who We Are Now (2017), and The Clapper (2017). Lebovici will be an executive-producer for King Fury 2 starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Fassbender, which is currently in post-production.

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate the Producing alum on his latest success with the release of Bill & Ted Face The Music, and looks forward to hearing more about the upcoming release of King Fury 2.

    “Be excellent to each other.” 

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    September 22, 2020 • Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 159

  • Hans Augustave Unveils New, Powerful Short Film ‘Before I Knew’

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    “This was before I felt the need to make up for my imposing stature and hue by developing an overly gentle and inviting persona.

    This was before George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castille, Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice…”

    This is before I knew I was Black.”

    These statements and more are included in Hans Augustave’s latest short film Before I Knew, a visual poem that he wrote, directed, produced, and appeared in. 

    The Haitian-American filmmaker attended NYFA’s One Year Conservatory Program in Producing and then became a digital video producer for BLUR, a tech startup with an in-house production team. There, he directed, shot, and edited dozens of ads for the digital space. He then moved to the independent film world where he currently works as an Assistant Director. 

    Also a Dj (DJ Hanzi), Augustave’s storytelling journey has taken him from the art of spoken word, to the stage with his one-man show The Lost and Found and now to the screen with his latest project Before I Knew; a visual poem depicting the subtle and not so subtle ways Black men come to the realization that they are seen as less than human. 

    While working on the film, Augustave was introduced to sound mixer Edward Morris II, who worked on Before I Knew. After having started to mix the sound, Augustave found out that Morris’ cousin was Elijah McClain, a young Black man who was killed by the police and whose story broke to the media when Before I Knew was in post-production.

    Augustave is also co-producer on a documentary feature film The Forgotten Occupation  which examines the United States’ occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934 and the  negative impacts on Haiti’s current political climate. 

    As DJ Hanzi, Augustave founded the popular and growing sober-curious dance party, Reprieve. “It’s part Funk, part House, part Pride, very Black and ALL Love,” shared Augustave. “It’s defying the misconception that no booze & no drugs = no fun.” 

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Hans Augustave on his powerful short film Before I Knew and encourages readers to watch and have their own discussions about the short film. 

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    September 18, 2020 • Diversity, Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 261

  • NYFA Filmmaking Alum & Vice President of Original Films at Netflix, Tendo Nagenda, Featured in ‘The Hollywood Reporter’

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Tendo Nagenda recently spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about what viewers can expect from Netflix originals in the age of COVID-19, showing that the streaming service giant is not slowing down and ready to provide viewers with more content in the next couple of years.

    Nagenda, who studied Filmmaking at NYFA in 1999, went on to become the VP of Production at Walt Disney Studios, where he was involved with titles like Queen of Katwe, A Wrinkle in Time, and Dumbo, among others, until he was nabbed by Netflix in 2018 to be the new VP Original Films. In Nagenda’s new role, he explained to The Hollywood Reporter that Spike Lee’s critically acclaimed film Da 5 Bloods was the first film he gave the greenlight to at Netflix, followed by Spenser Confidential with Mark Wahlberg, and fan favorite The Old Guard starring Charlize Theron.

    Tendo Nagenda for ‘The Hollywood Reporter’ (Photo Credit: Phylicia J. L. Munn)

    In his conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, Nagenda shared that right now, with the pandemic in mind, “there are still going to be plenty of movies that people will want to see in the theater. I just think that there is also going to be an awareness that there is a super-high-quality film available that might or might not be in theaters.”

    Enter Netflix. The streaming platform has seen tremendous growth since the pandemic hit, accumulating 10 million subscribers in the streaming service’s second quarter, growing the global user base to 193 million. Ultimately, restrictions and safety have caused more people to turn to streaming services in general to consume all the media they want.

    As a company, Nagenda revealed that Netflix has shown no signs of slowing down due to the pandemic. “We have a lot of runway, definitely through 2020 and part of 2021,” he shared. “We want to get to work and back into production just like everybody else, and we want to get through this year. We’re still in pretty good shape.”

