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  • Netflix Streams Two Short Films by New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alumni

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    In the interest of promoting social issues and international diversity, Netflix has curated a series of six films from Saudi Arabia, including two shorts by New York Film Academy (NYFA) alumni, Mohamed al Salman and Meshal Al Jaser. The series of six Saudi films is entitled Six Windows in the Desert and was made available last month in 190 countries.

    six windows in the desert
    The release is part of an extended effort by Saudi Arabia to expand its cinema culture. Last year, a feature film by NYFA alumni
    made history by becoming the first Saudi film to screen in a professional theater in Jeddah since the nation lifted its 35-year-long ban on cinemas in 2018. With Six Windows, Netflix aims to  “shine a light on thought-provoking subjects with a focus on social themes.”

    One of the films in Six Windows in the Desert is the 2019 short 27th of Shaban, written and directed by Mohamed al Salman. The film follows two characters–Mohammed and Nouf–who go on a date, an act prohibited in Saudi Arabia. “It’s a simple love story in a very unique and complex culture,” says al Salman of his film. al Salman first attended NYFA’s 1-Year Filmmaking conservatory last fall. 

    six windows in the desert

    Cinema is just starting in Saudi Arabia,” he adds, “and I thought we have too many stories in the 2000s that were never told, which I remember vividly. I thought it’s interesting to tell and watch ourselves in the past, especially in a time where the Saudi society is changing considerably.”

    Is Sumiyati Going to Hell? is another of the six films in the series, directed and co-written by BFA Screenwriting alum Meshal Al Jaser. The film tells the story of a maid named Sumiyati through the perspective of a family’s youngest child; Sumiyati previously won Best of the Month at the 2017 Gold Movie Awards. Al Jaser, who studied at NYFA’s Burbank-based campus, was recently nominated for the Grand Jury Prize for Best Short Film at the Sundance Film Festival for his film Arabian Alien.

    Six WIndows isn’t just a major spotlight for Saudi films, but for short films as well. Arab News quoted NYFA MFA Filmmaking alum Abdulelah Al-Qurashi, who described the new series as a great opportunity for short films, “because we usually don’t see them. Short films are usually displayed at festivals.”

    six windows in the desert

    New York Film Academy Filmmaking alum Sultan Al-Salami, who worked on Is Sumiyati Going to Hell?, is thrilled to see Netflix recognize Saudi cinema. “Saudi has a massive amount of talent,” he tells NYFA, before rattling off a list of Saudi directors, producers, and writers, including Sara Alnawasra, Mississippi Ibrahim, Bader Alhomoud, Mahmoud Sabbagh, Haifaa al-Mansour, Malik Nejer, Ali Kalthami, Abdulaziz Alshlahei, Khaled Fahad, Hana Alomair, Dina Naji, Nawaf Alshubaili, and, of course, Sumiyati writer and director Meshal Al Jaser.

    New York Film Academy congratulates NYFA alumni Mohamed al Salman and Meshal Al Jaser on their success and encourages everyone to check out their films as part of Six Windows in the Desert, currently available on Netflix.

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    March 17, 2020 • Film School, Filmmaking, Screenwriting, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1874

  • Award-Winning Director & Cinematographer Liz Hinlein Joins New York Film Academy (NYFA) As Creative Director of Filmmaking & Cinematography

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) is delighted to announce the addition of award-winning director and cinematographer Liz Hinlein to our faculty as the new Creative Director of Filmmaking & Cinematography. Over the course of her career, Hinlein has made a name for herself in a traditionally male-dominated industry as a passionate, talented filmmaker and director of photography whose work has spanned the fields of feature film, advertising, music video and VR/AR/XR.

    Born in Philadelphia and educated in the Quaker school system, Hinlein earned her MFA in Cinematography from the American Film Institute and her BFA in Film & Television from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Hinlein’s debut feature film, Other People’s Children, earned several awards on the film festival circuit—including Best of the Fest at the Columbia Gorge International Film Festival and Best Director at the NYLA International Film Festival—and is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime and iTunes.

    Liz Hinlein

    NYFA Filmmaking & Cinematography Creative Director Liz Hinlein

    Hinlein’s wealth of experience and passion for innovation makes her a perfect fit for New York Film Academy, which boasts a diverse and international student body from over 120 countries. With the film industry hungrier than ever for filmmakers and visual artists from every background, Hinlein will be an invaluable asset to NYFA Filmmaking and Cinematography students looking to express the world their stories in their own ways.

    “Stepping in to my new role as Creative Director of the Film and Cinematography departments at New York Film Academy is an exciting new challenge,” says Hinlein. “My vision is to elevate the departments and expand their reach as a dynamic creative hub for creators, filmmakers, and visionary thinkers in New York. We’re building a meeting ground where students and the creative community can nurture ideas, collaborate, and learn from one another. NYFA’s Film and Cinematography departments are a refreshing win-win for students and the industry alike.”

