New York Film Academy is pleased to present Academy Award winner, Jonathan Demme, with a retrospective of his documentary films in the special Fall season of Thom Powers’ “Stranger Than Fiction” screening series every Tuesday night through Nov. 1 at 7:00pm at IFC Center. Just last night Demme screened The Agronomist.
Famous for block-buster movies like his Oscar-winner, “Silence of the Lambs,” Demme then essentially left Hollywood for New York, and for documentaries (though he has directed a couple of fiction films since).
Esteemed Toronto Film Festival and DOC NYC programmer, Thom Powers, and Raphaela Neihausen programmed this exclusive Stranger Than Fiction retrospective series. Here they present a short season of extremely rare screenings of some of the rock docs and social protest films that helped form decades of American counter-culture. Simultaneously fun and powerful, every single film programmed is a must see.
Photo shows from Left to right: Ivoree Myles, Rachael Pelzer, Andrew Linga and Barbara Multer-Wellin
Alumni from the New York Film Academy Los Angeles Documentary Film program gathered at the G2 Green Earth Film Festival for the screening of a film they made on a NYFA expedition to Belize in 2015. The Green Earth Film Festival, sponsored by G2 Gallery in Venice, CA, seeks to gather filmmakers of all experience levels—from seasoned industry professionals to students— to come together and share, screen and discuss their eco-conscious films with like-minded individuals.
The NYFA entry, FREYA, tells the story of a subadult loggerhead sea turtle that was rescued after a shark attack left her with a partially severed front flipper. The film documents Freya’s recovery and eventual return to the open sea. Freya is the first loggerhead sea turtle tagged by satellite telemetry in Belize. One year later and she is still being tracked by Seaturtle.org. Director, Rachael Pelzer, cinematographer/drone cinematographer/co-director, Andrew Linga, and co-director, Ivoree Myles were all present at the festival along with LA Documentary Chair, Barbara Multer-Wellin.
Each year, MFA, BFA, One-Year and Two-Year photography students, as well as MFA and One-Year documentary students are invited on a one-week exotic trip. This year the New York Film Academy Los Angeles headed on an exotic excursion to the Dominican Republic. The team was led by Documentary Chair Barbara Multer-Wellin, Production Sound Instructor James Coburn IV, and Photography Instructor David Blumenkrantz. Joining their instructors were documentary students Guangli Zhu, Carolina Sosa and Yuan Li, as well as photography students Brenda Cantu and Ziomara Ramirez.
Along the trip, Ms. Multer-Wellin kept a log of this incredible journey that captured the exotic landscape and culture of the Dominican Republic.
September 16, 2016
We left Los Angeles at 11:00 PM, switched planes in New York and arrived in Santo Domingo the next afternoon. We spent the rest of the day getting acclimated and renting some lighting and grip equipment from a local rental house. Afterwards, we had dinner at an oceanside restaurant, as a huge orange Harvest Moon rose in the sky.
After a quick stop at a local cambio to change dollars into Dominican pesos, the NYFA team started filming the streets of Santo Domingo. The team began at the ruins of the Monastery of San Francisco, built in 1503. Walking through the local streets we filmed street vendors, performers, painters, young couples, an evangelist, domino players, and a trio of musicians playing Merengue Tipico — the traditional form of the Dominican national dance and music.
Since we’re here to make a documentary about Merengue, this was a great stroke of luck. Dinner was at a restaurant in Santo Domingo’s China Town. Our two Chinese team members, Guangli and Yuan, were able to speak with the owners in Chinese, although their dialects were not the same. Somehow, in a mixture of Spanish, Chinese and English, we managed to order a real feast.
Today was all about challenges and overcoming them. Our NYFA crew was scheduled to interview the noted Dominican percussionist and folklorist Edis Sanchez at his new apartment. But we soon discovered that Mr. Sanchez had yet to move in, so the apartment was empty (luckily he brought his drums and some chairs). We were able to film a great interview with available light and a single bounce board.
