Documentary Filmmaking
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  • The Girl Next Door

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    Andrea Picco

    Andrea Picco

    With 5 years of college education and some work in television and media, Andrea Picco was looking for a school that focused on the hands-on experience and not just theory. “I first enrolled in the 4 week digital filmmaking class just to see how I would like the school and if it really was what I was looking for,” said Andrea. “The very first day we were already out shooting! Those 4 weeks were the longest of my life. I wrote, directed, casted and shot 2 short films and a short documentary. In the process, I learned everything about digital cameras, film vocabulary, menu setting, lenses, proper lighting, F-stops, etc.”

    After finishing the documentary, Andrea decided to enroll in the one year documentary class. “Looking back, I know it was the right decision. New York Film Academy is a place where you can become a filmmaker within a year – if you take it seriously and work hard. It is no nonsense. The equipment they provide is great and updated. The staff is very helpful and friendly. The Head of the Documentary Department, Andrea Swift, is absolutely amazing, passionate and inspiring. We had producers, filmmakers, production companies and even Discovery Channel executives come to our classes. Our thesis editing supervisor was Bob Eisenhardt.”

    While enrolled in the One Year Documentary Class, Andrea Picco knew she wanted to produce her thesis film on a story related to human trafficking. After filming a promo video for a non-profit in 2008, she met a woman who was a survivor of human trafficking. Andrea shortly became friends with the woman and was soon on her way to Ohio to film what would become her thesis film.

    The Girl Next Door is a story of redemption and empowerment.”When you first hear about ‘Human Trafficking’ you usually think it only happens overseas in 3rd world countries, but we don’t usually think about American kids and teens.” The film tells the story of how Theresa survived two years of sex trafficking in the suburbs of Detroit and how she overcame her past to became an abolitionist.

    Andrea’s film has been to four film festivals and has won two awards. She plans to turn her short film into a full feature. Andrea is also planning to start filming a documentary about the human trafficking business in Corona, Queens. As Andrea says, “Great stories are easy to find when you keep your heart and eyes open.”

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    February 26, 2013 • #WomenOfNYFA, Documentary Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 6406

  • The Square Premieres at Sundance

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    Congratulations to Mohamed Hamdy, New York Film Academy Documentary graduate and Cinematographer of the much anticipated, The Square, which premiered at The Sundance Film FestivalThe Square, a new film by Jehane Noujaim, looks at the hard realities faced day-to-day by people working to build Egypt’s new democracy. Catapulting us into the action spread across 2011 and 2012, the film provides a kaleidoscopic, visceral experience of the struggle. Cairo’s Tahrir Square is the heart and soul of the film, which follows several young activists. Armed with values, determination, music, humor, an abundance of social media, and sheer obstinacy, they know that the thorny path to democracy only began with Hosni Mubarek’s fall. The life-and-death struggle between the people and the power of the state is still playing out.

    In February 2011, Egyptian, particularly young one, showed the world the way people demanding change can drive an entire nation to transformation. The result was a profound movement toward democracy that is still evolving across the Arab world.

    Hamdy shot over 500 hours of the Tahir Square revolution as he lived it, and ended up the Cinematographer of Jehane Noujaim’s new documentary made from inside the Tahir Square revolution by young Egyptians who were (and still are) part of it.

    “Aside from Hamdy’s excellent cinematography, my favorite thing about The Square is that it is about and by people who lived it – and are still living – the revolution,” said NYFA Documentary Chair, Andrea Swift. “Hearing their voices, rather than that of third party reporters, makes this the most immediate and important accounting of the one seminal events of our century. Not to mention, it’s the best.”

