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  • 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: 188

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA Documentary Filmmaking Alum Drama del Rosario Awarded ‘Juried Prize’ in The 2020 PBS Short Film Festival

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    In late July, New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA Documentary Filmmaking alum Drama del Rosario received one of the two awarded prizes for the 2020 PBS Short Film Festival. The documentary filmmaking alum caught the eye of voters and the prestigious Jury for the competition and ultimately received this years ‘Juried Prize’ for his film In This Family

    Del Rosario was awarded the prestigious prize by eight jury members, who selected the NYFA alum’s film as their favorite out of all the festival selections. In addition to del Rosario’s film, all festival selections are available to the public to watch online.

    ‘In This Family’ film poster

    Del Rosario is a Filipinx documentary filmmaker based in Los Angeles. He is the recipient of the 2019 BAFTA-GSA Commissioning Grant for his documentary film, I’m Okay (And Neither Are You), which touches on sexual assault trauma from a gay couple’s perspective. The NYFA alum is known for creating documentary films that challenge the Filipinx Catholic background and he has worked with many international names including BeBe Zahara Benet (Winner, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 1) and Sophie Sumner (Winner, America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 18). 

    His latest documentary, In This Family, is a twelve minute short film that chronicles what happens after del Rosario’s teach outs him as a gay man and includes recordings of his family’s reaction to the news.

    “Thank you so much to everyone who watched and voted for my documentary! Your support has been so overwhelming, and I am so moved by all the messages from queer youth, parents of queer children, and teachers of queer students,” shared del Rosario. “I hope this documentary moves us closer to helping the LGBTQIA+ community feel safe and loved, especially within Asian families and schools.”

    Del Rosario also credits NYFA alum Naya Rivera, who tragically passed away in early July, as a source of inspiration for his short film. “In the documentary, I reference various queer programs, Glee especially. Naya Rivera’s character, Santana Lopez, was one of the crucial queer characters that helped me and my family get to where we are now. It is a testament to how much queer entertainment can change the life of a family on the other side of the world. Rest in Power, Naya Rivera.”

    The NYFA alum also shares that this documentary is an important release in his native country as it is produced by Cinematografo, which is under the Filipino production company ABS-CBN International. “It has been so humbling to have this documentary represent how important it is to keep Philippine media alive and growing! Our voices need to be heard!” His full statement can be found below.

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    WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER!!!!!!!! 🎉🔥✨💕😭🎊⭐️🏆 My documentary film “IN THIS FAMILY” is officially the JURY WINNER for this year’s PBS Short Film Festival! This is so huge coming from a very, very stacked jury! 😱 Thank you so much to everyone who watched and voted for my documentary! Your support has been so overwhelming, and I am so moved by all the messages from queer youth, parents of queer children, and teachers of queer students. I hope this documentary moves us closer to helping the LGBTQIA+ community feel safe and loved, especially within Asian families and schools. ❤️ Furthermore, showcasing this documentary at this particular time has been special to me for two reasons… 1️⃣ First, this documentary is executive produced by Cinematografo, which is under ABS-CBN International. As a lot of people know, ABS-CBN and Philippine media in general are not in a good place right now because of Philippine politics. It has been so humbling to have this documentary represent how important it is to keep Philippine media alive and growing! Our voices need to be heard! 2️⃣ Second, I am extremely touched by all the messages from Glee fans regarding the recent death of Naya Rivera. In the documentary, I reference various queer programs, Glee especially. Naya Rivera’s character Santana Lopez was one of the crucial queer characters that helped me and my family get to where we are now. It is a testament to how much queer entertainment can change the life of a family on the other side of the world. Rest in Power, Naya Rivera. ❤️ I am incredibly honored to receive this award. Thank you so much to CAAM (@caamedia and their superstar team @czarinagee, @akolaurenlola, @livinproofsf, @gracehwanglynch, @krakauer, @sushboy34 ++) for believing in my film as your official entry and for always supporting my career as a documentary filmmaker. Thank you so much to PBS (@pbs) for putting together an amazing film festival with an amazing film line-up and jury. And most of all, thank you so much to my family for continuing to change and grow. I would not be where I am right now had you not powered through the discomfort of growth and change. ALL MY LOVE! 🏆💕

    A post shared by Drama Del Rosario (@dramadelrosario) on

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate NYFA Documentary Filmmaking alum Drama del Rosario for his latest achievement and looks forward to what is next from the talented filmmaker. 

