With over ten years of experience in both the communications and production industry in Jamaica, Sasha Gay Lewis set out to pursue documentary filmmaking by enrolling in the MFA Documentary program at the New York Film Academy Los Angeles. Lewis has directed, produced, filmed, edited and written a number of documentaries and commercials in Jamaica, Belize, and California.
Her most recent documentary, which was highlighted on KTLA TV in Los Angeles, is called “The Incursion.” The documentary is an immersive experience that chronicles the events of that deadly day, the emotional drama and personal trauma the residents’ endured and its lingering effects on their lives today.
On May 24, 2010, a joint police/military operation called “Operation Garden Parish” and famously known as “The Incursion” was launched in Tivoli Gardens — a Jamaican inner-city community described as the ‘mother’ of all ghettoes — to capture the notorious and untouchable drug lord, Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke. This search climaxed in a deadly clash between the security forces, residents and supporters of Coke, resulting in over 150 civilian deaths. For many of these residents, Coke was a protector and provider. He gave them jobs, created social programs for the children, and took care of the elderly.
“I was in Jamaica working as a journalist and a producer and at the time the facts about the raid didn’t add up for me,” Lewis. “The journalist in me prompted me to investigate further and the more I researched, the more I wanted to know. It is said that as a documentarian you pursue the things that makes you upset and / or curious about and this was it for me.”
Still from the documentary “The Incursion.” The Incursion examines the 2010 government raid on an inner-city community in Jamaica that resulted in the death of 150 people.
Additionally, the victims were being told that their experience was false and that they deserved what they got. Nobody deserves to experience such acts of injustice and violence. The fact that it was carried out by those whose job it is to serve and protect is asinine and a dereliction of duty.
In 2016, an inquest into the operations of the security forces revealed that the events of May 2010 left enduring physical, psychological and emotional scars on the residents of Tivoli Gardens and that although the operation of the security forces was justified, the manner of its execution by the security forces was “disproportionate, unjustified and unjustifiable.”
Director and Producer of the documentary film “The Incursion,” Sasha-Gay Lewis on location in Tivoli Gardens, Jamaica with subjects of her film.
“I would not have been able to create this documentary without coming to NYFA,” said Lewis. “I was always a storyteller, but through courses such as directing and writing the documentary, I was able to strengthen my storytelling, directing, and producing skills. This was a documentary seven years in the making and being able to workshop it for an entire year made all the difference.”
“We are living in a story driven world where stories connect and in many cases provide release and healing,” she added. “I am happy that through all the support afforded to me by the Documentary Department of NYFA, I am able to make my contribution even as I pursue my passion and what I believe to be my purpose. I could spend the rest of my life doing this.”
“The Incursion” is in the final stages of post and will be complete by the end of March 2017. The trailer will be out the first week in April 2017, and it will start its festival run shortly after.
New York Film Academy alumni Susana Matos and Javier Colon have just finished their latest film “Yo soy un Politico” (I am a Politician). The film is about Carlos, an ex-convict looking for a job where he can make a lot of money without putting in a lot of work. After discussing it with his cellmate, they decide that the only job that fits that description is governor of Puerto Rico.
The filmmaking duo presented their film at the New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus on Saturday, March 4. The film will also screen at the Chicago Latino Film Festival and the San Diego Latino Film Festival. It will begin airing on HBO starting this September 2017.
We had the opportunity to talk to both Matos and Colon after the screening to get more insight into how the film came about.
Tell us about what drove you to make “I Am a Politician.”
Susana: Javier’s first movie was titled “I am a Director.” When he produced that movie, there was an ongoing conversation about how to make a trilogy of these I am… films. The character could be a different profession every time. It could be “I am a Regueton Artist,” “I am a Doctor”… so when the election year rolled around we settled on “I am a Politician.” I wrote the first 25 pages as a draft to motivate Javier into doing the film and he liked them so we finished the script… and began working on preproduction.
Was this a collaborative effort in terms of writing and directing? Were you both writer/directors on this film or did you have different roles?
Javier: It was a collaborative effort. The Idea for this film was on the drawing board since I shot my first film I am a Director. I didn’t really want to do a sequel to that film but Susana began throwing ideas around for this story. One day she just sat down and wrote 20 something pages, I liked them so we finished the script together.
Even though I have the directing credit on the film, Susana was a very big part of the directing process and decisions during the shoot. And beside being a writer, she was one of the producers of the film.