     

     

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  • Documentary Meets Performance Art

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    Committed to showcasing diverse artistic expression, Dance New Amsterdam (DNA) presents CABULA6, an internationally acclaimed performance and film company known for its unique hybrid approach to choreography. CABULA6 will present the US premiere of The Angola Project, a three-part series that includes the world premiere of the trilogy’s final chapter, XIN– Heart of the Matter. The Angola Project masterfully combines the worlds of performance and filmmaking by taking audience members on a very personal journey of the co-artistic directors’ real-life attempts to finance a film and confront the fear of mortality. Performances are November 7-10 (Parts 1 and 2) and 14-17 (Part 3). All shows are at 7:30 p.m., with one additional performance of Part 3 on November 17 at 3:00 p.m.

    Created by New York Film Academy Documentary Professor, Jeremy Xido, Claudia Heu, and Igor Dobricic, the trilogy begins with Xido’s captivation of Lisbon’s sunset-timed gas lamps and growing idea for a film (Part 1: Lisbon); he finds himself collecting historical tidbits, experiencing random encounters and conducting a slew of interviews with the people he meets there. Part 2: Angola, delves deeper into Xido’s quest to construct a film script as he travels to Angola along the Benguela Railway. Xido—the sole onstage performer in this entire series—must carefully navigate the minefield of international film financing, constantly reconfiguring his script and feature film pitch accordingly.

    Parts 1 and 2 premiered at the Impulstanz Festival in Vienna in 2010, earning acclaim for the creators’ ability to seamlessly blend verbal narration, image and video to create thrilling and novel choreography. The world premiere of Part 3: XIN – Heart of the Matter, is a work-in-progress of the creators’ experiment to produce a disastrous failure, with the hope of discovering something true and valuable among the ruins. Part 3 further investigates the convoluted nature of storytelling, global travel, colonial history and shifting notions of home in today’s age of poly-cultural, mash-up identities. Film footage, spoken lecture, spatial manipulation and use of elements will continue CABULA6’s truly innovative and hybrid approach to choreography.

    “DNA encourages our performing artists to delve deeply into different creative mediums to convey their work most effectively,” says Artistic and Executive Director Catherine Peila. “DNA’s artistic vision not only supports that ideology but also makes it a reality for the artists we present, commission and train. Dance represents our visceral need to engage. Today we find more dance artists looking to create even greater connections through hybrid forms.  CABULA6’s The Angola Project represents conceptual and performative innovations of the movement artist’s exploration and their on-going attempt to fully engage us in their process.”

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    November 9, 2012 • Documentary Filmmaking • Views: 4102

  • Italy’s ‘Clio Make Up’ Shoots in New York

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    Reality television has caught on all over the world and Italy is no different. One of its popular shows Clio Make Up on Discovery Italy recently finished shooting its second season. In the second series, the famous makeup artist Clio Zammateo continues her journey into the wonderful world of cosmetics. This time from New York City. In each episode, Clio shows two women how to apply makeup in a professional manner, erasing the small imperfections and creating the perfect look for a special occasion.

    This past season, New York Film Academy Documentary graduate, Marco Vitale was Media Manager of the popular Italian show. Marco wrapped production on the second season on July 2nd of this year. “It was my first TV experience and it was awesome,” said Marco. “I had the chance to work closely with the director, Angelo Vitale, who directed the first 5 seasons of Big Brother in Italy and many others TV shows.”

    While living in Italy, Marco was in search of a prominent documentary school in New York City. Though uncertain of New York Film Academy‘s Documentary program in the beginning, Marco was convinced to join the program by Documentary Chair, Andrea Swift. “I decided to apply for the One Year Documentary Program and after a year since graduating, I’m quite sure that it was the best decision of my life.”
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  • NYFA Filmmaker Nominated for Student Academy Award

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    Documentary Filmmaker Nancy Hanzhang Shen is in charge of New York Film Academy’s Chinese Social Media and works as a liaison with Chinese colleges. Her latest documentary film Why Am I Still Alive was a finalist for the US Student Academy Awards®2012 and Winner of Best shorts Documentary Festival 2012. The film has screened at the Academy Theater at Lighthouse International in New York City, White Sands International Film Festival 2012, and the China International Education Fair on Cultural & Creative Industries Exhibition. The film is currently screening at New York City Independent Film Festival 2012.

