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  • NYFA Alum Matthew Avery Berg Screens ‘Accomplice’ in National Film Festival for Talented Youth

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    Science fiction has a unique ability to drop audiences into a futuristic or unrealistic world and make us think beyond the realm of our everyday existence. In writing and directing his sci-fi short Accomplice, however, NYFA alum Matthew Avery Berg drew from a real, personal crisis to create his fictional story that takes place in the distant future. Crickett Rumley, NYFA’s Director of Film Festivals, spoke with Matthew as the film became available for online streaming as an official selection of the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY), running October 23 – November 1, 2020. 

    Crickett Rumley (CR): Congratulations on getting into NFFTY! Tell us more about Accomplice.  

    Matthew Avery Berg (MAB): Accomplice is about a man who’s forced to experience the memories of the person he accidentally killed. It takes place inside a medical compound in the year 2067. The sci-fi elements are obviously not inspired by true events; however, the underlying story is. Following my first surgery, I was constantly on opioids for a week. Being doped up for that long disassociated me from reality and my own mind. I’d start speaking to myself like I was two different people. However, it also led me to reflect on my life. I’d whisper confessions and admit things that I had been in self-denial about.

    Accomplice follows a man whose mind is inhabited by two different people following surgery. The new person in his head forces him to do an introspection on both their lives. It allows the protagonist to finally acknowledge his guilt the same way recovering from surgery had forced me to recognize my own…over way less dramatic things though, of course.

    Film poster for Matthew Avery Berg’s ‘Accomplice’

    My direction of the film was shaped by the health issues I was dealing with while still raising the financing. The prior summer, in 2018, I had progressively become more nauseous each night. Soon I realized that whenever I closed my eyes and avoided light my nausea improved. This feeling, which had previously only lasted a few hours at night, had become a 24/7 occurrence. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat. I lost fifteen pounds in two weeks. Before undergoing an MRI, I concluded that I was dying. I was relieved to learn that I had a benign cyst in my brain. Yet, disturbingly this clue only brought more mystery and fear as I grew too sick to walk. Finally, doctors discovered that I suffered from a rare condition called “status migrainosus.” Essentially, an everlasting migraine.

    Despite the diagnosis, no neurologist could provide a cure. I took steroids and tried a variety of medications, but as some symptoms disappeared, others emerged. Two weeks later, I experienced constant vertigo, tingling throughout my body, and unbearable indigestion. I spent each day trying to distract myself until I could be sedated in hopes of waking up better the next day. This cycle continued for months, forcing me to postpone shooting an earlier version of my film.

    NYFA alum Matthew Avery Berg (Right) 

    CR: That sounds so painful and challenging. How did this crisis impact your work on the film?

    MAB: It dawned on me there was not much difference between this character suffering from external and intruding memories and me battling these strange ailments. I rewrote the script to incorporate the way I dealt with my pain as a sci-fi thriller. 

    Six months later, in every meeting with the cinematographer, we used the word “migraine” almost as much as “camera.” I instructed him which parts I wanted to feel like a migraine. In one scene, I inserted flashing lights. In another scene, I added other bright lights, and in additional scenes, we used a handheld to simulate vertigo.

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

    MAB: Seeing the (almost) finished film for the first time on the mixing stage was my favorite thing about making this movie. Although the VFX had not been added in and the color wasn’t confirmed, it was amazing to see what I had been trying to get made since sophomore year of high school play on a big screen for the first time. My producer, who had been very critical of the project up until that point – as was his job – whispered during the fade to black, “that’s awesome”. It took me a second to realize he was talking about our movie. I don’t care what anyone says, nothing is more satisfying in the process of making a film than seeing the finished product.

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

    MAB: I’d say the biggest challenge was being able to film a high-quality production with as many moving pieces and locations as this project had written. High concept sci-fi is not meant for a short film budget. I was having to rewrite in my head while we were shooting to make our tight schedule and budget work. Although I accomplished what I had set out to, there is a reason I kept my latest project to just two people in a tattooing session. While I do not believe films should be written for the sake of accommodating their budget, I now definitely think about how much a concept could cost to produce before choosing to write it. If you write an amazing space-traveling epic, you’re only doing your story a disservice by making it for $10,000.

