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  • Recap: New York Film Academy (NYFA) at IFP Week 2018

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    This year, New York Film Academy (NYFA) was honored to help IFP Week celebrate its 40th anniversary. A leader in the independent media community, Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) champions the future of storytelling by connecting artists with essential resources at all stages of development and distribution. NYFA was a co-sponsor for the second consecutive year. The week-long event took place at IFP’s state-of-the-art Made in NY Media Center in DUMBO, Brooklyn. A leading voice in the independent film industry, IFP also runs Filmmaker Magazine and the prestigious annual Gotham Awards.

    Andrea Swift moderated an essential #MeToo panel on Saturday. The all-women panel took on difficult but necessary questions about the present and future of the industry in the wake of the #MeToo movement. The panelists discussed what needs to be done both on screen and through media activism. Filmmaker and panelist Shruti Rya Ganguly perceptively said, “The #MeToo movement is not necessarily something new, but a different way of having that conversation.”

    The #MeToo Panel at IFP Week (photo provided by IFP)

    The panel discussed the power of strong journalism and the exact role of social media. They also emphasized the importance of women of color in the aftermath of the #MeToo reckoning. Adding to that, Anne Carey, President of Production at Archer Gray said, “I would hope that the takeaway from this conversation is create a space of safety so people who feel threatened have a place to talk, push to tell the best stories with the best people telling them.”

    NYFA Producing Instructor Krysanne Katsoolis moderated the Looking Abroad panel. This panel discussed the how-to’s and why-not’s of utilizing international co-productions and tax incentives. Katsoolis has significant multi-platform experience in content creation, financing, and distribution. She has produced over 60 films and series, and has worked with Academy and Emmy Award-winning directors. Recently Katsoolis built a media venture (Liquid Media Group) with actor Joshua Jackson, which is now public on NASDAQ.

    NYFA Documentary Chair Andrea Swift (photo provided by IFP)

    In addition to panels and screenings, IFP Week presented Spotlight On Documentaries, a mix of 72 documentary features, non-fiction series, and audio stories ranging from an early financing stage to those nearing completion. NYFA Screenwriting Chair Randy Dottin’s work-in-progress film The Chicago Franchise was selected for a prestigious slot in the Spotlight. The unfinished film was produced

    Veranika Nikanava, NYFA Screenwriting Chair Randy Dottin, and Revital Iyov at IFP Week

    by Randall Dottin and Angela Tucker, and executive produced by Cynthia Kobel. After the city of Chicago tore down its high rise public housing towers in 2011, the murder rate continued to climb. The documentary explores the complicated relationship between gun violence, poverty, and residential segregation — and how they’re all interconnected.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank IFP and the Made in NY Media Center for inclusion, yet again, in such a fantastic and thought-provoking week. We look forward to IFP Week 2019!

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  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum Ilaria Polsonetti Nominated for News & Documentary Emmy

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary school alum Ilaria Polsonetti’s film has been nominated for multiple awards at the 39th Annual News & Documentary Emmys. Made for VICE News Tonight on HBO, “Libya: Intercepting Migrants” is nominated for Outstanding Editor News and for Outstanding Continuing Coverage of a News Story. Winners are announced on the first of October in New York City.

    Ilaria Polsonetti

    Ilaria Polsonetti

    Polsonetti graduated from NYFA’s 1-Year Documentary program in 2011. She is also a graduate of the 3-Month Screenwriting program, which she finished in 2013. Over the course of her career, the editor has melded her knowledge gleaned at NYFA with her M.S. in Sociology (London School of Economics). After graduating, she worked for Market Road Films, Singer Street Films, and as a freelance editor.

    A screenshot from "Dirty Oil in Nigeria"

    A screenshot from “Dirty Oil”

    Since 2015, Polsonetti has worked for VICE in Brooklyn. With the expansive and ever-growing global media brand, she has had the chance to work on urgent and political topics such as Libya’s migrant crisis and Venezuela’s anti-government protests. VICE’s increasingly diverse and critically-acclaimed documentary series’ have been an ideal place for the multicultural filmmaker to hone her skills. In 2017 alone, Polsonetti worked on “German Hotelier turns Hotel into a Migrant Center,” “Dirty Oil,” and “The Politics of Terror” in addition to the aforementioned Libya piece. Along with her work for VICE, Polsonetti has worked on “The Notorious Mr. Bout” and “First to Fall.” She was also recently editor on VICE’s Raised in the System” starring Michael K. Williams (aka Omar on “The Wire”).