    Here are just a few words of appraisal from respected industry professionals:

    • “What a beautiful, heartbreaking film. Exquisitely done, and my heart aches for the film’s subject.”— Ilene Starger, member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
    • “The film is a wonderful piece of work. It deserves to be really widely seen.” —Tom Hurwitz, ASC Four Academy Awards for Best Full-length Documentary
    • “You didn’t give up! That is what it takes to be a filmmaker. You are only one person and you can and will make a difference.” — Maryann Deleo, ACADEMY AWARD winning filmmaker (Chernobyl Heart)
    The NYC Independent Film Festival will screen the film at the Producers Club on Sunday, Oct 21st, 2012.
    The Producer’s Club is located at 358 West 44th Street New York, NY 10036 (Between 8 ave and 9 ave.)
    For tickets and more information, click here.

     

     

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    October 17, 2012 • Documentary Filmmaking • Views: 4611

  • Brazilian Women Rock Behind the Cameras

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    Gabriela Egito is a New York Film Academy alumna living in Los Angeles, with a Masters in Film from Brazil. She has three short films running the festival circuit worldwide, with two winning prizes, all produced during NYFA’s filmmaking program in 2011. In addition to doing Brazilian outreach at NYFA, she writes a blog called Brazilian Girl in L.A. about her cinematic adventures in the U.S.

    2012 Hollywood Brazilian Film Festival winners Clarissa Campolina and Sara Silveira with the festival jury

    According to a study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, women make up 24% of all directors, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on domestically-produced feature-length films appearing at top U.S. film festivals. Does that sound low? In fact, it is substantially higher than the 16% of women who worked on the 250 highest-grossing films last year. But to the south in Brazil, the reality is quite different. Despite lacking official statistics on gender issues, judging by the films selected for the Hollywood Brazilian Film Festival, held early this month at the Egyptian Theater, women are rockin’ behind-the-scenes in Brazil.

    Of the 22 films screened at HBRfest, 17 have women in one or more key-positions. The feature-length winner, Swirl (Girimunho), was directed by film making partners Clarissa Campolina and Helvécio Marins Jr. Interestingly enough, three other films in competition were also directed by couples – men and women sharing the command on set. Director Clarissa Campolina doesn’t see these partnerships as unusual, saying, “We are all friends. Some of us attended film school together. We don’t think much of gender –we are all filmmakers.”

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    June 21, 2012 • Academic Programs, Documentary Filmmaking • Views: 6393

  • The Art of Impact with James Lecesne

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    James Lecesne is an Academy award winning filmmaker, teacher, and philanthropist. It’s been an exciting time for James with a Tony nomination for The Best Man and soon after that receiving the role of Dick Jensen opposite James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury. However, we especially commend James on the release of his book The Letter Q, a passion project conceived to inspire the youth of America and to raise proceeds for The Trevor Project which he had founded in 1998. We had a chance to speak with James about his inspiration for the book and his teaching at the New York Film Academy. He also shared key insights into the craft of storytelling and how the industry landscape has changed for LGBTQ artists. Don’t forget to get connected with Mr. Lecesne on Twitter and learn about his impact in the arts.

    What was the inspiration for The Letter Q? You’ve already contributed so much to LGBTQ youth, and this book seems to be a continuation of your work with the Trevor Project. 