    Still from ‘Accomplice’

    CR: What are you looking forward to in your screening with NFFTY? Are any of their masterclasses or programming looking interesting to you? 

    MAB: I’m looking forward to being able to interact with my fellow filmmakers in the same age group as me even if online. Everyone I work with tends to be at least nine years older, so I love the idea of being able to meet other people my own age with the same standard of quality to potentially collaborate with. All of the programming and masterclasses at NFFTY look amazing. However, despite what you may assume from watching my film, I’m most excited to watch the Dynamic Duos section. So much of being young and growing up is about the friendships we make and maintain. If there is a genre I feel that youth filmmakers have the most legitimate truth to share in, it is the buddy film.

    CR: Which festivals have you been in so far with Accomplice? What was that experience like?

    MAB: This has been more than a weird year for festivals. A lot of the festivals have either been postponed or canceled for 2020. However, there have been some other great ones we’ve been able to be a part of so far. We were an official selection at Dances With Films, which had an amazing virtual experience featuring some of the greatest panels I’ve had the chance to listen to. We are also an official selection at FilmQuest and won the shorts category at Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival. Unfortunately, FilmQuest has been postponed to 2021 and we were not able to attend Buffalo Dreams due to the pandemic. However, I had a student film as an official selection at Cinequest a couple of years ago and highly recommend that one. That festival gets up to 100,000 attendees, and the industry networking events are just one of the amazing aspects of that superb festival. Still waiting for the notification date for that one. 

    Accomplice was also invited to be part of Hollyshorts’ Monthly Screening Series on Bitpix.

    CR: You’ve wanted to be a filmmaker since you were four years old, and you started attending NYFA Tween Digital programs when you were in the fifth grade.  How do you think your education and the work you did here prepared you for a career in filmmaking?

    MAB: I did the 12-week Saturday program for three semesters, so for 36 Saturdays I would come and take 6-8 hours of classes throughout the school year in all aspects of filmmaking. I would shoot projects on the Universal Backlot as a ten-year-old. In all honesty, my education at NYFA was essential to preparing me as a filmmaker. I learned everything there was to learn about filmmaking without doing it professionally.

    With that being said, you don’t learn the other 75% until you get actual experience directing on professional sets.

    Still from ‘Accomplice’

    CR: So true. What have you been up to since then? 

    MAB: Since I graduated from my high school, Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles, in June of 2019, I have been writing and directing professional short films. Although I was supposed to go to USC starting this semester, I ended up dropping due to the opportunities I was beginning to be handed. Accomplice started getting me attention from executives in the industry who wanted to mentor me and to fund my projects.

    I was offered carte blanche creative control of a fully-financed short film with Academy Award Nominee Eric Roberts, as well as producers inquiring about financing a feature with me directing. I was also being set up with some really big directors to shadow. Although COVID put a halt on the shadowing gigs and the feature offers, I was still able to direct the film with Eric Roberts.

    CR: That’s cool! What was the experience like?  

    MAB: It was a magical shoot. LA Ink’s Dan Smith, a celebrity tattoo artist, and musician was involved with the project and did all our tattooing inserts. Richard Patrick of Filter and Nine Inch Nails is slated to compose for it. It’s so awesome to be working with someone who I grew up listening to. The producer on the project is R. Andru Davies whose last feature film with Karen Gillian was nominated for a Scottish BAFTA and a British Independent Film Award. He’s also executive producing Stan Lee’s ArchAlien. The film is currently in post.

    CR: What else do you have coming up? 

    MAB: The next step is a feature film! I’m currently working on a script for what I think could be a great first feature, but I’d be willing to do anything that was offered to me as long as it has the potential to be amazing. 

    The New York Film Academy thanks Tween Digital Program alum Matthew Avery Berg for taking the time to talk with us about his film and emerging career. From October 23 through November 1, 2020, Accomplice can be viewed on-demand as a “pay what you can” event. On Sunday, November 1, 2020, at 1:00 p.m. ET/10:00 a.m. PT, it will live stream in the Salient Simulations Watch Party, followed by a live Q&A with Matthew and other filmmakers.