That evening we filmed an outdoor Merengue concert and dance party with the band Grupo Bonyé at the ruins of the San Francisco Monastery, first built in 1503. We hope to interview the band’s leader, Señor Nestor Sanchez, later this week, a great addition to our documentary about the importance of Merengue in the Dominican Republic and just maybe our reward for hanging in there.
By our third full day we had adjusted to the realities of filming here in Santo Domingo. Traffic on weekdays rivals Los Angeles — it just takes more time than you think to get anywhere, even with the expertise of our driver/new friend Victor. We spent the morning filming more establishing shots for the opening sequence of our documentary, including the first cemetery built in Santo Domingo; a haunting and eerily beautiful place full of crosses, angels and a few stray dogs. Next were a flower/flea market, the Presidential Palace and an upscale residential area. This is a city of stark differences between the way the rich and poor live, like most cities. We spent the afternoon at the Palace of Fine Arts where we were fortunate to be able to film the fantastic dancers from the Ballet Folklorico Nacional Dominco as they rehearsed three Merengue pieces. One couple demonstrated the basic steps of Merengue for our cameras. Tomorrow, an interview with Elizabeth Crooke Morel, Director of Ballet Folklorico Nacional Dominco, and Nestor Sanchez, from the great band that played at the concert at the ruins of the San Francisco Monastery.
The New York Film Academy LA documentary crew began the day back at the Palace of Fine Arts in Santo Domingo to interview the Director of the Ballet Folklorico Nacional Dominco, Elizabeth Crooke Morel who told us more about the elements of the dance Merengue. After a quick stop to film more establishing shots in a shopping area in the city, we all piled back into the van. Soon we arrived at the home of musician Nestor Sanchez. Señor Sanchez spoke movingly about the history of Merengue and the profound meaning it holds for the Dominican people.
Students from the New York Film Academy Los Angeles Documentary Filmmaking program recently had the opportunity to hear Werner Herzog speak as part of the International Documentary Association’s ongoing Conversation Series.
Herzog is one of the most celebrated and influential documentary filmmakers of our time. His documentaries range from Little Dieter Needs to Fly, a film about a German-American Vietnam War vet who revisits his place of capture at the hands of the Vietcong, to Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a look inside one of the oldest caves in the world and the study of how early man lived. Herzog’s documentaries never fail to provoke profound questions about human nature. Other notable works include Into the Abyss,Encounters at the End of the World, On Death Row, Rescue Dawn, Grizzly Man, and The Enigma of Casper Hauser.
Herzog encouraged the audience to “have a strong affinity or respect for those in front of your camera” and to aim to “take the audience into a land of rogue insight and poetry.”
MFA student Guangli Zhou said, “’I just wrote an essay about him a couple weeks ago. I’m in front of him right now. It’s an awesome experience.”
MFA student Camilla Borel Rinkes wanted to thank Herzog for, “sharing your inspiring stories and for motivating me to keep broadening my horizon.”
It was quite an honor to take part in the 73rd Venice International Film Festival. The exclusive New York Film Academy Showcase at the VIFF began with a Q&A between NYFA Florence Program Director, Diana Santi, and NYFA alumnus, Giorgio Pasotti, who attended a Filmmaking Workshop in 2003. Pasotti has acted in numerous well-known Italian films, including Paolo Sorrentino’s Academy Award-winning film “The Great Beauty.”
Held at the Venice Production Bridge platform at the Spazio Incontri of Venice’s Excelsior Hotel, Pasotti discussed his overall education at NYFA, which he described as an amazing learning experience.
“It was more useful to study 8 weeks at NYFA in NY than the years I’ve spent studying and watching movies,” said the Italian actor. Pasotti used the skills he learned from NYFA to direct his debut film, “Io, Arlecchino.”
Following the Q&A, the festival screened five NYFA student and alumni films that included two live-action shorts, two animated shorts, and one documentary short.
After the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, thousands of kids went to the streets and became targets for organizations of child traffickers. These kids were traded like livestock. “The Life of Janka” is a fictional story of two brothers who go through such an experience.