    To watch the full documentary, view below or click here

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  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum Paula Bryant-Ellis on Faith in Storytelling & the Importance of Mentorship and Representation

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Paula Bryant-Ellis’ story is proof that you do not have to grow up in the entertainment industry or start in showbiz at an early age to find your voice or succeed in the business. With the foundation of her faith and the skills from her career and educational experiences, Bryant-Ellis has managed to switch vocations and elevate her voice and the experiences of others along the way. 

    After graduating from Concordia University in Texas, where she majored in Accounting, Bryant-Ellis furthered her education with an MBA from UOP and an executive MBA from MIT. After years in corporate America as an executive and COO in banking and finance, Bryant-Ellis decided it was time for a change. “I was unfulfilled and really felt God pulling me in a different direction. So, my husband and I took a leap of faith and we sold our house, packed up our belongings, and moved to Los Angeles.”

    That leap of faith led Bryant-Ellis to attend NYFA’s Los Angeles campus to study producing. “I enrolled at NYFA because I needed a way to learn the industry and get up to speed quickly,” she says. “I came out of the producing program convinced that I could produce my first project, and I did!” Bryant-Ellis also learned filmmaking at NYFA’s New York City campus. “I was able to develop relationships with students from LA, New York, Russia, Nigeria and South Africa and keep in touch with them even now,” she shares. 

    Photo courtesy of Paula Bryant-Ellis

    Bryant-Ellis has gone on to produce TV series Hard Medicine and the short film Twelve Steps. She also recently made a small cameo appearance for an episode in season four of HBO’s Insecure, directed by her son Jay Ellis, who also stars on the show opposite NYFA filmmaking alum Issa Rae

    Bryant-Ellis’ most recent project to date has been her docuseries Behind Her Faith, which focuses on women in entertainment and their personal journey and the role of their faith in their career. The series features Essence Atkins (A Haunted House, Are We There Yet?), Niecy Nash (Claws, When They See Us), Angelica Nwandu (The Shade Room), and Aisha Hinds (Godzilla: King of the Monsters, 9-1-1).

    Mentoring and encouraging women has always been extremely important to me, especially because there were no role models for me in my field as I was working my way up through corporate America,” reveals Bryant-Ellis. “There were very few females in the upper ranks and there were absolutely no men or women of color in senior or executive level positions.”

    ‘Behind Her Faith’ created by an produced by Paula Bryant-Ellis

    Behind Her Faith is currently streaming on Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Roku and UMC.tv (an AMC network), and Bryant-Ellis hopes to have more seasons in the future. “I want the audience to know that God loves them and that He’s waiting to have an encounter with them that’s more powerful than they could ever think or imagine.”

    With faith being a cornerstone of Bryant-Ellis’ storytelling foundation, she also shares that this time in show business is crucial for people to understand that all stories should properly represented and calls for change in the industry. “Stop believing you can tell my story better than I can. No one’s story is more important than the other but BOTH must be told.”

    Paula Bryant-Ellis behind the scenes during a film shoot

    With the Black Lives Matter movement continuing to bring a reckoning in Hollywood, Bryant-Ellis also adds “it’s not enough to say that you are aligned with a cause when you don’t provide resources to support the cause,” and this is not just an issue that appears in the entertainment industry. “It does not matter what industry you’re in; your Boards and your decision-making team must be diverse and reflective of the people that support and purchase your products.”

    Bryant-Ellis also reveals she has a couple of additional projects in the works including a docuseries and a drama, but is unable to officially share more information just yet. For now, she has this to say:

    “Believe in you. This industry requires tough skin and staying power. Find a niche that works for you and create content that keeps you true to who you are. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. No one can do you better than you, you just have to believe it and trust it. Trust your voice and your vision!”

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate alum Paula Bryant-Ellis on her docuseries, Behind Her Faith, and looks forward to what exciting and inspiring projects come next from the NYFA alum!

    Photo courtesy of Paula Bryant-Ellis

    To learn more about Paula Bryant-Ellis and to keep an eye out for her upcoming projects, check out the links below:

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    July 6, 2020 • Diversity, Filmmaking, Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 787

  • New York Film Academy Welcomes Director Tânia Cypriano and NYFA Student Jude Washock for a Q&A on Groundbreaking Documentary ‘Born to Be’

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    On Tuesday, June 23, 2020, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a live video Q&A with the talented documentary filmmaker Tânia Cypriano to discuss her much admired and trailblazing documentary film Born to Be. Cypriano was also joined in conversation by NYFA Acting for Film Conservatory student, and consultant for the film, Jude Washock. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A Series, moderated the event.