    Follow Matthew on Instagram @matthew_a_berg.

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    October 27, 2020 • Film Festivals, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 84

  • NYFA Alum Catalina Loret Screens Experimental Short ‘Flores Dentro’ in National Film Festival for Talented Youth

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    Hailing from Merida, a seaside town in the southeast of Mexico, New York Film Academy alum Catalina Loret (Fall 2015 BFA Filmmaking) “grew up on the beach, exploring the underwater world and fascinated with stories from the world underneath. I went to NYFA with the desire to learn how to tell these stories through a camera lens and have since explored different ways to tell stories through film.” Her latest short Flores Dentro is an official selection of the National Film Festival for Talented Youth, for which the New York Film Academy is a Producing Partner. 

    Crickett Rumley, NYFA’s Director of Film Festivals, caught up with Catalina as the festival was beginning.

    Film poster for Catalina Loret’s film ‘Flores Dentro’

    Crickett Rumley (CR): Tell us about Flores Dentro. What was your inspiration?

    Catalina Loret (CL): Flores Dentro is a film that came out of meeting new collaborators and being inspired to create something personal. I made it two years after I graduated. I wanted to explore women’s relationships with one another using the repercussions of imposed beauty standards as a frame. Women have been instilled with the false narrative that there is not enough room for all of us to be whole without tearing each other down. The physical body fluctuates; our value does not. This film aims to expose the myth of physical beauty standards and to remind everyone that bodies are merely temporary cases and what truly matters lies within and transcends physical form.

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

    CL: I am very grateful for the connections that were created for this project, from script to camera to animation. Also, that so many women have connected with the film and that it’s a piece that touched on an aspect that can be personal to us.  

    CR: What was the most challenging thing about making the film?

    CL: Shooting in film. It had been a long time since I shot in the film, and sometimes you don’t expose it right, and you don’t learn that until the developed film comes back. But these “mistakes” made the film better as we had to work with the footage we had. It made for more creative and powerful cuts in the edit.  

    Still from ‘Flores Dentro’ 

    CR: What are you looking forward to in your screening with NFFTY? Are any of their master classes or programming that look interesting to you?

    CL: I’m looking forward to sharing this film with more people! It is my intention that this film can reach as many women as possible, and share a message of empowerment and allyship. And the panel I’m most looking forward to is After the Festival Circuit, about short film distribution, so that this film can be shared further.

    CR: Which festivals have you been in so far with Flores Dentro, and what was that experience like?

    CL: I have been to LALIFF (LA Latino International Film Festival) and Hola Mexico, and during these virtual times, it was interesting. Honestly, it’s very tiring being in front of the computer all day, but I was encouraged to attend thanks to the panelists themselves who gave great talks. There was proximity felt as we were all at home in this together, making the best out of these times.

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

    CL: I learned a very hands-on approach to filmmaking, making it work with what we had, crafting big ideas in simple ways. I was very fortunate to have great classmates who remain colleagues and to have further developed with them.

    Director Catalina Loret behind the scenes of ‘Flores Dentro’

    CR: Do you have any advice for recent graduates making their way into the professional world?

    CL: Make, Do, Create. Keep making projects, even simple ones, and nurture your creativity, and continue to do what you love even on a small scale. It’s easy to get caught up in working for other projects and it is very important to do so, as there is so much to learn from collaborations, but always remember to create your art.

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

    CL: Art has always been the outlet for trying times. When we are trying to make sense of the world and put words on the nameless, we turn to art to find that connection and understand our inner and outer worlds. In times of physical distance, it is important to make and share films that call for unity and community. These can be our most powerful tools for uncertain times.  

    The New York Film Academy thanks Filmmaking alum Catalina Loret for taking the time to talk with us about her film. From October 23 through November 1, 2020, Flores Dentro can be screened on demand as part of NFFTY’s Art in Motion short film program. This “pay what you can” program will be followed by a pre-recorded Q&A with Catalina and other filmmakers, and viewers can vote for the audience award.