    Two years ago Dan Savage launched the phenomenally successful It Gets Better Project as a way of spreading the word to young LGBT and Questioning young people that the Trevor Project is there for them 24/7. As the only nationwide suicide prevention and crisis intervention helpline for LGBTQ youth, our organization receives over 30,000 calls a year. Not all of them are rescue calls, but each call establishes a life-to-life connection with a young person who is asking important questions. We provide an ear to listen and the encouragement to be who you are. The idea for the The Letter Q came from Sarah Moon, my co-editor. When she was a teenager, she was lucky enough to be surrounded by adults who shared their stories and their wisdom with her – sometimes in the form of letters, and as she says, “It didn’t seem quite fair to me that I should have been the only teenager to get wonderful letters to carry around.” Soon after coming up with the idea, Sarah approached me about not only writing a letter to my younger self, but also donating a portion of the royalties from the sale of the book to the Trevor Project. Together we compiled a wish-list of authors and began to write to them, ask them, stalk them. The book seemed to fit so perfectly with my own desire around that time to provide young people with tools to help them get through their difficult years. We had been exploring ways to help young people “make it better” right now. And the minute Sarah proposed the idea for the book, I knew we were on our way.

    Has your teaching at NYFA helped inspire your work in some way? Reading the bio on your website, teaching plays a strong role in your career. What are the most important lessons you impart to your students who aspire to make it in film and theatre industries? Have students ever surprised you with their insights in the art and craft of telling stories?

    Teaching is a way to not only give back some of what I’ve learned, but also a way for me to continue learning about story. Storytelling, in any form, is hard work; it requires honesty, courage, craft and above all determination. But it can also be a mysterious and mystical experience, a means to enlarge and enlighten not only the storyteller, but the audience as well. For each of us, it happens differently, the idea comes in the form of a hunch, a worry, an inkling a fear, or sometimes as a fully formed brainstorm; but however it happens it always arises out of something that we happen to believe. We might not be able to articulate what it is exactly, but something in us knows, something in us feels for a truth that we need to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt.

    James as featured in the New Yorker.

    Stories are the blueprints of our passions told in code, the urge of something within our selves that is itching for resolve, the reliable and readable map of our beliefs. Leif Finkel, a professor of bioengineering at UPenn, once wrote: “Our cortex makes up stories about the world and softly hums them to us to keep us from getting scared at night.” I’m no professor of bioengineering, but I heartily agree. Of course, a good story does more than that. Stories hum not only for ourselves, but for our audience as well; their song transforms the muddled and often conflicted experiences of living in this troubled world into something valuable and enduring for us all; they are the means by which we can pass our wisdom along to future generations. The results are always surprising, or at least they should be.

    What are your thoughts on representation in the media regarding the struggles that independent filmmakers face as sexual minorities? How do you see the industry landscape for LGBTQ artists? Has it changed at all since you started as a young artist compared to the present day?

    When I was a teenager, the world was a very different place. I grew up without ever hearing the word homosexual spoken, I didn’t know a single gay person, there were no role models to whom I could look for encouragement or guidance. One of the great accomplishments of the LGBTQ community is this idea that we are not just here for ourselves. We have a responsibility to pass along our history and our pride to the next generation. Young people who are struggling and coming up in the world should not have to figure this out by themselves. Of course, there is still a ways to go in terms of achieving equality. Look to places like Uganda, South Africa, Russia, and Iran. Or right here at home to see what happens to certain people when they express themselves fully. But as Kate Millet, the revolutionary feminist recently pointed out —- gays and lesbians have achieved so much in a matter of mere decades, while women have been struggling for centuries to change things. To hear the President of the United States declare that the love of gays and lesbians is equal to that of their fellow (heterosexual) citizens, is certainly proof to me that the world is changing. More change is possible — and needed.  And I believe that by encouraging people to tell their stories, teaching them how to do it in the most exciting and engaging way, it will make for a better world.

    James with Daniel Radcliffe for The Trevor Project.

    To learn more about the Documentary Filmmaking program at the New York Film Academy, click here.