Set in the mid-1920s, a frustrated sound composer works as one of the first sound engineers in the history of cinema, and happens to be madly in love with the main actress of the production. On the day he decides to finally declare his love to her, he finds out about an affair going on between her and the director. The discovery drives him crazy.
In Limpopo, South Africa, the village grannies lace up their soccer boots and start kicking their way down the field — and through centuries of oppressive taboos. They play serious soccer and then break into the laughter and traditional song that help fuel their singular struggle for decent lives and a league of their own.
“The Perfumist,” by Yukari Akaba, Shannon Lee, Daniela Lobo Dias, Sandra Rivero Ortiz (animation)
“The Perfumist” is a dramatic story highlighting the battle of Machine-Equipped Man against Cosmic Nature. Seeking the perfect scent for his perfume, Benedict Malville runs into the consequences of trampling on sacred, natural ground.
A short animated story of the day in a mom’s life of raising her young child. While the child tests the mother’s patience, there is a final moment of relief after the mom reveals her secret oasis within the confines of the home.
Following the screenings, director Sean Miyakawa spoke in-depth about the making of his original film, “Fumo.”
Additionally, “The Life of Janka” director of photography Leandro Mouro spoke about his cinematography on Luis Henriquez Viloria’s film, shot in Haiti.
The prestigious Venice International Film Festival will continue to run until September 10, 2016.
One of the more successful films to come out of the New York Film Academy in recent years is Lara-Ann de Wet’s documentary short, “Alive and Kicking.” Her film has screened at numerous film festivals, including SXSW, Brooklyn Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival, and Docs NYC, where her film won Jury Prize for “Spirited Storytelling.” Next up, de Wet will be taking her film to the 73rd Annual Venice Film Festival, where it will screen with four other NYFA short films.
“Alive & Kicking” is a triumphant story about elderly African women who have taken their health and happiness into their own hands by taking up the game of soccer. It is a story that celebrates the fact that even against the harsh and desolate realities of their lives, living in extreme poverty and crime, and surrounded by death and disease, these African grandmothers are able to create a joyful space whereby they can celebrate being alive and physically able. Not only that, but through the love and guidance of their coach Jack, and Founder Mama Beka, these grannies run and kick their way down the soccer field more impressively than most young people in their community.
“More often than not we are often only given the unfavorable social and economic statistics of what life is like in rural Africa or South Africa without any documented account of the culture and vibrancy often found within the rural communities,” said de Wet. “Being South African, there are so many wonderful stories that have yet to be told and need to be brought to the world stage.”
De Wet says her film also celebrates the African women as being a pillar of strength in their society as well as the importance role exercise and community can play as a means to deal with physical or mental illness.
Alive & Kicking Trailer from Lara-Ann de Wet on Vimeo.
“My NYFA Doc experience was invaluable in terms of equipping me with the skills and insight I needed to direct this film,” said de Wet. “Prior to my one year conservatory course in documentary filmmaking I had never in fact made a film before, as I had been working in a management role at a brand consultancy. The course not only taught me the technicalities of shooting, editing, producing and directing, but more importantly the elements and critical thinking behind what makes a good story; and how to convey that to an audience. Doing the one year documentary course at NYFA may have been the most worthwhile investment I have ever made and, considering this film was my thesis film, I attribute nearly all I have learned to my training at the New York Film Academy.”
De Wet continues to work as a freelance editor and producer on other documentaries. She is also in the process of applying for funding to make a second film about surf therapy in South Africa.
“My goal is to continue to direct and tell stories that shine a light on African Culture,” she says.
One of the more enticing aspects of the New York Film Academy’s short-term programs is the fact that students can learn an artistic craft that may be outside of their main creative focus. As for NYFA Documentary grad Justin Young — who joined the program with such a strong background in music — the 6-Week Documentary Film Workshop was exactly what he was looking for. Faced with a hectic schedule of touring as a musician, Young was able to gain the knowledge he’d hope for within the time frame of the short-term program.