    (L-R) Lena Waithe, Tendo Nagenda, Ava DuVernay, and David-Oyelowo (Photo Credit: Trendy Africa)

    As for what’s next from the popular streaming platform, it is still in high competition with heavy-hitter Hollywood studios that have their own intellectual properties (IPs) and catalogue of directors to choose from. “We have to concentrate our efforts on finding people of that talent level that we can work with as early as possible and then get them to make movies only for Netflix,” explained Nagenda.

    Still from Nagenda’s first film with Netflix – ‘Da 5 Bloods’ (Courtesy of Netflix

    “We’re looking at big, broad-audience, PG-level adventure films as something that we want to get into. Something along the lines of the first Star Wars, or Harry Potter 1 and 2. A lot of family live action, fantasy, spectacle movies that we think are big and can play great.”

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate the NYFA alum and Netflix executive on his recent feature in The Hollywood Reporter and looks forward to seeing upcoming original titles like The Gray Man (Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans) spearheaded by one of NYFA’s very own.

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    September 15, 2020 • Entertainment News, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 300

  • Assembly Line Entertainment Founder & NYFA Producing Alum Janek Ambros Shares Exciting Slate of Upcoming Projects and Collaborations with Fellow Producing Alum Robbie Leacock

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    After graduation, it’s straight to set for many alumni; but for others, it means a new era of innovation injected into the film industry by bringing in new, incredible stories to new audiences. MFA Producing alum Janek Ambros decided to do just that by starting up his own international production company, Assembly Line Entertainment, which has already had films appear in festivals all over the world including Sundance and Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

    “When I first arrived in Los Angeles, I took a production company course at NYFA,” recalled Ambros. “It was in that class where I created the company logo, and the type of company I’d want (heavily inspired by American Zoetrope). Seven years later, we’re on a very similar path that was outlined in class – starting with shorts and moving on to high-end festivals like Sundance and TIFF, with more development focused on projects we make from the ground up. It’s testament to NYFA’s goal of learning by doing.”

    Janek Ambros (Right) at TIFF for Assembly Line Pictures’ ‘Human Capital’

    Assembly Line Entertainment already boasts an impressive filmography, including 10,000 Saints (Ethan Hawke, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld), Human Capital (Maya Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Liev Schreiber, Alex Wolff), and documentary Imminent Threat (Dir. Janek Ambros), among others. 

    “We’re excited to be working on a new large slate of movies going into 2021 that we’re producing with our new Head of Production, Kahlilah King,” shared Ambros. “From traditional narratives to social impact docu-series, we [Assembly Line Entertainment] have many projects that are adapting to the ever-changing landscape of distribution.”

    Alex Wolff (Left) and Maya Hawke (Right) in ‘Human Capital’ (Photo Courtesy of Assembly Line Entertainment)

    Some of those upcoming projects slated for release include Mondo Hollywoodland (Dir. Janek Ambros), animated political satire First New Nation, an untitled birthing docu-series (Written by Khaliah King), and Sixties, a digital campaign on social media that features 60-second films from countries all over the world to highlight new developing directors.

    Another upcoming project is feature film Hey, Johnny, directed by Ambros and produced by fellow NYFA Producing alum Robbie Leacock, who previously also produced Imminent Threat, serves as the executive producer the Sixties project, and is writing and producing upcoming mockumentary series The Flat Tyres for Assembly Line Entertainment. 

    Robbie Leacock (Left) on set of ‘The Flat Tyres’ (Photo Courtesy of Assembly Line Entertainment)

    After graduating from NYFA, Leacock started at Potboiler Productions as a producer’s assistant before moving up to assistant producer. He later served as an associate producer on Netflix’s The Red Sea Diving Resort before returning to the U.S. to join producing partner Janek Ambros at Assembly Line Entertainment. “We were always told that the relationships you build at film school are the ones that will last throughout your career, and this proved to be so true,” revealed Leacock. “We now have our first TV series in the works (The Flat Tyres), a satirical comedy about a gang of hijackers from the townships, for which we are currently shooting on location in Cape Town, South Africa.”