    Documentary Chair Andrea Swift says of Polsonetti’s work,”These nominations don’t surprise me in the least. Ilaria has always been an insightful and diligent editor who demonstrated a unique sensitivity to the human experience. She developed a strong sense of story that is equally evident in this piece.”

    The New York Film Academy congratulates Ilaria Polsonetti on her recent success and looks forward to seeing what she works on next! You can watch VICE on HBO’s documentary on migrants in the Mediterranean below:

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  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary Alum Releases Chilling Doc “A Sniper’s War”

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Olya Schechter recently released her film, A Sniper’s War, to rave reviews. The harrowing documentary focuses on a Serbian sniper named Deki, whose anti-US views caused them to join pro-Russian rebels in the Ukrainian conflict.

    The film’s official website summarizes the documentary as “[exploring] the ambiguous morality of war when social media becomes a communication platform for two rival snipers to schedule duels in hope to kill one another between the shadows of rival superpowers.” The filmmakers were given an unbelievable level of access to the conflict’s front lines and the military bases of those involved.

    A screencap from "A Sniper's War"

    “A Sniper’s War”

    The Hollywood Reporter called the film “powerful and disturbing” with “superb cinematography.” Despite positive reviews, however, the film has generated controversy online from those who have misinterpreted the film’s message as “pro-Russian propaganda.” Its rating on audience-driven sites such as IMDB has been torpedoed with 1-star ratings. As a positive review on Film Threat points out, “Schechter tried to keep politics out of it, telling the story of a man, not the story of a war.” She gives a comprehensive (and often tragic) background to her protagonist, who could otherwise be difficult for the average audience member to empathize with. “There is a fine line between a soldier and a killer,” Deki explains.

    The pro-Russian, anti-United States sentiment of the protagonist makes for bold subject matter. The film was released by Journeyman Pictures and joins a lineup of daring, diverse pictures such as I Love My Muslim (concerning a 62-year old Muslim marrying a 33-year old Libyan freedom fighter), Pani: Women, Drugs and Kathmandu (about opioid addiction in Nepal), and Take Light (concerning Nigeria’s electricity crisis).

    In July 2018, Schechter returned to NYFA’s Battery Park campus to screen her film for students and alumni in the Academy’s 1st Floor Theatre. Chair of NYFA’s Documentary school Andrea Swift joined the audience to support her former student.

    The New York Film Academy congratulates alum Olya Schechter on a breathtaking work of filmmaking and looks forward to following her already impressive career. You can watch the trailer to A Sniper’s War below, or buy it on Amazon here.

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    September 25, 2018 • #WomenOfNYFA, Documentary Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 6131

  • Q&A with New York Film Academy (NYFA) Doc Instructor Maxine Trump

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    Maxine Trump is a filmmaker, producer, editor, and author. She is based in Brooklyn and teaches Documentary at the New York Film Academy. Her films Musicwood and To Kid or Not To Kid cover such varied topics as the state of the acoustic guitar industry and the decision to not have children, respectively. NYFA sat down with her and talked about her career as a documentarian and freelance filmmaker, as well as her new book:

    New York Film Academy (NYFA): How does the process for writing a book differ from writing a screenplay or documentary? Do you prefer one to the other?

    Maxine Trump (MT): That’s an interesting question. It’s very different, it’s a different way of talking to an audience. Although you still want to be accessible, it is more academic — no surprises there — writing an academic book.

    Maxine Trump

    Maxine Trump

    I never go for an academic voice in my films, everything should be entertaining, never educational. I tell all my students never to describe your documentary films as educational. Even the BBC has taken that word out of their mission statement. It just sounds boring, and your film will be boring generally, if it’s educational. You’re not making instructional YouTube videos, that’s a very different form of entertainment. Although I love hybrids, and being inventive with formats. So maybe there will be an amazing instructional documentary that someone will make and I’ll eat my words, but I’ve yet to see it. Werner Herzog comes close.

    Anyone want to experiment?

    NYFA: I watched your “Trumps Against Trump” short and Donald Trump was elected President shortly thereafter. How have you dealt with sharing his last name since?

    MT: That’s funny to be asked that question here, people ask me ALL the time. You know we often make documentaries to deal with something personal that we have wrestled with, even if it’s not obvious in the film we’re making. I know one famous documentarian that realized they kept making films that somehow always wrestled with a father figure. So this was my purging, I had to do something. And with all the crazy, shocking political decision-making right now, this film brings a little bit of light. Some humor, and helps me cope with my name. After all, as I’m told in the film by one great character on the street, the [guy] ruined my name.