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    October 26, 2020 • Film Festivals, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 177

  • NYFA Partners with the National Film Festival for Talented Youth for 2020 Events

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    As the world’s largest and most influential film festival showcasing young talent from around the globe, the National Film Festival for Talented Youth in Seattle has long been a mecca for emerging directors.  This year, not only is the New York Film Academy jumping on board as a Producing Partner, but NYFA alumni Catalina Loret (Fall 2015 BFA Filmmaking) and Matthew Avery Berg (2011-2012 Tween Digital Programs) have films in the festival and will participate in Q&As.

    Film poster for Catalina Loret’s film ‘Flores Dentro’

    Responding to the current moment, Dan Hudson, NFFTY’s Executive Director, said, “We’re excited to announce that the entire lineup from our 14th edition will be available online for a global audience.” No matter where they are in the world this October 23 through November 1, 2020, members of the NYFA community can attend online workshops, panels, and masterclasses as well as watch the work of filmmakers under the age of twenty-five.

    On Friday, October 30, Andrea Swift, filmmaker and NYFA Documentary Filmmaking Chair, and Claudia Raschke, Academy Award-nominated cinematographer, and NYFA Documentary Cinematography professor will teach a free workshop on Smartphone Cinematography for Social Media Micro Docs at 6 pm ET/3 pm PT. Attendees will be introduced to the art of making cutting-edge Micro Docs for social media distribution, learn key smartphone cinematography techniques, and be able to ask questions.

    Still from ‘Flores Dentro’ by Catalina Loret

    Throughout the festival, Catalina Loret’s film Flores Dentro can be screened on-demand as part of the Art in Motion short film program. This “pay what you can” program will be followed by a pre-recorded Q&A with Catalina and other filmmakers, and viewers can vote for the audience award.

    On Sunday, November 1, 2020, at 1:00 pm ET/10:00 a.m. PT, Accomplice by Matthew Avery Berg will live stream in the Salient Simulations Watch Party, followed by a live Q&A with Matthew and other filmmakers.  Tickets can be purchased for the live Watch Party and Q&A, or his film can be viewed on-demand during the festival as a “pay what you can” event, where viewers can vote for the audience award.

    Film poster for ‘Accomplice’ by Matthew Avery Berg

    “I’ve long admired the National Film Festival for Talented Youth’s powerful programming and commitment to filmmakers new on the scene,” said Crickett Rumley, NYFA’s Director of Film Festivals. “It’s an honor to be partnering with them this year, and I encourage everyone to swing by for the films, then stay for the panels and workshops.  There’s so much to be experienced and explored.”

    For more information on the National Film Festival for Talented Youth, please click here, and be sure to read our other blogs on Catalina Loret and Matthew Avery Berg to learn more about them and their films.

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    October 25, 2020 • Film Festivals, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 111

  • NYFA Screenwriting Alum Miguel Ángel Parra’s Enjoys Successful Festival Run With Screenplay ‘The Pink House’

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    We hear it all the time, “write what you know.” As a journalist, Spanish native Miguel Ángel Parra was all too familiar with that phrase and went from applying it to his work as a journalist to becoming a screenwriter writing stories that reflect pockets of his own life. 

    After he lost his job in January 2019, Parra realized it was time to make his dreams come true and focus solely on screenwriting. He also credits the many “voices that have been silenced along the way throughout history” to being the driving force behind wanting to make people listen to those stories as a screenwriter. 

    Enrolling in the 8-Week Screenwriting program at NYFA finally allowed Parra to learn how to improve crafting the structure of his scripts and how to write better dialogue for his characters, crediting instructor Dennis Green as being the driving force behind learning new techniques.

    While studying at NYFA, Parra wrote his screenplay for The Pink House, which has since gone on to win screenplay contests in the Madrid International Film Festival (2020), the LGBTQ Toronto  Film Festival (2020), the All Genre Screenplay Contest (sponsored by Amazon, 2020), and become a semi-finalist in the Nashville International Film Festival (2020). 

    “It [The Pink House] is my first feature film script and I wrote it in English! When I came back to Spain, I translated it into Spanish and rewrote it several times,” shared Parra. “During the quarantine, I finished it and translated into English again in order to be able to submit to international competitions.” 