    Director Tânia Cypriano has been working between her home country of Brazil and the United States for over thirty years. Her films and videos have won international awards including ‘Best Documentary’ at Joseph Papp’s Festival Latino in New York, the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, and Fespaco in Burkina Faso. Her work has been shown in the world’s most prestigious institutions including The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Hong Kong Arts Center, the Jerusalem Film Festival, the Amsterdam Documentary Film Festival, and the Berlin International Film Festival.

    (Clockwise) Tova Laiter, Tânia Cypriano, and Jude Washock for Q&A Series

    Her television credits include documentaries for PBS, the History Channel, NHK in Japan, GNT in Brazil and Channel 4 in England. Cypriano has co-organized a series of films with the MoMA, the Anthology Film Archives, Exit Art, the Museum of Image and Sound in São Paulo, and the Grazer Kunstverein in Austria. She has also previously worked on productions for Bill Moyers, Martin Scorsese, Kent Jones and Nelson Pereira dos Santos.

    Dr. Ting walks with one his patients in the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery wing of Mount Sinai Hospital (‘Born to Be’)

    Cypriano’s latest documentary, Born to Be, follows the work of Dr. Jess Ting at the groundbreaking Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery in New York City —where, for the first time ever, all transgender and non-binary people can have access to quality transition-related health and surgical care. The film received critical acclaim upon its original release in the 2019 festival circuit and was hailed by Variety as “a lively and moving documentary,” and “a film that distinguishes itself with a sensitive, human portrait” by Hollywood Reporter.

    A patient awaiting consultation from Dr. Ting (‘Born to Be’)

    Cypriano remembers wanting to make this documentary after hearing about the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery in New York from her producer, noting it was “a historical moment for New York City, and also for healthcare.” After deciding she wanted to do this documentary, Cypriano recalls staying in the clinic and documenting the surgeries with the crew, noting how many of the characters in the film “understood the importance of that moment [of filming] because these surgeries were just made available, and the importance of them was so great to the [transgender] community.”

    Washock, a SAG-AFTRA member and NYFA student who served as a consultant for the film, explained that his role was “to ensure that the stories being told by the characters, who were receiving surgery, were portrayed in a humane way and were not damaging or exploitive.” Consultants like Washock are especially important for documentary filmmakers so they can ensure they do the subject matter, and story, justice.

    Dr. Ting posing with one of his patients (‘Born to Be’)

    One student asked Cypriano how she was able to compose herself during the documentary shoot. “It was a tough one,” she recalls, “I think that is why I chose to live outside of my family because it was emotionally draining, but nothing compares to what I imagine Dr. Ting goes through because he is over there listening to those stories everyday.”

    Film poster for ‘Born to Be’

    In addition to discussing the film, Cypriano also encouraged NYFA students to tell stories because they can. “You have to put yourself out there, work hard, be patient, and persevere. If you hang in there, you can do it.” Washock, who got involved in the project just by talking to Cypriano at an event added, “put yourself out there and have conversations with people and just talk, you would be surprised.”

    Washock also encouraged students in the New York City area to look into volunteering or becoming a member at IFP (Independent Filmmakers Project), where Washock praised his experience there networking and attending informative panels.

    Cypriano thanked Laiter and the NYFA students for joining the call and also extended gratitude to NYFA student Jude Washock for joining the conversation.

    New York Film Academy would like to thank the talented Tânia Cypriano for sharing her time and expertise with the students and NYFA Acting for Film student Jude Washock for sharing his experience as a consultant on Born to Be. NYFA also encourages everyone to keep an eye out for the forthcoming theatrical and streaming release of the film.

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  • New York Film Academy Alum Finished Second Place in Gov. Cuomo’s #NewYorkTough PSA Competition

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Natalia Bougadellis’ public service announcement (PSA), “You Can Still Smile,” finished second in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s #NewYorkTough competition. Bougadellis, who attended NYFA’s Teen Filmmaking program in Los Angeles and an intensive 6-Week Filmmaking workshop in New York, worked on the PSA under her female-run production company Blue Slate Films.

    Bougadellis is a director and cinematographer, who hails from Athens, Greece. Her critically acclaimed film, The Owls, (available on Amazon), has played in eleven countries and over thirty film festivals, winning the prestigious Zoe Award at LifeArt Festival, “Best Student Film” at Miami Independent Film Festival, and “Best Student Filmmaker” at America’s Rainbow Film Festival Presented by HBO.