    NYFA: You’ve covered disparate topics from the decision to children not having access to toilets to the acoustic guitar industry’s interaction with the environment. How do you decide to focus and hone in on topics that you think will make for good and worthwhile documentaries?

    MT: This is a lovely question, and one that I talk about a lot with the students. You will sit with your film for a very long time, so what are you passionate about? I’ve made documentaries with an underlying message, from the overloaded New York sewage system, to people deciding not to have children. But my films are entertaining. I don’t even like the phrase “social issue filmmaking” anymore, and I make them all the time. But, first and foremost, I think often about who might be coming home from a hard day at work and would want to turn on my film. I don’t want them to necessarily feel bad about life, I want them to feel like there is hope and be surprised and sometimes shocked and sitting on the edge of their seats and laughing, and crying, and want to see more.

    That’s filmmaking.

    Maxine Trump - Musicwood

    Maxine Trump’s “Musicwood”

    NYFA: What projects do you have coming up that people should keep an eye out for?

    MT: The beauty (and the bane) of freelance is that you’re always working, juggling about five projects any one time. But I love this life. Yesterday I was commissioned to write TV treatments for micro-docs for a TV network, today I’m talking to distributors about my latest feature documentary To Kid Or Not To Kid, about people deciding whether or not to have children. And this afternoon I’ll be pulling together casting ideas for a web series for public television that I’ve just been comissioned to make. And then, of course, I teach at NYFA. This lifestyle allows me to teach (and write) about real world examples.

    I love my flexible life, and it’s so great that NYFA supports faculty to work in this way. I think we have a really strong documentary department helmed by Andrea Swift and supported by Amanda Brzezowski, and it’s a joy to teach.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Maxine Trump for her time answering our questions and for all the hard work she does to educate NYFA’s Documentary school students. You can purchase her new book, The Documentary Filmmaker’s Roadmap: A Practical Guide to Planning, Production and Distribution here.

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    September 24, 2018 • #WomenOfNYFA, Documentary Filmmaking, Faculty Highlights • Views: 3365

  • Greenlight Women and New York Film Academy (NYFA) Screen “The Girls in the Band”

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    On August 22, 2018, the New York Film Academy and GreenLight Women hosted a screening of the film The Girls in the Band, followed by a Q&A with director and producer Judy Chaikin, and moderated by GreenLight Women chair Marion Rosenberg.GreenLight Women: The Girls in the Band

    Chaikin started in front of the camera but found that she was more interested in the exciting challenges behind the camera and set her sights on directing. Since then, she has worked consistently in film, television, and theater, winning several awards including two Cine Golden Eagles, a Billboard Best New Music Video Director nomination, nine Best Film Festival awards, and an Emmy nomination for the PBS documentary Legacy of the Hollywood Blacklist.

    Her current film, the feature length documentary The Girls in the Band, is about the unknown history of women jazz instrumentalists from the early 1900s to the present day. The film took top prizes at five film festivals including the prestigious Palm Springs Film Festival.

    Rosenberg opened up the Q&A by asking Chaikin about why she chose the topic of women in jazz: “I came from a family of musicians; my mother was a songwriter, my brothers are … both professional musicians, my sister and I both were trained musically … she played flute, I played piano and trumpet and so music has been a very integral part of my life.”

    GreenLight Women: The Girls in the BandChaikin shared that when she was 13 years old, she was in her junior high dance band as a trumpet player and experienced gender discrimination like the musicians in her documentary. She added, “I absolutely adored it, but the boys … didn’t want a girl in their band, and I was discouraged … so I gave it up.”  Chaikin later regretted this so much that she jumped at the chance to produce a documentary about other women who experienced the same thing.

    Rosenberg asked Chaikin how she typically decides on the subject matter of her projects. Chaikin replied, “When you make a documentary, you gotta know going in that you’re committing yourself to a real long process. It’s gonna be years of your life, and if there isn’t something that’s in the documentary that is so personal to you — that has such meaning for you — it’s gonna be really hard to stay with it.” She continued, “It’s [also] very important to me to know that the subject matter I’m covering has deep roots in our society.”

    The New York Film Academy thanks Judy Chaikin for discussing her compelling documentary and for sharing her advice for film school students.

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    August 30, 2018 • Documentary Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 2501