    NYFA screenwriting alum Miguel Ángel Parra

    The Pink House is a dramedy that, while humorous, is also a story about the abandonment suffered by LGBTI seniors. “The young activists who fought for the LGBT rights in the late 70s in Spain are nowadays men and women in their 70s and 8os and most of them don’t have a home to live in, as they were rejected by their families or have lost their couples,” explained Parra about his award-winning script. 

    “It is a story that needs to be told. In my country we lived 40 years of dictatorship, with a hard repression on these people, so I felt that I HAD to thank them for their fight somehow because, thanks to them, we have the rights we have right now.”

    Parra hopes that audiences, especially the younger generation, will be able understand that the story is about having the rights and freedoms of today “because someone fought for them.” Since Parra has submitted his script to multiple festivals and competitions, he has received incredible notoriety and shared that the positive response is overwhelming.

    “Being my first feature film script, it is quite exciting to see that people (and jurys) like it. It’s been an honor to see The Pink House selected at the Nashville Film Festival Screenwriting Competition and reaching the semifinals, or being one of the Best Unproduced Scripts at Madrid International Film Festival, or seeing my script published and sold on Amazon thanks to the All Genre Screenplay Contest. I never imagined something like this would happen. “

    As for what’s next for the newly minted screenwriter, Parra’s upcoming short film The Eternal Angels was shot in August and is expected to premiere at the Seville European Film Festival in November. Parra also revealed he recently wrote a play that he hopes will open in January a TV pilot called The Golden Boys, a renewed, gay remix of the popular TV show The Golden Girls, which has already shown interest with a production company.

    Miguel Ángel Parra on set for ‘The Eternal Angels’

    New York Film Academy would like to thank Screenwriting alum Miguel Ángel Parra for taking the time to share his journey on writing his first feature film script and the importance of telling the stories of those who have been silent for a long time. NYFA looks forward to seeing what is next from Parra and wishes him the best on his upcoming short film The Eternal Angels.

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    October 7, 2020 • Film Festivals, Screenwriting, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 550

  • 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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  • 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: 912

  • 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: 575

  • New York Film Academy MFA Filmmaking Student Phyllis Tam Named a Finalist in 47th Annual Student Academy Awards

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    New York Film Academy’s (NYFA) own Phyllis Tam, who recently graduated with her MFA in Filmmaking from NYFA’s Los Angeles campus, has been named a finalist in the 47th Annual Student Academy Awards for her narrative short film Fragile Moon.

    Still from Student Academy Award finalist film ‘Fragile Moon’ (Photo Courtesy of Phyllis Tam)

    Tam’s short film will compete in the Narrative (Domestic Schools) category in the Student Academy Awards.

    “I could not be more excited that Fragile Moon made it to the semifinals for the Student Academy Awards,” shares NYFA’s Director of Film Festivals, Crickett Rumley. “Phyllis worked so diligently to perfect every single detail of her film — down to the placement of subtitles — that it’s no wonder her dedication paid off. It is such a timely story about the impact that immigrating to the U.S and pursuing the American dream has on families. The themes of memory, loss, and the healing power of art resonate long after the film is over.”

    Still from ‘Fragile Moon’ (Photo Courtesy of Phyllis Tam)

    “We are proud to see Phyllis Tam’s creativity and hard work pay off with her film Fragile Moon as she continues to advance in this prestigious competition for student filmmakers worldwide,” says NYFA President Michael Young. “Like Phyllis’ honorary achievement with the Student Academy Awards, we are excited to see NYFA students go on to achieve their dreams with their outstanding work.”

    Finalists for the Student Academy Awards were announced on August 13, 2020, with the ceremony confirmed for Thursday, October 15, 2020.

    The winners of the Student Academy Awards will be eligible to compete for the 2020 Oscars in the following categories: Animated Short Film, Live Action Short Film, or Documentary Short Subject category. Previous Student Academy Award winners have gone on to win 11 Oscars, and receive 63 Oscar nominations, among them include: Cary Fukunaga, Spike Lee, Trey Parker, and Robert Zemeckis.

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  • 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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