Young, who is very well known in the Hawaiian music scene, has released several albums to date. He’s also toured with his girlfriend Colbie Callait, as well as Gavin DeGraw.
We had a chance to catch up with Mr. Young before heading off on another US tour with Colbie called The Malibu Sessions Acoustic Guitar.
What made you decide to join the New York Film Academy Doc program?
I’d been trying to find another creative outlet, besides music, for a while. Always loved non-fiction form of storytelling — books, radio programs and of course documentary films. The fact that NYFA offers a 6-week course was really appealing. I could totally immerse myself and see if it was something I wanted to pursue without the long commitment.
Were there any films or influencers that made you decide to learn documentary filmmaking?
There have been so many. As a kid, I remember watching Hoop Dreams many times and wanting to find more movies like that — not knowing exactly what documentaries were. Later, Capturing The Friedmans was one that totally floored me. More recently, a movie like Keep On Keeping On, that really shows some beautiful human connections made me want to contribute something like that to the world.
How would describe your overall experience? What did you achieve or produce during your time at NYFA?
It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. It was really bittersweet when the program ended. We got a lot of info and tools jammed into the first week and then were sent out to make things. Personally, I learn best this way and with no filmmaking experience, this really shortened the initial learning curve for me. It also bonded all of my classmates. We all became very close and still keep in touch and joke of a reunion someday. I also felt like the teachers took the time to get to know us and help us individually, meeting us wherever we were in our filmmaking.
You have a very strong background in music — do you have any ambitions to bring your musical background to a film or documentary project?
Definitely, plan on doing some scoring for some of my own projects. I think that’s something I can uniquely bring to the table – and it helps with the budget!
How did your relationship with Colbie Caillait come about?
We met through mutual friends in the LA music scene 10 years ago. Shortly after that, Colbie asked me to join her band and I became her guitarist and eventually Music Director. After a few years of working together we started dating and are now engaged. It’s great to be able to travel and work with your best friend.
Can you tell us about this current tour / publicity (Billboard Live, Rolling Stone, etc.) w/Colbie for GOLDMINE?
We’ve been out and about promoting Colbie’s new single, Goldmine, which took us to The Today Show and performances at Billboard, Rolling Stone and Paste, to new a few. We are doing a US tour in October called The Malibu Sessions Acoustic Tour. I’ll be opening the shows with my own set, as well as playing with Colbie.
Any personal meaning behind the song? Or do the two of you have a personal favorite song?
I wrote and produced one song on her new album entitled Runnin’. It’s about her struggle to adjust to life on the road, and on stage, and finally finding a comfortable place to be with it.
With social media being the force it is, where do you see the future of music going for you and other artists?
Hard to say. Things are changing so fast for all of us creative people. It is important to stay up on the latest ways to share your work and engage your fans. But really I think what doesn’t change is people will always crave real stuff. Express something that’s honest and truthful and there will be an audience for it.
New York Film Academy Los Angeles Documentary Department Chair Barbara Multer-Wellin is producing a documentary, Orchestrating Change, on an orchestra made up of musicians with mental illness who are combating the stereotypes their illness carries. We spoke with Multer-Wellin about what drew her to this project, and what she hopes people will learn after watching.
Tell us a little bit about your film.
The documentary is being co-produced and directed by me and Margie Friedman. We’d been friends and colleagues for a long time and were looking for a project to work on together when we heard about the work of Me2/Orchestra. Ronald Braunstein, a Juilliard-trained conductor, whose spectacular career was derailed by his diagnosis with bipolar disorder, started Me2. He and his wife, a career orchestra administrator, have created two (and soon to be more) orchestras made up of musicians with mental illness and those who support them. Their mission is to combat the kind of stigma Ronald and so many other people living with mental health diagnoses have faced.
Barbara Multer-Wellin, Corey, and Margie Friedman
Most independent documentaries take a long time to produce because so few projects can obtain full financing up front. We’ve been filming Me2 for about a year now and that has given us the opportunity to document the growth of the orchestras and how much the musicians have gained from participating. Me2 is working towards a performance at a major concert hall that we hope will be the finale of the film.