    With a slate of upcoming projects and new opportunities for Ambros’ production company, 2021 is set to be the biggest year yet for Assembly Line Entertainment and the NYFA alumni, who are working to create character-driven projects for audiences that reflect modern society.

    Assembly Line Pictures Founder Janek Ambros

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate NYFA Alumni Janek Ambros and Robbie Leacock on their upcoming projects with Assembly Line Entertainment and looks forward to hearing about new projects as they develop. 

    NYFA also encourages readers to check out Assembly Line Entertainment’s Instagram account, where their project Sixties will officially be launched. For a full list of the company’s productions, click here.

    Assembly Line Entertainment
    Founder: Janek Ambros
    Producer: Robbie Leacock

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  • NYFA MFA Filmmaking Alum Aastha Verma Screens ‘The Last Rights’ at Topaz Film Festival

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    “I think that film has the responsibility of promoting change and helping the advancement of society,” says Fall 2017 MFA Filmmaking alum Aastha Verma, and she is certainly doing that with her short thesis film The Last Rights. The story follows a young Indian woman who returns to her hometown of Varanasi, India, and challenges her society’s patriarchal traditions in order to give her deceased grandmother her last rites. Verma explained,“My goal in making this film was to shed light on how women are treated in tradition-driven India as well as how Indians who left to work abroad are perceived by their friends and families back home.”

    Beautifully photographed and filled with stunning imagery, The Last Rights premieres at the Topaz Film Festival in Dallas, Texas, where it will be available on demand September 8-13, 2020. Crickett Rumley, NYFA’s Director of Film Festivals, spoke with Aastha about her path to making this film.  

    Crickett Rumley (CR): Congratulations on such a compelling story, Aastha. Tell us about yourself. What were you doing before you came to NYFA?

    Aastha Verma (AV): Before coming to NYFA, I got my bachelor degree in International Business Management. What got me into filmmaking was a number of factors, one of which was that I felt that there was a perspective that was missing of sorts. I did not see any of the films in theatre tackle subjects that I was passionate about. Plus, I used to do photography as a hobby, so at some point I started to wonder what kind of stories would I be able to tell with more than one frame? A combination of both of these factors led me to Los Angeles.

    CR: What was your favorite thing about directing this film?

    AV: Quite frankly, all of it, the experience as a whole. More specifically, this was my first time directing actors in a professional function. Instead of the regular set you’d have for a thesis film, it was a city in India, with a completely different filmmaking culture which made the whole thing quite thrilling. I had never tackled a project of this scale beforehand, so it was quite a challenge. But this very same challenge motivated me to live up to it.

    The production phase was very much a collaborative process with my cast and crew as everybody believed in the project which made it, all in all, a very wholesome experience. I was very grateful for my cast and crew.

    ‘The Last Rights’ film poster

    CR: What was the most challenging thing about making the film? What did you learn in the process?

    AV: The most challenging part of it all was when, during pre-production we took the team to the Shamshan Ghat, the funerary riverbed where the rites are performed. It’s the location where the final scene of the film takes place.

    The local priest’s brother essentially snuck us in, acting as a chaperone, as my team and I looked around and took notes about how the location looked. We had originally brought cameras to film the location so we could then study it at home, but they had been confiscated. The reason for such secrecy is that women aren’t allowed to be at the Shamshan Ghat. The production designer and I were the only women there, and all the men there that day (who were not part of the crew) looked at us as if our presence was heresy. 

    So the challenge was figuring out how to portray an act that I had never been able to even witness firsthand. The very reason we were there was to see how exactly the rites are done, beyond what is simply written in books. There was an irony to it all: I was making a film about this very inequality, yet I wasn’t even allowed to be at the Ghat physically without a chaperone.