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    June 11, 2012 • Community Highlights, Documentary Filmmaking • Views: 5424

  • International Documentary Association Hires Rocio Mesa

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    Sabine Sighicelli is the Chair of Documentary Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy, Universal Studios campus. A documentary writer, producer, director, and associate producer, she has worked in the documentary field for 12 years for National Geographic Television, AMC, Foundation for World Arts, UCLA Intercultural Center, Women Make Movies, Museum of Jewish Heritage, and Home Planet Productions. Her award-winning documentary The Passionate Life of a Father Painter aired on PBS/KCET in 2001. Her film about composer Robert Een, Be Warned! is featured in the DVD collection of the Foundation for World Arts. She recently completed principal photography on her feature documentary “Breaking in Two, sponsored by Women Make Movies.

    Rocio Mesa determinedly pushes her cart packed with equipment down the New York Film Academy hallway. Dressed in her usual 50’s attire and cat eye glasses, she is heading to West Hollywood, where she will film Ondi Timoner (Sundance-winning director of Dig! and We Live in Public) and Marina Zenovich (Director of Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, among many others) at the International Documentary Association Doc U event. Rocio graduated from the One Year Documentary Filmmaking program in December 2011. “My parents were afraid about my future in the US because I was doing really well in Spain. They didn’t want me to be working as a waitress just to reach the American dream,” she confesses. But waitressing doesn’t seem to be in store for Rocio in this lifetime.

    I introduced her to Amy at the International Documentary Association (IDA) – one of the most prestigious documentary organizations – and  soon after, Amy called me to tell me she and everyone at the IDA were so impressed with Rocio that they had decided to hire her as the producer, director, and editor of the Doc U series for the IDA’s Youtube Channel and archives. These events bring together some of the most highly sought-out people in the non-fiction industry. She also manages the department in charge of taping all IDA-related events. This is no surprise to me or to Rocio’s instructors, since she’s always taken the bull by the horns, and accomplished more in a year than most students are able to do in two!

    Rocio grew up in the Spanish town of Granada in Andalusia. She received a BA in Communication from the University of Seville in 2005, then went on to test her skills on several documentaries, commercials, and TV shows before landing a job on one of the most acclaimed TV shows in Andalusia, about traditional Spanish folk music. Her career was off to a good start, yet her real dream was documentary storytelling.

    She came to the New York Film Academy thanks to the Talentia Grant – a grant given exclusively to promising professionals by the Government of Andalusia. It was immediately clear in the One Year program, that Rocio was a high-performing student. From her character film, Almon Loos, the Rocking Barber, to her social issue documentary, Traffic in LA Sucks! (selected for the Burbank International Film Festival) to her One Year Final Documentary, Orensanz, the portrait of an illustrious Spanish artist who lives in a synagogue, Rocio has stamped every film with her unique vision.,Right after graduation, she was off and running: an internship at Interloper Films, Ondi Timoner’s production company; a job at the IDA; freelance editing gigs with various clients; directing gigs for Meltdown Comics and the web series Authentic Los Angeles… If the project stirs her interest, she will take it on.

    Last but not least, she’s currently our new favorite editor in the post production department, where, among other things, she has completed the editing of the documentary student reel, and a behind-the-scenes of the Young Storytellers Foundation’s collaboration with the New York Film Academy teen programs. Rocio will be with us until she returns to her native Spain. We cherish every moment we still have with her!

    To learn more about the Documentary Filmmaking program, click here.

     

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  • Five Viral Videos That Changed the World

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    Andrea Swift is the department chair of Documentary Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy’s New York City campus. She has written, directed, and produced many projects, having been awarded the Scriptapalooza TV Award, Silver at the Chicago International Film Festival, a DGA award, and many others. Her PBS Documentary “In the Life” was nominated for an Emmy three times.

    Has a viral video ever really changed the world? Even a little bit? How?

    As the latest crew of NYFA Docsters begin their first cyber film, I am once again updating my list of must-see viral videos for them to consider. It’s always a tricky list to compile, and even trickier to narrow down. YouTube’s greatest hits make a good starting point. In at least one key respect, they clearly “worked.” Hundreds of millions of people have watched and shared Charlie Bit My Finger and The Evolution of Dance. There’s something to learn there, and something to learn from Waka, Waka (This Time for Africa) and other uber viral music videos.