    Natalia Bougadellis behind the camera during filming

    Bougadellis is also the Executive Director of The Great Griffon, a non-profit organization founded to bring awareness and support to LGBTQ+ characters in mainstream entertainment. Bougadellis also co-founded her own production company, Blue Slate Films, with female filmmaker Emory Parker, in 2017 and continues to produce cutting edge projects for high-profile brands like Nike, McDonald’s, Calvin Klein, and Pepsi, to name a few.

    Her PSA, “You Can Still Smile,” finished second in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s #NewYorkTough competition, acquiring almost 48,000 votes and over 200,000 views. Though Bougadellis’ PSA did not come in first place, Gov. Cuomo announced in a briefing that New York state will still air the PSA.

    New Yorkers from the PSA “You Can Still Smile” (Courtesy of Blue Slate Films)

    Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit NYC, Blue Slate Films (Bougadellis’ production company) was gearing up to shoot their very first feature film, Whirlpool. “As a small business, we were really affected by this,” says Bougadellis.

    When Bougadellis and her production partner [Parker] saw Gov. Cuomo’s #NewYorkTough competition, they knew they had to get involved. “We saw the PSA competition as an invaluable opportunity to showcase our talents and stay creative throughout this time, while also spreading a message crucial to ending this pandemic.”

    Bougadellis explained that they [Bougadellis and Parker] wanted to use this opportunity to tell true stories about real New Yorkers. She recounted that their vision was to show raw emotion for each individual portrayed in the PSA. “Our eyes can tell amazing stories, so we focused on faces and eyes to show how powerful human connection can be.”

    For Bougadellis, the journey of filming this video around NYC and Long Island was heartfelt and sincere. “We had no script for this video,” she says. “All answers were spontaneous and came from the heart. Emory [Parker] then worked on editing the piece and bringing it all together.”

     

    Still from PSA “You Can Still Smile” (Courtesy of Blue Slate Films)

    Beyond the stories of the individuals featured in the PSA, Bougadellis hopes that those who watch the video understand that wearing a mask isn’t just about protecting oneself. “Wearing a mask means respecting your fellow New Yorkers and caring about them, as well,” she remarks. “The sooner we can all cooperate to control this situation, the sooner our city will be able to return to normal.”

    During these times of social distancing and self-quarantine, in addition to their PSA, Blue Slate Films has also launched a digital series, The Slate, featuring artists, experts, and entrepreneurs that seek to make a difference in their respective industries.

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Natalia Bougadellis on her inspiring achievement, which highlights a crucial global message for all, and encourages everyone to check out the PSA and to keep an eye out for Blue Slate Films’ forthcoming film Whirlpool.

    To watch the full “You Can Still Smile” PSA, click here or watch the full video above.

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  • The Criterion Channel releases the series “Tell Me: Women Filmmakers, Women’s Stories”

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    The Criterion Channel has recently made available a collection of films based on the acclaimed series “Tell Me: Women Filmmakers, Women’s Voices,” originally screened at The Metrograph in  2018. 

    The films, all documentaries, all directed by women, share women’s stories through the startling intimacy that’s created between the subject and the camera. As the films vary from cinéma vérité to essay to agitprop The Metrograph, as one of the few independent theaters left in New York City, presented as an ideal venue for the original series. Known for its atmosphere, it aims to create the ultimate film enthusiast’s space where one can immerse themselves in film alongside movie professionals who screen and discuss their work.

    The series adopted an Adrienne Rich quote from Motherhood: The Contemporary Emergency and the Quantum Leap (1979) as it’s raison d’être:

    “One of the most powerful social and political catalysts of the past decade has been the speaking of women with other women, the telling of our secrets, the comparing of wounds and sharing of words… In order to change what is, we need to give speech to what has been, to imagine together what might be.”

    Tell Me: Women Filmmakers, Women's Stories Poster

    Curated by Nellie Killian, Tell Me helped to highlight how the film industry has in many ways, failed women. They’re underrepresented as directors and as subjects in film – an issue the New York Film Academy’s 2018 Gender Inequality Infographic explored. These documentaries are so unique in that they are about women by women which give them a different tone and distinctive voice. These stories and the manner in which they’re told are so very different from anything mainstream filmmaking and even, many independent films have released. 