    Eventually we recreated the scene on a private property bordering another part of the river.

    CR: What are you looking forward to with your screening with the Topaz Film Festival?

    AV: I’m really excited to meet new people all in the same industry as me. Those conversations will definitely be fun. In fact, there’s an entire panel dedicated to helping the filmmakers meet and interact with each other, and I’m glad to be a part of it.

    CR: How do you think your education at NYFA and the work you did here prepared you for a career in filmmaking? Do you have any special shout-outs to faculty or staff who really helped or inspired you?

    AV: Well, the way NYFA works is that they expose you to extreme shooting conditions so when we’re actually on set, professionally, we’re mentally prepared for the ropes. I think that’s an efficient way of allowing us to learn the ropes. Plus, the fact that it’s such an international school allowed me to be paired with many filmmakers from different countries and walks of life which helped me find my individuality as an artist.

    Special shout-out to Nick Sivakumaran, as well as Scott Hartmann, Kim Ogletree, David Newman, Igor Torgeson and Crickett Rumley for their help with this film, as well as everybody else who taught my course in NYFA!

    Aastha Verma behind the scenes on ‘The Last Rights’

    CR: Since you graduated, you’ve been really busy with music videos. Can you tell us about that?

    AV: It was definitely a breakthrough in my career, a level-up of sorts. It was a wonderful experience to be a part of the team and working with a crew composed of both NYFA alumni and other professionals. Diljit Dosanjh is one of India’s most popular up-and-coming singers, so receiving an invitation to work as a producer on all the music videos from his latest album was amazing. The pandemic didn’t stop us head-banging to the tunes on the set!

    CR: These are trying times in the world today. Art matters more than ever. Do you want to share any words, your personal views about the importance of film in the lives of humans living right now?

    AV: The biggest lesson I am taking away from these times, specifically, is about compassion and patience. Staying at home due to COVID-19 is almost a sort of purgatory, like when your parents put you in a corner. It allows you to reflect on who you are, what your art is.

    It also enables compassion, allows you to appreciate those who are there for you, and be there for others, when the chips are down. These are all lessons that movies have taught us throughout history, but that I only found myself truly appreciating in these trying times.

    CR: What time is your film screening and where can we get tickets? Is there anything else we should know about the screening?

    AV: I’m glad you asked! Up until the 13th, The Last Rights is screening all day, at any time. You can get the tickets here. Please go check it out!

    If you want to know more about the process of making this film, I will also be speaking at the ‘Meet the Filmmakers’ panel on Sunday the 13th from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. PT. Click here to get your ticket.

    Finally, the film is in the running for Topaz’s Audience Award! If you like the film, please don’t forget to vote for it. To vote, it’s easy: once you’re logged in on the virtual catalog (or at the content library, watch.eventive.org/me), all you need to do is go the screening page, select The Last Rights from the sidebar, and a ballot will appear below the “cover image” in the center of the screen.

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    September 11, 2020 • Film Festivals, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 732

  • Broadcast Journalism Update – Back to School Edition (September 2020)

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    Things usually slow down over the course of the Summer. But that wasn’t the case for the NYFA Broadcast Journalism department, or many of our graduates.

    Starting in late July, Evgenia Vlasova and myself co-taught NYFA’s first Moscow Journalism Summer School (JSS). Thanks to support from the U.S. State Department, we were able to offer an intensive three-week course-of-study to early career Russian journalists along with a number of current university students.
    It was a real challenge, seeing as we had to conduct the entire workshop online with participants spread out over seven time zones. While classes started for Genia and me at 7:00 AM in New York, it was 2:00 PM for students in Moscow and 6:00 PM in Siberia. (The Siberian students regularly finished classwork after midnight!)