    Perhaps virally successful corporate advertisements have even more to teach. Somehow the makers of The Force, for example, got well over 50 million of us to willingly watch a Volkswagen commercial without the pay off of “real programming” around it. And then they got us to “share” it with to our friends. That’s an even higher bar to clear. Yet they did it.

    However, the real Holy Grail for us social documentary types is the movie that changes the world – at least a little bit. Not an easy feat. If it was, everyone would do it. Still, I propose that there are several viral videos, mostly micro-docs that have managed to pull it off.

    5.)  Crush on Obama: This one’s been on the cultural radar for four years now. In their combined incarnations, Obama Girl videos have scored over 120 million views.  And while it seems silly, many in the mainstream media have identified Crush on Obama as a key influencer in the 2008 elections, and beyond. Perhaps the greatest take-away for aspiring viral game-changers is its success as a “meme.”[1]  In fact, in 2010 Newsweek named the video the #3 biggest meme of the decade.

    Elaborating, The New York Times wrote, “That video probably had more to do with shaping Obama’s complicated public image — young and exciting but maybe a bit shallow — than any Internet appeal devised by the candidate’s own aides.”

    I have to admit it’s especially warm in my mind because its director is upstairs teaching a Viral Video class for the Doc students right now. On the other hand, he’s there because it was already warm in my mind.

    4.)  Susan Boyle – Britain’s Got Talent: This micro-doc pulled from a television show, tells a great, authentic story that makes the cyber world laugh, cry and share again and again. For the viral doc-maker, I´d say the major take-away here is story. As the old adage goes, “a great story, well told” is pure gold in any medium. And a great, well-told, cyber-sized, underdog fable hits our biological “share” button like one of those little rubber reflex hammers.

    Granted the first chapter of this particular viral video-making story is luck.  Well-produced luck, I would argue, but still, luck. Even so, her performance would have been a tree that fell in the woods had the producers not met that lucky occurrence with the skill to recognize it, shoot the story beats as they happened, and then carefully recreate them so their audience could experience the moment as if we were in the room the moment it’s going down. Even with all that, however, it would have been a tree that only fell on British TV if someone hadn’t excised the exact arc of that perfect cyber-sized story, uploaded it and set it free to spread itself through our socially networked cyber psyche.

    But what game did it change? It certainly didn’t help elect a president. Someone who’d been marginalized was laughed at and then became an international star. Her game certainly changed, but more to our point, the whole pop culture game changed with it – just a little bit. That story shamed us for the initial pejorative response we probably shared, at least a little. And it opened our hearts and minds to the possibility that a woman who is not young and not so physically attractive could still be worth listening to, could even have a place in the modern Pop Pantheon. It´s hard to measure the exact impact of that change, but by integrating Susan Boyle into our pop iconography, our collective-self image grew just a little more complex, and ever so slightly less scornful.

    Susan Boyle's viral video

     

    3.)  Playing for change, “Stand by Me: This little documentary is my all time favorite viral share. “But that’s a music video,” you say? It is. It’s also a micro documentary.  I only argue this about the original Playing for Change video, Stand By Me. The others really are just music videos. Good music videos, but still, just music videos. “Stand by Me,” on the other hand, tells the story of the making of itself, and consequently the story of the project and its meaning. That’s what lifts it out of the realm of simple music videos and into the arena of viral micro-documentary.

    More importantly for this list, I argue that in rhythmic, gentle ways that are difficult to quantify, that musical documentary changes the world by changing us.  It tells a story that moves us – both emotionally and physically – which helps it work its simple meme deeper and deeper into our consciousness: all our divergent, wonderful cultures can play together and when they do, our global jam session can become transcendent.  We aren’t “others.” We make magnificent music together.