    While spanning five decades, the films of “Tell Me” have a common thread. They celebrate women filmmakers as well as the women in their films. By simply giving women a safe space to speak of their lives and experience without restraint, the films capture life-long frustrations and injustice painting intimate and complex portraits of its subjects. These groundbreaking films, all from the nineteen-seventies and early eighties, are mostly documentaries that run under 60 minutes.

    Among the films in the collection is Growing Up Female (1971), which focuses on the story of six women, ages 4 to 35, and how stereotypes in the media and advertising, and their personal relationships influence their socialization. It offers an interesting insight into how much has changed over time and how much has remained the same.

     The Camille Billops and James Hatch short documentary, Suzanne, Suzanne is a multigenerational story. It chronicles the devastation a life of physical and psychological abuse has wrought on a daughter Suzanne, who is a recovering drug addict, and her mother, Billie. 

    In Dis-Moi -Tell Me (1980), whose title inspired the name of the series, the director Chantal Akerman sits with and gives a voice to elderly Jewish women who are all survivors of the Holocaust as they recount their lives and family stories before and during World War II. Akerman’s mother is also featured in the film as she recounts tales of her own family. The film offers an intimate and delicate portrait of the lives of its subjects.  

     The complete collection of “Tell Me” features the following films:
    Growing Up Female (Julia Reichert and Jim Klein, 1971)
    Janie’s Janie (Geri Ashur, Peter Barton, Marilyn Mulford, and Stephanie Pawleski, 1971)
    Betty Tells Her Story (Liane Brandon, 1972)
    It Happens to Us (Amalie R. Rothschild, 1972)
    Joyce at 34 (Joyce Chopra and Claudia Weill, 1972)
    Yudie (Mirra Bank, 1974)
    Chris and Bernie (Bonnie Friedman and Deborah Shaffer, 1976)
    Guerillère Talks (Vivienne Dick, 1978)
    Inside Women Inside (Christine Choy and Cynthia Maurizio, 1978)
    Soft Fiction (Chick Strand, 1979)
    Dis-moi (Chantal Akerman, 1980)
    I Am Wanda (Katja Raganelli, 1980)
    Clotheslines (Roberta Cantow, 1981)
    Land Makar (Margaret Tait, 1981)
    Audience (Barbara Hammer, 1982)
    Suzanne, Suzanne (Camille Billops and James Hatch, 1982)
    The Ties That Bind (Su Friedrich, 1985)
    Conversations with Intellectuals About Selena (Lourdes Portillo, 1999)
    Privilege (Yvonne Rainer, 1990)
    The Salt Mines (Susana Aiken and Carlos Aparicio, 1990)
    The Transformation (Susana Aiken and Carlos Aparicio, 1995)
    Mimi (Claire Simon, 2003)
    No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman, 2015)
    Shakedown (Leilah Weinraub, 2018)

    The New York Film Academy encourages everyone to check out Tell Me: Women Filmmakers, Women’s Stories on The Criterion Channel. 

     

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    June 1, 2020 • Diversity, Documentary Filmmaking • Views: 550

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Welcomes Writer, Actress, and Director Naomi McDougall Jones to Discuss New Book ‘The Wrong Kind of Women’

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    On March 3, the Cinematography Department at New York Film Academy’s (NYFA) New York campus was extremely excited to welcome Naomi McDougall Jones to kick off the celebration of Women’s History Month with a frank and remarkable conversation on the condition of Women in Cinema, Television and the Entertainment Industry at large. 

    Naomi McDougall Jones is a talented actress turned screenwriter. Out of the necessity of writing characters and stories more in line with the female perspective, she began to explore that longing, which was hard to find in an industry dominated by the male approach. With the realization that the issue was bigger than simply finding the energy and commitment to write such stories, she became an activist initially with her viral Ted Talk and subsequently published her book The Wrong Kind of Women – Inside Our Revolution to Dismantle the God of Hollywood

    Naomi McDougall Jones introduces book ‘The Wrong Kind of Women’ at NYFA New York campus

    Jones recently brought her wisdom and years of deeply documented research to a room full of NYFA’s very own community of filmmakers, actors, producers and many others involved in the industry. One of her first points, looking at the room and the people that came to the presentation, was how, when looking exclusively at film schools around the country, one would assume the problem of representation for female filmmakers doesn’t exist. Female filmmakers, in this definition, meaning the whole group in front of and behind the camera. Female filmmakers consist of slightly more than 50% of the population of today’s cinema educational world, but after analyzing the data, there is a deep discrepancy between the rich, diverse crowd who graduate from colleges and film schools around the globe versus the space that women actually fill in the industry itself. 