    The stories the workshop participants created were nothing short of spectacular, covering a wide range contemporary topics. And no two were the same. Everyone approached their topic with their own personal style.
    NYFA alum George Colli, who many of you know from the NYFA website, lent his experience and perspective as well. He spoke from the point of view of someone who knows what it takes to create compelling TV news stories under tight deadlines. (And now he has a beard! A look many of you reading this know I always find fashionable…)
    Other grads graciously agreed to “drop in” on our Zoom sessions as guest speakers. Among them was Karen Hua, who “called in” while covering an out-of-control wildfire in Southern California for KGET in Bakersfield.

    Starla Sampaco is a news anchor at KCTS, the PBS station in Seattle as well as an entrepreneur building her own digital platform.

    And Gillian Kemmerer, who has firsthand experience working in Russia covering sports, business, and the business of sports.
    Other NYFA Broadcast Journalism grads have been busy too. Isabella Faria is now a reporter at CNN Brasil. She came to New York to learn to shoot and edit, used those skills to get a job in the video department of Brazil’s largest newspaper, was hired by CNN as a producer, then  promoted to an on-air position. She wrote to me: “You know I can’t thank NYFA enough for all the incredible classes. They sure helped me to get where I am now 😊
    Congratulations, Isabella!
    And speaking of Brazil (OK… BrasilLivia Fernanda got a challenging assignment back in August. She had to explain the U.S. Presidential Election — in particular, “political conventions” — to her viewers.
    On a far more serious note, Celina Liv Danielsen covered the violent reaction to the recent shooting of an African-American man multiple times by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin for TV2 in Denmark.

    Georgia Hammond is working on a series of video essays about the people of Strathbogie Shire, in the Australian state of Victoria, and their efforts to combat the loneliness and isolation that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Finally, Turkish alum Esra Ozturk is an example of how, after you study how to make TV news, you might find yourself in a job in which you are interviewed on TV news. In this case, on TRT World, the global English-language service of Turkish Radio and Television.
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    September 9, 2020 • Acting • Views: 191

  • NYFA Filmmaking Alum Ismael Gomez III Starts Production House And Releases Film ‘Death of a Fool’ on Amazon

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) Filmmaking alum Ismael Gomez III’s latest film, Death of a Fool, is now available on Amazon Prime Video. The film is the latest project from the Cuban-American filmmaker who, after graduating from NYFA, worked as a lead editor on several motion pictures and commercials that have been screened at Cannes, Tribeca, Miami, and Starz Denver international film festivals.

    Gomez was born and raised in Havana, Cuba and it was there that he fell in love with cinema. With directors like Coppola, Kurosawa, and Kubrick, Gomez was inspired to pursue filmmaking, leading him to study in the 2-Year Filmmaking Conservatory with NYFA.

    The coming-of-age fantasy film was co-written, produced, and directed by Gomez. Death of a Fool follows teenager Pablo and his dying grandfather, who begin conducting afterlife investigations in Miami after a mysterious man hires them to find the secret to immortality.

    “I remember being five years old, looking out my backyard one morning and seeing my dog, Charlie, lying motionless. He was sick for weeks and had now passed away. It was my first encounter with death and I did not know what to make of it,” shared Gomez, when asked about inspirations behind Death of a Fool. “It [the film] is built on the simple idea that if we could live forever, would we necessarily want to?”

    Film poster for ‘Death of a Fool’

    Before heading to Amazon, Gomez and his team were able to screen their film at Coral Gables Art Cinema, but it was around that time the pandemic hit. “We had to make the quick decision of moving online,” revealed Gomez. “Although I really wanted to expand theatrically, if there’s something filmmaking has taught me, it is to adapt quickly to rising obstacles, make a new plan and keep moving forward.”

    Gomez’s Death of a Fool was recently covered in The Miami Herald, which also mentioned Gomez’s Miami-based production house Rabbit Hole Pictures, that Gomez co-founded and continues to serve as the CEO.

    “Our mission at Rabbit Hole Pictures is to tell mystical stories that spark curiosity and wonder. For us the word mystical embodies a sense of mystery, awe, and fascination for the unknown,” Gomez shared with NYFA. “Fantasy always creates a striking contrast that helps us reframe and examine reality. It’s about telling stories that carry people far-far-away to look at themselves up close.”