    And being a story with a great beat, and a meme we can sing along with, Stand by Me can reinforce that change, and inspire its propagation, over and over again.

    2.)  KONY 2012: Scoring over 100 million views in less than a month and spawning spin-offs and backlash videos which have generated almost as many views themselves, it is easily the viral video story of the year. Like Zietgeist before it, KONY 2012 demonstrates the incredible power of the web to spread ideas and create movements, along with its absolute lack of controls for testing a video’s validity or veracity before allowing its entry into this burgeoning engine of our collective consciousness. On the other hand, it also demonstrates the new, highly democratic forum that, if stimulated, creates a remarkable after-the-fact control for both the validity and veracity of the memes we launch into cyber space.

    That video’s career also demonstrates the power of simplicity in this realm, as well as our potentially ruthless response to being initially taken by a video what we then start to feel is a gross oversimplification, propaganda or self-promotion. Personally, I found the later pre-arrest video of Jason Russell almost as heartbreaking the original video. Yet I have to confess to feeling a teeny, tiny wave of schadenfreude as well. But why?

    There was an almost classical Greek symmetry to this flash tragedy playing out before our cyber eyes. Here a well-meaning hero sets out to save the world. But his hubris taints his self-told tale with just enough reckless oversimplification and self-aggrandizement that its instant mega-success breeds a near immediate aftershock of denunciation. And the laceration of that backlash wounds him so intensely that it sends our hero out onto the street, naked and beating the ground, seemingly driven mad by the extremity of his near simultaneous fame and mass rejection.

    It’s a cautionary tale for would be viral world-savers. However, read carefully, the story of the KONY 2012 video, can also light the way for making cyber media that matters. I rate it an unparalleled success, though perhaps not in the exact form its maker intended. April 20th will not find me graffiti-ing in favor of increased military support for a regime that now kills people for being gay; nor wheat-pasting in support of American military adventurism in Africa.

    But it did get us talking about KONY and the Jacobs of the world.  It did get young America interested in the mass kidnapping, rape and forced soldiering of children in central Africa. It did create an atmosphere that led the ratings-driven American media to devote the kind of airtime to the human toll of central African turmoil that it usually reserves for freeze-frames of Lindsey Lohan’s underwear, or purported lack thereof.

    So regardless of how many people hit the streets on April 20th, it’s already changed the world – a little bit. It could arguably have changed it more and more lastingly, and caused significantly less pain to its maker, if he had been a little more careful with his facts and little less certain that he knows best for Africa. But the equivalent of one in three Americans listened to Russell’s idea for a full 30 minutes, shared it, and spent an hour or two considering it, arguing about it, telling other people. And as a culture, we decided, at least, that what happens to children in Uganda, matters to us.

    1.) It Gets Better: You may remember that in 2010, American news reported four gay teen suicides in rapid succession. Each boy had clearly acted in response to relentless bullying. Trying to form a response, the nation could only seem to mutter inchoate disapproval.

    Meanwhile two men, Dan and Terry, decided that they had to reach out the hundreds (maybe thousands) of other teens who were experiencing similar fates. The men sat on their couch, in front of their home video camera, making a low quality, YouTube message-in-a-bottle for those kids. In it, they just shared the stories of their own terrible, humiliating experiences being bullied as teenagers, and about the thriving lives they have built since. With their stories, they offered the simple hope that “it gets better.”

    Well, the rest is history, that video tore around the internet spawning countless replications and morphing from a simple, unassuming offer of hope into a national rallying cry for reform. Hollywood, the Secretary of State, even the President stood up to be counted in their own, It Gets Better videos. And reform we did. State after state and school district after school district has changed its laws and policies. Anti-gay bullying is no longer simply swept under the rug of the collective cultural consciousness, with a “kids will be kids” wave of the hand. Like any other form of violence, it is now a crime.

    This one changed the world, in obvious ways – both political and cultural.