    The exhaustive research conducted by Jones for the publication of her book present numbers that are deeply troubling as they show that women represent only a minimal part of the directors hired by producers. These numbers show slightly better in television, however, but in context, this is due to the fact that the main professional figure of a TV show is not necessarily the director, but the show runner, which tends to lean overwhelmingly male. 

    Jones proceeded to explain, in detail, the principal obstacles filmmakers encounter in their quest to break into an industry that seems designed to keep them at bay, all the while white male privilege continues to prevail in the industry. Jones recalled experiencing this firsthand when getting her first feature length film made. The film, Imagine I’m Beautiful, was created out of her motivation for creating a female-driven story. As a female screenwriter and producer with a solid project in her hands, she thought it would have been at least possible to gather enough support within the industry to find a way to produce the movie. She was, unfortunately, wrong. 

    Naomi McDougall Jones discusses the film industry with NYFA creative director Liz Hinlein

    The reality of her situation kicked in faster than she thought and she found herself and her team of female creatives in a limbo, where the already complex process of financing and producing her first feature turned out to be exhaustingly more difficult due to the people in charge of the industry, the so called “Gatekeepers.”

    The lesson she learned at that time was difficult to swallow, but refreshing, as it taught her not to doubt her own talent, but instead focus on the lesson involved. Like so many women before her not having the space or voice they deserved, she began to understand the true nature of the problem. Hollywood is a system based on an “inside” and “outside” structure, similar to a high school cafeteria, where you have options for where you’d like to sit, but can only sit at the table where you are allowed to sit. It’s a system where you immediately know who the “cool people” are- those that are admired, watched and followed by the generic population. 

    In Hollywood, the “inside” world is dominated by cis white males and, for an extremely long period of time, their judgment, support, and approval has been the only way to cross the room and take a seat at “the table.” Fear of being quickly thrown “outside” and losing your spot in the “golden” and “glamorous” world of Hollywood has often pushed aside anyone willing to disrupt the status quo and change the modus operandi of the system. 

    As a result, the movie-going audience has been so accustomed to viewing stories from a male perspective that the risk of pushing for a different one can cause people to be expelled from their seat at “the table” or, rather, pushed to the “outside.” At the same time, the fear of failure has reduced, if not blocked, the possibilities for women to break into the “inside” crowd.

    Naomi McDougall Jones tells audience about the “Inside” and “Outside” Hollywood structure 

    It is an extremely complex topic, which Jones synthesized and captured in front of NYFA faculty, students, and guests in a well attended and even better discussed event. The questions from the audience went from “what can male allies do to help change the system” to “how film schools can better support their female students to allow them better opportunities for success.” Jones left a profound mark on those willing to listen, opening their eyes to what has been her experience and, along with her, the experiences of thousands of women before and after her. 

    Jones also ended the discussion with several reasons to be hopeful. While none of the principal publications in the industry (Variety, Hollywood Reporter, etc.) have dedicated a single line to her book, it has been the subject of several important discussions and articles on several platforms from NPR to the BBC, the Washington Post and even Playboy Magazine. Jones even mentioned that one of the largest corporations and producing entities in the world of television has made her book a required reading for their original content writers.

    The main takeaway of Jones’ presentation has been the necessity for women and minorities to “never let the system tell you your values” and she pushed the students to trust their artistic talent, dare to be radical, and to not sell themselves short, while always finding new ways to push into a deeply troubled industry.

    NYFA Cinematography Chair Piero Basso and Naomi McDougall Jones

    New York Film Academy thanks Naomi McDougall Jones for celebrating the launch of her new book and for discussing the important topic of jobs for women in film with our NYFA students, faculty and guests for Women’s History Month.

    Her book is available for purchase online and can also be found at NYFA’s New York campus library.