How were you able to raise funds to produce this film?
Susana: With Javier’s first feature film “I am a Director” he got distribution from Starz, Sundance, Canal +, and Croatia. Thanks to his reputation with the 1st film, we were able to raise funds through private investors.
How did the meeting with HBO come about? Can you tell us a little bit about that process of selling your film
Susana: With the first feature, Javier acquired a sales agent. He was very interested in our future projects. In 2015 we went to Argentina for a Film Market, and we told him our idea; he loved it and signed a sales contract with us. He shopped the film around and sold it To HBO
Talk about audience reactions to the film? Is the reaction what you expected or was it different? How?
Susana: We are so pleased with Saturday’s screening at the New York Film Academy. We had a full house! It was the first time we had so many people watching the film whose first language was not Spanish and we were happy to hear them laughing.
Javier: We definitely did not expect that many people to come watch our film and laugh as much as they did. It’s a comedy with subtitles, so we weren’t sure if English speakers would understand the humor, but based on the comments we received after the screening, seems like they really enjoyed it.
What was the message you were trying to leave for the audience in this film?
Javier: When we began writing this film, we knew we wanted it to have a positive message. Susana’s favorite directors are Matt Stone and Trey Parker. In the style of South Park, we wanted to create a satire with a message. The message in I am a Politician focuses on not waiting for politicians to fix our problems. We all should be part of going out there to make a change.
What was the biggest hurdle in completing this project?
Susana: The biggest hurdle is taking on a film with a very limited amount of money. So many people helped us because they believed in us but I would have loved to pay people well for the work they put in. Which is why we always like to take the time to thank our crew and cast for being a part of this project.
What are you most proud of in this film?
Javier: The HBO sale is the first thing that comes to mind, but, also, whenever we watch a screening of the film and I hear someone laugh. It amazes me that I wrote and created something that makes people laugh.
Would you say your NYFA experience was useful in terms of being able to create this film?
Javier: I actually took a digital course in filmmaking in 2002 in New York. At that time my plan was to be an editor, NYFA help me realize that what I truly wanted was to be a director and tell stories. Im 100% sure that if it wasn’t for that small course, first I wouldn’t be in the situation that we are right now, and most importantly, I wouldn’t have met Susana
Susana: The NYFA filmmaking course helped me develop my skills as a director and for me the greatest asset was the people I met on the program. My classmates are still part of my work.
What’s up next for you guys?
We’re working on getting the funding for our next project, “Who Cares?,” a road trip dramedy with the tone of “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” Our goal is to begin pre-production at the end of this year.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Susana Matos and Javier Colon for taking the time to discuss their work. You can learn more about this dynamic duo on Facebook.
Producer CarolynHepburn from Motto Pictures, whose “Life, Animated” was nominated for an Oscar this year, screened her other huge 2016 hit, “Weiner” at the New York Film Academy’s New York theater.
Hepburn joined Motto Pictures in 2010 where she currently works as a producer and production executive. Carolyn produced “3½ Minutes,” directed by Marc Silver, which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and won the Special Jury Prize for Social Impact. She executive produced “Art and Craft,” which premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and was shortlisted for the 2015 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
In 2013, Carolyn was the line producer for two Motto films that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival: “God Loves Uganda,” shortlisted for the 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and “Gideon’s Army,” winner of the Sundance Film Festival’s Best Editing Award. Carolyn is currently co-producing Ivy Meeropol’s documentary “Indian Point,” which will premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, and “The Punch“ directed by Andre Hörmann. She is also line producing the documentary “Life Animated,” directed by Roger Ross Williams. Prior to joining the Motto team, Carolyn produced a wide range of documentary projects for WNET, National Public Radio, and the United Nations as well as innovative experiential media for Spark Productions.
“Weiner,” by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, is about Anthony Weiner’s campaign for Mayor of New York City during the 2013 mayoral election. At first his campaign is going well, with many New Yorkers willing to give him a second chance, putting him near the top of a crowded field. However, the mood shifts when his online sexual activity resurface, including explicit text conversations with women that occurred well after his resignation from Congress.
Following the screening, Hepburn followed took part in a well-loved, intimate master class with the documentary students.
Students from both current conservatories, and the 6-week workshop as well as several grads and faculty were privy to the private screening and conversation in NYFA’s new state of the art theater.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Carolyn Hepburn for time and wisdom.