    And the big take away? For me, there are a few. One is that the law of unintended consequences is turbo-charged in cyber space. Set an idea free in the wilds of that vast neural network and there’s no telling what it will do. But the nature of your initial offering is crucial. It may replicate and morph and go places you never could have guessed but all of that will be defined by the essential nature of your meme. In this case, the voice of that selfless, authentic, first person “true” story carried throughout the entire movement it spawned and moved people to truly change themselves, and thus to change their policies.

    So what do you think? Have I convinced you that viral video can change the world – a little bit? Which videos would be on Your Top 5 list?


    [1] When Richard Dawkins coined the word meme in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, he wanted a word like gene that conveyed the way in which ideas and behaviour spread within society by non-genetic means. Since then the word has been picked up to describe a piece of information spread by email or via blogs and social networking sites. A meme can be almost anything—a joke, a video clip, a cartoon, a news story—and can also evolve as it spreads, with users editing the content or adding comments. Common collocates in the Oxford English Corpus are spread, pass, and transmit: as with the Internet sense of viral, meme uses the metaphor of disease and infection.

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    April 2, 2012 • Documentary Filmmaking • Views: 2886

  • Evelyne Binsack: Defeating Mt. Everest and Reaching New Heights

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    Evelyne Binsack Rock ClimbingDocumentary student Evelyne Binsack was already a celebrity before attending New York Film Academy. In 2001, she became the first Swiss woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world. She also spent four months crossing Antarctica to reach the South Pole. She is the author of Expedition Antarctica and Steps on the Edge, and has been featured in a number of documentaries about her adventures. She speaks 3 languages and is also a helicopter pilot. Until our interview, she didn’t know that she had been named as Switzerland’s fourth most famous person – not bad, considering the poll included musicians, politicians, and movie stars!

    Evelyne said she discovered her love of the outdoors in her native Switzerland. “A friend of mine took me to the mountains near home. I fell in love and thought that’s what I want to do: [be] outdoors having adventures.” At the time, Evelyne was a runner competing in the 800 and 1500-meter dash. “That was something very different — fighting against each other. In mountaineering, you’re fighting together. You can’t fight against each other. That’s something that impressed me, the contrast.”

    Evelyne found New York Film Academy’s 1-Year Documentary Filmmaking program years later. “I was Googling in Europe,” she said. “Everything was three years for film programs, or… [very short] crash courses. What can you learn in one week? I decided to come here. I really enjoy the program… but as a country girl, it’s [hard] being in the city. Here, people live for the weekends, and Monday they feel like [crap]. Friends in my country don’t have this attitude. Most of my friends do what they love. They risked things to do what they love and they’re more happy. To see that people are just working for money, it hurts somehow. Take more risks and be passionate for what you do!”

    Despite the urban setting, Evelyne says she has already learned a lot in her first few months of school. “[Documentary instructors] Wendy Apple and Reuben Aaronson are great. They’re all fabulous. They have [a lot of] experience and it’s great to listen to them!” she said. She has already been putting her new knowledge to work as well. She explains, “I’ve been giving [lectures] for 10 years, and that’s how I make my income, but I didn’t know why some stories [wouldn’t] work. For my speeches it’s very helpful to know about structure and character arc. It helps me to understand why one story is good and why another story doesn’t work.”

    Evelyne admits to missing her adventures, saying, “I don’t like the word addiction, but somehow I’m addicted to the mountains and to climbing. I’m part of nature. If I’m not part of nature, I feel empty. It hurts.”

    After finishing the Documentary Filmmaking program at the end of the year, Evelyne will return to Switzerland, where she will plan for her next big adventure. “I want to traverse from Alps, cross the Caucuses, and find out stories about the sacred mountains of the Himalayas.”

    Check out a recent feature on Evelyne Binsack that aired on Swiss television, and get a behind-the-scenes look at New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus!

    Evelyne Binsack Alps

    Evelyne Binsack Summit

    Evelyne Binsack Swiss Alps

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