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    March 16, 2020 • Cinematography, Diversity, Guest Speakers • Views: 1258

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Welcomes MFA Screenwriting Alum, Black Film Allegiance Co-Founder, and Monkeypaw Productions Development Manager Elon Joi Washington

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    On Friday, February 21, New York Film Academy (NYFA) welcomed NYFA MFA Screenwriting grad (Class of ’18) Elon Joi Washington, Development Manager at Monkeypaw Productions, and co-founder of Black Film Allegiance. Terah Jackson, ABA Club co-advisor, screenwriting instructor, and NYFA LAS instructor, moderated the event.

    elon joi washington

    Washington is a screenwriter and story analyst with a passion for shedding light on untold narratives. She studied English, Film and Media at the University of Florida, Film and Television at Savannah College of Art and Design and graduated from New York Film Academy’s MFA Screenwriting program. She is the founder of the Black Film Allegiance, a virtual platform promoting collaboration and creative opportunity for up-and-coming filmmakers. Additionally, Washington currently works as Development Manager at Monkeypaw Productions. 

    Following a quick clip of Washington promoting the Black Film Allegiance, Jackson opened up the Q&A by touching upon the students’ interest in Washington’s screenwriting background. He asked, “This idea to become a writer and move into film, when did that start for you?” 

    Washington shared, “I always enjoyed writing. In undergrad I would do open mics as different character roles, and that’s what I started falling in love with character work. I was an English major with a film and media concentration and towards the end my school let me do some production work and I really enjoyed it. But, I was always more interested in what was on the page because it’s where I felt most comfortable creatively.” 

    Jackson then asked what type of stories Washington found herself most engaged in. She replied, “I like stories that revolve around social events and messages that matter to me; especially things that are quite researched. The genres I enjoy are docudrama, horror, psychological thrillers; however, I will do a sci-fi if there’s a bigger message attached to it, but it has to be grounded in truth with something that I know is happening today. Then, I’ll elevate that story in some type of way through a genre like horror.” She continued, “If there’s a research component, that’s usually the part that will draw me in and then the bigger message and character come after.”

    elon joi washington

    Speaking on her time at NYFA, Jackson asked, “Looking back, what were the opportunities here at NYFA that prepared you for what you did after school?” 

    Washington answered, “There are so many resources here that I appreciate, partially because it’s so intimate here and the professors are so hands-on with your growth professionally and as a student. Part of what I appreciated was that opportunity to have one-on-one meetings, even as an alumna. The access you have as alumni is unparalleled. ” She continued, “Also, what you do with the network you’ve built here can really change the course of your post-grad experience. Just having a community and being here created such great connections for me.”

    The Q&A then opened up to student questions. One student asked, “When you submit a script to Monkeypaw Productions, what is it they’re looking for in order to move forward with a story?” 

    Washington responded, “In terms of what Monkeypaw looks for–it’ts genre, underrepresented voices, and a focus on social issues of course, but in a way that’s fun.” She added, “When you’re dealing with difficult issues, you don’t want it to be like medicine, you want it to be rewatchable. It’s always that component, which is a very specific formula and very difficult to find.”  

    New York Film Academy thanks MFA Screenwriting alum Elon Joi Washington for joining sharing her time and expertise with our students!

    elon joi washington

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    March 2, 2020 • Diversity, Guest Speakers, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1506

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Welcomes ‘The Black Godfather’ Producer Nicole Avant

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    On Tuesday, February 18, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the pleasure to host Nicole Avant, former US ambassador and producer of the award-winning Netflix documentary The Black Godfather. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A Series, moderated the event. 

    Tova Laiter & Nicole Avant

    Nicole Avant produced The Black Godfather after collecting stories about her father, Clarence Avant, who has held significant influence on dozens of the world’s most high profile entertainers, athletes, and politicians. The film charts the exceptional and unlikely rise of Clarence, who became a powerhouse negotiator amid extreme racism in America, a music executive whose trailblazing behind-the-scenes accomplishments impacted the legacies of icons such as Bill Withers, Quincy Jones, Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron, and Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

    Nicole Avant was nominated by President Barack Obama and unanimously confirmed by the US Senate to be the 13th Ambassador to The Bahamas. On September 9, 2009, she was sworn in by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, becoming the youngest as well as the first African American woman to hold the position. Avant’s successes in The Bahamas earned her a nomination for the Sue M. Cobb Award for Exemplary Diplomatic Service. 

    Following a screening of The Black Godfather, Laiter opened up the Q&A by asking Avant how she started in the business. Avant shared, “My parents made me do every kind of job all my life and one time my father said he had gotten me an internship at Warner Bros. television. He told me I should learn all the different types of business because all of entertainment is one business, so it is important to learn the different facets.” She continued, “So I went and did the internship and I have to say, I loved it and I learned everything. I went to work for all the different departments and met so many people that helped me understand the business.”  