The Berlin International Film Festival is underway, and we’re thrilled to see New York Film Academy Los Angeles Fulbright student Pedro Peira is Executive Producer of the documentary film “Soul,” which will be screening at the festival this Sunday, Feb. 12 and Monday, Feb. 13.
The Spanish documentary, from filmmakers José Antonio Blanco and Ángel Parra, focuses on Eneko Atxa, a three Michelin star chef who runs a restaurant complex near Bilbao in the Basque region. His exploration of the “soul” of cooking has him traveling to famous colleagues in Catalonia and Japan. Throughout the documentary, some of the most relevant personalities of international gastronomy such as Michael Ellis, manager of the Michelin guide, or Joël Robuchon, the chef with the most Michelin stars in the world, take us into the secrets and the vicissitudes of a profession based on effort, which is continually being reinvented and requires huge sacrifices.
“What I’ve mainly learned from NYFA is to be able to tell stories,” said Peira. “Of course I’ve learned about image and sound, which are also important, but being able to include some kind of drama in a story stands out above the rest. As a matter of fact, during the final editing process of ‘Soul’ I would call the director while he was editing the film and, after watching the cuts together, he applied what I was discovering at NYFA. I think is has helped the film.”
“Even though I’ve just finished my first semester at NYFA, I’ve felt an evolution in my work,” added Peira. “When I arrived, my approach to documentary was an informational one. After screening my final project of the semester, I felt that I had started to be able to generate emotions. When people laugh or cry when watching your films, you know you have been doing something right.”
For tickets and more information on “Soul” and its screening at the Berlin Film Festival, CLICK HERE.
The world of fashion gathered at Cipriani 42nd Steet for the Fashion Group International’s Rising Star awards, which included the Oscar-winning actress Whoopi Goldberg, who delivered the keynote address and some comic relief for the up-and-coming talent.
The Rising Star awards focuses on celebrating emerging forces in fashion, beauty and related industries for their creativity and vision. This year’s Menswear prize was awarded to former New York Film Academy student Peyman Umay.
After designing for high-end brands in Europe and the U.S., Umay founded Peyman Umay brand in 2011 offering luxury men’s made-to-measure clothing, by appointment only. Within two years, through his passion, hard-work and colorful agenda; Peyman created a loyal clientele by combining his fashion design background with unique services that no other brand does. Realizing the need and not being able to resist the consistent demand, He launched women’s made-to-measure line in 2013 and finally men’s ready-to-wear collection in 2015, opening the first Peyman Umay retail store in Aspen, Colorado. Having recently penned his first book, the New York based designer shares his secrets in “Dressing Well” that will be published soon.
“I’m truly honored to win this award from an organization that has such an impact in the fashion industry,” said Umay. “This is such an amazing acknowledgement, a significant milestone for me because getting here wasn’t easy at all. I had nothing but pocketful of dreams when I first moved to the U.S. People called me ‘dreamer’ but I was the one who never slept. There were some people though who were present during all of my struggles, who witnessed everything I went through, which is why they know more than most as to how much this award means to me. I’m so grateful and I will never take this award granted.”
Umay’s bespoke line has stirred quite the celebrity buzz, due to his impeccable eye for detail. His clientele includes actors Mickey Rourke, Jeremy Piven, singer John Legend, Dave Diehl of the New York Giants, CBS evening news anchorman Scott Pelley, celebrity chef Todd English, Ryan Serhant from “Million Dollar Listings,” Sonja Morgan from “The Real Housewives of NY” and a host of other affluent people of the U.S. Peyman Umay has been featured in TV shows such as “Design Star,” “The Real Housewives of NY”, “Million Dollar Listings” and “The Celebrity Apprentice.”
Upon graduation from Acting for Film at NYFA, he has been in four movies, two short (“Capital Inferno” and “The Cabin”) and two feature movies (“Fairy Tale of New York” and “Ask Uykusu” [Turkish]) all of which are in post production at the moment. His first feature movie is being released on March 17th, the second one on May 19th of 2017.
Abingdon Theatre Company presents the world premiere of “The Mother of Invention,” a new play by New York Film Academy Documentary Story instructor James Lecesne, who is an Academy Award, Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics Circle Award-winner. Ranked by the NY Times as “among of the most talented solo performers of his (or any) generation,” Lecesne has shared the screen with Robert Downey Jr., Ian McKellan, Claire Danes, Holly Hunter, the Sex in the City cast, Anne Bancroft, and many others. He has also shared the stage with Angela Lansbury, James Earl Jones, and many others.