I have to thank New York Film Academy for allowing me the flexibility to shoot in Boston and Burlington, Vermont on various days over the last year. I believe our students benefit because I, like so many of our Chairs and Instructors, am able to keep making work as well as teaching.
You can learn more about Me2/Orchestra and Multer-Wellin’s documentary, Orchestrating Change, by clicking here.
As a strong advocate in raising awareness about environmental issues, former documentary student Gary Bencheghib has recently set out on a unique voyage to combine his two passions: the environment and documentary filmmaking.
Beginning in 2009, Bencheghib founded Make A Change Bali, an organization to raise awareness about environmental pollution and sustainable waste management. The platform was also used to distribute a miniseries to promote the official release of his New York Film Academy thesis film, The Reclamation, which will soon be a 40-minute documentary set for release in early 2017.
“NYFA completely changed my life in giving me the best formation imaginable on the entire filmmaking spectrum — from shooting to editing and producing,” said Bencheghib.
The two initial episodes of the series have reached over 3 million people after having been pirated by different sources in Indonesia. The miniseries was covered by CNN, Rolling Stone, and various international media outlets, while also helping to increase the official petition against proposed artificial islands in South Bali by 20,000 signatures.
His latest project, Recycled Mississippi, is an ambitious project in which he attempts the first ever zero-waste expedition by traveling one of the world’s longest and most polluted rivers on the “ioco,” a boat made from plastic bottles and recycled materials.
The expedition team is made up of 6 environmentalists: expedition leader Dan Cullum, who has been leading ‘recycled expeditions’ on kayaks made from plastic bottles in New Zealand for the past three years; filmmaker and producer Gary Bencheghib; the Swiss Engineering duo includes Livio Knori, the Captain of the vessel and responsible for the overall design and build of the boat ‘ioco’ and Hannes Stauffer, responsible for the woodwork and mechanical componentry of ‘ioco’; and American adventurers Sebastian Engelhart and Zander Hartung.
The international team will be producing a 40 minute documentary about their expedition and the people and communities along the river that are working to protect and preserve it. Their journey commenced in Minneapolis, MN on the 19th of June and will finish at the end of August at the Gulf of Mexico.
“This project has by far been the biggest I have undertaken to date,” said Bencheghib. “The expedition, on many levels, has been an experience of a lifetime, filled with amazing encounters. The river people who we have met along the way have been a testament to the deep care people around the world have for our planet.”
The film, Mississippi Recycled, should be released in early 2017 and will be made freely available to students and teachers worldwide as an environmental platform to living a more sustainable life.
Students from New York Film Academy LA’s Documentary Department are given student memberships to the International Documentary Association and frequently attend IDA screenings, workshops and events. In July, they attended the kick-off of the Summer/Fall season of the IDA Conversation series with Academy Award®-winning director Roger Ross Williams. Williams was the first African American director to win an Academy Award for his documentary short Music by Prudence, about a severely disabled but extraordinarily talented African singer. Williams’ s latest film, Life, Animated, was just released in theaters on July 1st. The film tells the inspirational story of Owen Suskind, a young man who was unable to speak as a child until he and his family discovered a unique way to communicate by immersing themselves in the world of classic Disney animated films. Life, Animated won the prestigious U.S. Documentary Directing Award at this year’s Sundance Festival and is widely expected to be nominated for the Oscar.
NYFA students really took note when Williams discussed how he made his film, God Loves Uganda, a searing look at the role American missionaries are playing in the persecution of homosexuals in that country. Uganda has become the prime destination for American missionaries who proselytize heavily against homosexuality. As a gay man, Williams said he “thought about following the activists — brave and admirable men and women — who were fighting against these policies. But I was more curious about the people who, in effect, wanted to kill me.” He described how he was able to gain access to one such evangelical group, The Call, without denying his own truth or dissembling in any way.