    Still from ‘Death of a Fool

    Though the NYFA alum studied in New York when he was at The Academy, he recalled an experience that changed him forever when visiting his family in Miami in 2016. “I went to the theaters and watched Moonlight by Barry Jenkins and thought, ‘here’s a guy who has made this astonishing film completely in Miami and just won Best Picture at the Academy Awards.’ So, a fuse had been lit up inside me and begged the question: How many movies have we seen entirely produced in Miami?”

    In addition to wanting an authentic Miami represented in the film industry, Gomez also wanted Rabbit Hole Pictures to be a production house that showcases the fantasy genre. “I wanted to show a part of Miami that is rarely depicted on the big screen. Many clever producers have built sets that look like Miami, but the magic of the real thing cannot be duplicated,” shared Gomez.

    Rabbit Hole Pictures has already had a hand in several projects with a fantasy thriller currently in development. Gomez also shared that Rabbit Hole Pictures has recently announced a Movie Pitch Contest to help other creators during this time, and plans on granting a financial reward to help the winner fund their own project.

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Ismael Gomez III on the recent success of Death of a Fool and encourages everyone to check it out now on Amazon Prime Video.

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    September 4, 2020 • Entertainment News, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 375

  • NYFA AFA Filmmaking Alum Nick Venuti Screens Film ‘Buffalo Scientists’ at Dances With Films Festival

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    In a classic case of “write what you know,” recent alum Nick Venuti, from the Fall 2018 AFA Filmmaking class, drew from his past when developing ideas for his thesis film, Buffalo Scientists. “Thinking about what it would be like if two of my childhood friends attempted some big crazy thing and picturing how it would play out” was his inspiration. “They always had big imaginations and typically don’t think things through,” Venuti said, ”so I thought it would make an entertaining movie. From there, I just started thinking, how could I turn it up a notch? What if the clerk (main character) was our favorite high school math teacher, Mr. Hughes?” 

    The result is Buffalo Scientists, a quirky dark comedy, that had its world premiere at the Dances with Films festival in Los Angeles on August 28, 2020.  Director of NYFA’s Film Festival Department, Crickett Rumley, caught up with Nick to talk about the film right after his first screening and before his second with the well-known indie festival. 

    Crickett Rumley (CR): Congratulations on getting into Dances With Films!  Tell us a little bit more about your film. 

    Nick Venuti (NV): Buffalo Scientists is a comedy about an ex-history teacher named Bill Peterson. Bill works at a convenience store in Sacramento run by his egotistical manager, Carl. After Carl leaves for the night, 2 masked men, Jeremy and Alan, enter to rob the store. During the robbery they recognize Bill as their former high school history teacher. After reminiscing about the past, Bill decides to join the boys on an adventure into the night.  

    CR: And what a bizarre adventure it is.  It must have been so much fun to direct.  What was your favorite thing about directing it?

    NV: It was the first film that I felt like I was really the director. I had such an amazing team with me on set that for the first time ever I didn’t feel like I had to micromanage every aspect of production. I could focus solely on directing. I got to spend so much more time with the actors than I ever have. I love doing almost everything on set, but it was so cool to experience being just the director for once. 

    Film poster for ‘Buffalo Scientists’

    CR: Did you experience any challenges in making the film? 

    NV: I think the most challenging part for me, and for a lot of people is the final 5% of post-production; when the energy and excitement of being on set and seeing the first cut is over. It is hard to work in that final stretch where you have already seen the film 50+ times and you still need to watch it two or three times a day just to clean up all the small glitches and hiccups. You start to fall out of love with the film a little bit after seeing it so many times. After crossing the finish line, all the fun comes back with festivals and showing people for the first time, but the hardest part is definitely locking the film. 

    CR: I agree. I think all artists get tired of their work at some point, and that’s when you have to dig in even deeper.  What was your biggest takeaway from making the film? 