Performances are set to begin January 28, prior to an official press opening on February 9, at The Abingdon’s Theatre (312 West 36th Street). Artistic Director Tony Speciale, who also directed “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” is set to direct.
When Dottie Nerber’s son and daughter arrive to pack up the contents of their mother’s Florida home, their conflicting memories of her collide. As the siblings unpack family secrets, they must separate fact from fiction and are forced to question the narratives of their own lives. James Lecesne’s new full-length play is an unflinching and comedic look at how one family deals with the effects of Alzheimer’s. It asks why we tell the stories we do about the people we love, and how we live with those stories after they’ve been debunked.
Concetta Tomei, best known for her roles on TV’s “China Beach” and “Providence” and on stage in “The Elephant Man” (opposite David Bowie) and Sarah Ruhl’s “The Clean House,” leads the cast as Dottie Nerber.
Joining Ms. Tomei are James Davis (Broadway revival of “The House of Blue Leaves,” Soho Rep’s “We Are Proud to Present…”), Dan Domingues (INTAR’s “Locusts Have No Kings,” The Civilian’s “The Great Immensity” at The Public), Angela Reed (Broadway’s “The Country Girl” and “The Rainmaker,” and national tours of “War Horse” and “Spring Awakenin”g), Isabella Russo (Broadway’s “School of Rock”), and Dale Soules (“Orange is the New Black,” Broadway’s “Hands on a Hard Body” and “Grey Gardens”).
The creative team includes Jo Winiarski (Scenic Design), Daisy Long (Lighting Design), Paul Marlow (Costume Design), Christian Frederickson (Sound Design), and Jerry Marsini (Props Design). Deidre Works is Production Stage Manager.
“The Mother of Invention” runs January 28-February 26: Tuesdays-Saturdays at 7:30PM; plus matinees Saturdays at 2:30PM and Sundays at 2:00PM (with the following exceptions, no matinees January 28-29) at Abingdon Theatre Company’s June Havoc Theatre (312 West 36th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues).
With a record number of Academy Award nominations, “La La Land” is certainly the talk-of-the-town. Recently, GQ provided a behind the scenes with “La La Land” star Ryan Gosling at a photo shoot at the Gellért Thermal Bath in Budapest.
Two New York Film Academy Documentary alumni had their hand in the video, as both Susi Dollnig and Nina Thomas work at the post-production company House of Trim, which provided the post-production for the video. Dollnig was the Colorist and Thomas was the Assistant Editor on this specific video.
House of Trim is a boutique post-production facility located in the heart of NYC. The team consists of a collective of talented editors, motion graphics artists and color graders who specialize in feature films, commercial campaigns, documentaries and branded content. Dollnig has been working at the company for about four years as a Colorist, and Thomas joined the company in October 2015 as an Assistant Editor, and recently started taking on editing jobs as well.
Both Dollnig and Thomas often does post-production work for GQ Magazine and for the Condé Nast group.
The historic Pony Express was only in operation delivering the mail for about 18 months, from April 1860 to October 1861, and was never routed through Arizona. Llike the original riders, the Hashknife Pony Express members are sworn in as official representatives of the U.S. Postal Service to deliver the mail along the route from Holbrook to Scottsdale, Arizona.
Over three days, each horse and rider takes multiple one-mile legs, passing the mail bag from rider to rider, often at full gallop.
NYFA students Claudio Duek, Steve Estrada, Eva Luna Marini and Alejandro Talens and NYFA LA Documentary Chair Barbara Multer-Wellin split into teams to capture the action along the route. The film was edited by NYFA alumna Michelle Flores and mixed by Instructor John Sisti of the NYFA LA Sound Department.
After four years as a middle school teacher, CJ Ferroni noticed his students would often have laser focus when watching a documentary on a subject he was teaching. His fascination with documentaries and the production process that goes into each project grew exponentially until the point where decided to pursue the field as a potential career. His passion led him to study at the Documentary Program at the New York Film Academy and he is now an alumnus of the program working as an Associate Producer at NBC.
As Associate Producer, Ferroni has worked on season 8 of the true crime doc-series, “Disappeared”; a 6 hour documentary pilot series called “Reasonable Doubt” about current wrongfully convicted people in the process of exoneration; and a 4 hour doc series called “SEAL Team 6,” chronicling the history of the now infamous SEAL team.