    Producer Nicole Avant

    Laiter then asked Avant how the documentary came to fruition. Avant revealed, “This documentary happened because I was trying to figure out a way to tell my dad’s story. I said something to my husband [Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos] one day about how I wished there was a way to tie in sports and movies and television and activism and civil rights and all these elements into a character and film. He then pointed out that the character I had just described was, in fact, my father.” 

    Speaking about her director and collaborator Reggie Hudlin, Avant expressed, “I knew Reggie for a very long time and we would talk about African American history and get frustrated that no one really understood our history and no one had seen documentaries on us or knew enough. It was always simplified to ‘all Black people in America live this way, eat this food, and do these specific things’ and it would drive Reggie and me nuts. Therefore, I figured he would be a great person to direct this documentary.”  

    The Q&A was then opened up to students. One student asked Avant, “What do you think are the most important changes for the African American community in the entertainment industry since the beginning of your father’s career.” 

    Avant imparted, “The biggest changes and the most important changes were putting people in a position of power where they could therefore make decisions and control their destiny and in turn, open the door for other people to come in.” She added, “When I was younger, Billboard used to have the Top 100 charts and the Black charts. They used to separate them all. It was really important for my dad to say ‘Why can’t Black people and women be in charge of certain departments that are run by only one type of person? It should be everybody.’ So I think the most important thing is that you started to see more people of color, in general, really having high-level positions that they otherwise would have never had.” 

    Laiter concluded the Q&A by thanking Avant for coming amidst a very busy Oscar season. Avant remarked, “I was really looking forward to this night more than anything else, because humans have to tell stories to each other and connect with each other and I think these events are very important.” 

    New York Film Academy would like to thank producer and former US Ambassador Nicole Avant for joining sharing her time and expertise with our students!

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    February 21, 2020 • Diversity, Guest Speakers, Producing • Views: 1093

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Partners With Tina Knowles-Lawson & Richard Lawson To Lift Up Angels and Warriors

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    Last month New York Film Academy (NYFA) partnered for the second time with the nonprofit WACO (Where Art Can Occur) Theater Center to instruct youth in acting and filmmaking. 

    The 1-Week Filmmaking camp was held in August at NYFA’s Los Angeles campus, the second part of a 2-Week summer intensive on-camera acting and filmmaking camp at Richard Lawson Studios. A graduation ceremony was held at NYFA at the end of the course.

    WACO 2019

    Tina’s Angels and Richard’s Warriors are two of WACO’s esteemed programs. Located in the NOHO Arts District, WACO is dedicated to the empowerment of people within the diverse communities of the greater Los Angeles area.

    Tina’s Angels is a mentorship program for young teenage girls, who are assigned a mentor hand-picked by Artistic Director, Tina Knowles-Lawson. Lawson is the mother of pop superstar Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. Richard’s Warriors is a mentorship program for young teenage boys, who are assigned mentor hand-picked by Artistic Director, Richard Lawson. The mission of both programs is to help youth who have potential and desire to live a successful productive life but do not have the guidance, financial ability, or access to the road map to get there.

    NYFA partners with WACO to help the programs give these young teens the training and tools to fully actualize aspirations, and transcend limitations and borders to distribute their work in a variety of mediums and deliver their message to anyone, anywhere.

    WACO 2019

    After completing the intensive program, the students came away with more confidence and a passion for the arts. Here are what some of the graduates had to say:

    Ariel (Tina’s Angels): “I might get into filmmaking more because I like it. At first, I was unsure because I never did it before. but it is actually fun.”

    Carlos (Richard’s Warriors): “I’ve actually learned a lot. I didn’t think of this as a career but now I am, and I want to learn more about film directing and I hope maybe to become one.”

    Destiny (Tina’s Angels): “I’ve realized that I’m usually my own obstacle. I stop myself from being a more positive individual and thanks to the mentors who are really helpful, I’ve learned a lot more about myself and I’m really grateful for all you guys.”

    Steven Foley, WACO Director of Operations and Production, was also thrilled at the success of the camp. “I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you and NYFA for being integral partners in ensuring that the students from our Angels and Warriors program who participated in our two-week film camp had an amazing experience,” Foley told Veronika Kurshinskaya, NYFA Community Outreach Manager. “The week that we spend at NYFA and the instruction and resources that you all provide are a great benefit to the students and to WACO.  We look forward to continuing our partnership with you all.”

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    September 24, 2019 • Diversity, Outreach • Views: 1299