    NV: I learned how awesome it is to have a producer helping. I could not have done it to this scale if I didn’t have my producer (and NYFA Alumni) Andrew Reyna. I handled all the paperwork and logistics for my previous films, so I didn’t realize how much a great producer frees you up to focus on the creative aspects until this project. 

    CR: Let’s back up a little. How and when did you decide to go into film?  

    NV: I am from Binghamton, a city in upstate New York. I started looking into film when I had a stop motion project in high school. I loved directing and writing the project so much that I took some film courses at my local community college. My teacher saw I was really passionate about the subject, so he recruited me to drive down to the Everglades to work on a project for the school. I had to live in a tent for two weeks as we had to shoot a documentary for a local news station. At this point I still barely knew how to turn on a camera, but I loved every second of it. When I got back, I started looking for film schools. I knew I wanted to try and make a career in film, so I began looking for a school that could help me do just that. I discovered the New York Film Academy, went to New York to check it out and knew it was the place for me. I went to the New York City campus for the first year and liked it so much I decided to do my second year at the LA campus. 

    CR: Do you think your education at NYFA and the work you did here prepared you for a career in filmmaking? 

    NV: I think NYFA does an amazing job at throwing you straight into the deep end and just having you try to see what you can do. I believe just two months in we already had four films under our belts. This made it so easy to experiment and try things that I would never have done otherwise. We just constantly had to make new films and got to see what worked and what didn’t. It was tough making a new film every week but it was essential in helping me to build my own style and voice. 

    Nick Venuti on set with actors

    CR: Do you have any special shout-outs to faculty or staff who helped or inspired you? 

    NV: There were so many teachers that helped and inspired me: Lea Brandenburg, Ben Cohen, Brad Sample, Joe Burke, Crickett Rumley, and Richard D’Angelo all impacted me more than they could ever know. There are many more but those in particular stood out. 

    CR: Thanks for the shout-out!  Much appreciated.  So, this is your first film festival with Buffalo Scientists, and Dances with Films is such a great place to get started.  What has it been like to work with them? 

    NV: Dances with Films has been absolutely amazing. The festival has to be online this year due to COVID-19, but they are working as hard as they can to get it as close to the real thing as possible. They have virtual lounges and panels, and everything is live. It all helps it to still feel special even though we can’t experience being in Los Angeles and in the theater. Dances with Films has gone above and beyond with this as an online festival. 

    CR: What were you looking forward to about your screening? 

    NV: Before the virus, I was really looking forward to finally sharing the film with everyone in The Chinese Theater on the big screen and getting to meet the other amazing filmmakers in our block. Unfortunately, the whole festival went online, so that dampened the excitement a little, but it still was a pretty cool feeling knowing that lots of people from all over the world were watching. 

    CR: You moved back to New York after finishing your degree at the LA campus. What are you up to these days? 

    NV: I’ve been keeping busy since getting out of school. I have directed a few local commercials, was DP for a feature film in January, shot a couple music videos for local artists, and I have been getting consistent editing work on the side. Currently, SUNY Broome hired me to direct and shoot virtual field trips for the college and I have been working on scripts for future projects. I am also waiting to see how Buffalo Scientists does in festivals and if there is any interest in a feature version of the film. 

    CR: Back to Dances With Films, when is your next screening and where can we get tickets? 

    NV: We have another screening on Saturday September 5 at 11:15 pm PDT. You can get tickets for the Midnight Shorts block here.

    CR: Is there anything else we should know about the screening? 

    NV: Although our film is a comedy, I want to mention that we are placed in the comedy/horror section of the festival, so some of the films in our shorts block can be very dark and violent. 

    CR: Definitely one for the late night crowd!  Congratulations again, Nick.  Enjoy that next screening.

     Nick Venuti’s film, Buffalo Scientists, will screen a second time on Saturday, September 5, 2020 at 11:15 p.m. PT. For tickets and more information, click here.

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    September 3, 2020 • Film Festivals, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 465