We caught up with the former school teacher to find out more about his career change and his current position at NBC!
Once you decided on pursuing documentary filmmaking, what made you chose the Documentary Program at NYFA?
I chose the documentary program at NYFA after spending four years as a middle school teacher. As a teacher, I often used documentaries to supplement lessons. Students had laser focus when watching a documentary on whatever subject we were learning about, and I found them to be great tools in the classroom. Prior to teaching, I was always amazed at how many names were in the credit reels of films and just how much man (and woman) power went into making a 90 minute piece of content. I was fascinated by the filmmaking process, specifically documentaries, but didn’t have any hands on experience. I had stories I wanted to tell and believed that the visual medium is the most effective form of story telling today, so I needed to put some tools in my tool box. That’s where NYFA came in. They stood out to me among various film schools around the country because of their intensive hands on curriculum, a faculty of real filmmakers, and a strong network of employed alumni.
How did the Associate Producer position at NBC come about?
This position came about like most do in my experience, good timing and word of mouth. Your reputation and the networks you create as you climb the production ladder are everything. This is a big city but nonfiction filmmaking is a small world. Work hard, show up early, be nice, and be fun to work with and you are already more hire-able than most people.
Was NYFA’s Doc program useful in terms of getting the job?
NYFA’s Doc program was definitely useful in getting hired by NBC. If I look back at the path that I took from graduation to right now, everything stemmed from the bridges built at NYFA. Also, through classmates’ critiques and my successes and failures at NYFA, I have a foundation of experience and confidence in my abilities as a storyteller that I use every day.
Was NYFA useful in terms of what you’re currently working on at NBC?
NYFA gave me technical skills with editing software, cameras, lighting, and sound that directly apply to every job I’ve had since graduation, including my current job. Obviously, I don’t do all of those things at NBC, however, the knowledge of those areas helps me understand the needs of those departments, and helps me communicate, write, and plan shoots efficiently and accurately. Anyone who has been through the doc program at NYFA has also been taught the importance of having a good story. The ability to structure and portray a compelling story is everything in this line of work. The last thing I want to mention is planning. NYFA taught me how to plan my own shoot, figure out what gear I want to use, what crew I want to work with, and how to effectively write a call sheet. I had no idea how often I would be writing call sheets after graduation…
Which specific projects at NBC are you most proud to have worked on?
I think the project that I’m most proud to have worked on at NBC is a 90-minute documentary on Alexander Hamilton. It was a great experience in the field. We shot at different museums and historical houses around NYC with a crew of 75 people, and an additional 17 actors. I also had the chance to do some camera work and meet and interview some incredible authors, CEOs, politicians, and popular journalists. I had a big role in planning every aspect of those shoots and it was a lot of fun… plus, we didn’t break anything in the museums.
Is there a specific project that you’re currently working on that you’d like to share?
Currently, I’m working as an Associate Producer for season 5 of the doc-series “Deadline Crime” with Tamron Hall. We are investigating the unsolved murder of a 12-year-old boy, Garrett Phillips, that made national headlines from 2011-2016.
Jonathan P. Shaw with NYFA LA Chair of Documentary Barbara Multer-Wellin
On Wednesday, Jan. 6th, Jonathan P. Shaw presented his documentary “Finding Noah” for students at the New York Film Academy Los Angeles campus. NYFA LA Chair of Documentary Barbara Multer-Wellin hosted the evening.
Shaw has balanced a career between documentary and narrative. He is best known as an editor. His greatest hits include “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey”, “Blue Velvet,” “Twin Peaks,” and “Disneynature: Wings of Life.”
His latest project, “Finding Noah,” which he produced, wrote, and directed, is an intense documentary following a scientific exploration into the whereabouts of the fabled ark.
Shaw was raised Catholic and has been fascinated by the story of the ark for years. He traced the history throughout different religious texts and oral histories. Multer-Wellin wanted to know how Shaw towed the line between controversy, faith, and telling the story.
Before he left, Shaw had one final piece of advice for students, “I really feel blessed to do all the projects I do. It’s not like it’s not a struggle. Going freelance there’s a risk. But I’ve been able to maintain a marriage for 37 years and send two kids to college. My advice to you is just keep on going.”
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Mr. Shaw for taking the time to speak with our students. “Finding Noah” is now available for rent on Amazon Video.