    Hinlein has been at the forefront of a rapidly-evolving visual medium. Recently, her VR film for Byton Auto was nominated for Best Branded Entertainment/Commercial at the 2019 CES VR Fest. In 2018 she directed Accenture’s VR film, Behind the Style, winning that same award. Most recently, Hinlein spent time China writing and directing The Dream Factory, a series of seven epic branding films for the prestigious Sichuan Film and Television University, using Google Translate to navigate her way through the country. Currently Liz is in pre-production on OSAGE ’85, a groundbreaking immersive documentary experience. 

    In television, Hinlein was selected for the DGA DDI TV Directing Program, the Sony Diversity Program and the Viacom Diversity Program. Her visual expertise comes from a background of directing commercials and music videos for top brands, including Dove, Lifetime, Revlon, Gillette, Maybelline, A&E, and MAC Cosmetics. Additionally, Hinlein has created films for superstar musicians such as Mary J. Blige and Britney Spears, and has been commissioned to photograph Quincy Jones, Incubus, and Fishbone. 

    Hinlein’s success in multiple fields also reflects NYFA’s commitment to combating gender inequality in the entertainment/media industry by educating and training more women to fill important roles on film and television sets. With a student body that is nearly 50% women, one of Hinlein’s first initiatives as Creative Director will be to form a NYFA Film Femme Club, where students can come together to inspire genuine conversation, encourage self-confidence, collaborate to create healthy media, and establish platforms that empower women to generate a positive impact on the entertainment industry.

    New York Film Academy looks forward to the exciting energy and ideas filmmaker Liz Hinlein will share with our Filmmaking and Cinematography students!

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  • ‘Trauma Therapy’ Screens at New York Film Academy (NYFA) With a Special Q&A

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    On Friday, January 17, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted the creative team behind the thriller Trauma Therapy. NYFA producing student Oksana Chester moderated the event.

    Trauma Therapy

    The panel included producer and Head of International Sales at Glass House Distribution, Michelle Alexandria; writer, actor, producer, and Head of Acquisitions at Glass House Distribution, David Josh Lawrence; director and writer, Tyler Graham Pavey; award-winning director of photography, Pascal Combes-Knoke; and actor and musician, Chase Coleman. 

    Following a screening of the film, Chester opened up the Q&A by asking writer, actor, and producer, David Josh Lawrence, “What made you want to write this film and was it hard for you to allow people to change your vision of the film?” 

    Lawrence shared, “Tom Malloy and I wrote it together. I was watching I Am Not Your Guru, which is supposed to be a documentary, but it’s more propaganda to sell Tony Robbins tickets. So I thought, before Tony Robbins was Tony Robbins, who was into him and what kind of things was he teaching. So we took a character like that and gave him a more sinister thought behind what was going on. That was what started it.” 

    In regards to allowing other people to change his vision, Lawrence stated, “The film is told three times. It’s told on the page, then it’s told in production, then it’s told in editing. You do have to let go of what the film once was because of finances and things getting cut.” He continued, “Things change from your original idea and trusting the people that you are with to make a decision that will not affect the film in a negative way is very difficult thing, but it’s one of those things where you do what you can to make sure that the story stays true to what you started off with.” 

    When asked about what piece of advice the panelists wish they knew before they started in the industry, Combes-Knoke expressed, “Take risks and pursue the projects that are more meaningful as opposed to the money. Specifically when it comes to cinematography, try not to get complacent with something you know is going to work. Try new things, use new tools, try different lenses you’re not comfortable with, because you’ll find happy accidents.”  

    Trauma Therapy

    Chester then opened up the Q&A to the student audience. One student asked, “Since you guys are independent, how involved are you in each step of the process?” 

    Director Graham-Pavey shared, “It really depends on the relationship with the individuals. The more you trust the people doing the job, the more they’re telling you as opposed to you telling them. I think every project is different, but in this one I did a cut of the movie then turned it over and they finished it up nicely.” 

    Combes-Knoke added on, “Tying all this together, a majority of directors I’ve worked with would shoot every shot for every angle for the entire scene because they don’t know what they want, and Tyler was great about knowing what shots he wanted—and frankly we couldn’t have made the film in any other way. We had such a short schedule to shoot all those pages out.” 

    To close off the Q&A, the panelists were asked what keeps them motivated. Coleman replied, “Getting to see how I created something that affected people in a great way. That’s what’s so fun and amazing about creating art and creating change in front of someone. When it inspires them to do something better with their life, that’s what keeps me motivated.” 

    When asked what advice moderator Oksana Chester wished to impart on her fellow NYFA students, she shared, “My biggest advice to anyone new to this industry is don’t be afraid to meet new people, or go to different events, or apply for internships. If you want the world to know who you are and see your talents then you must be the one to take those hard, first steps to show the industry why you’re here and why you matter.”  

    New York Film Academy would like to thank the creative team behind Trauma Therapy for joining us, and sharing their expertise with our students.

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    February 28, 2020 • Film School, Guest Speakers • Views: 2069

  • New York Film Academy Cinematography Alum Shoots Awkwafina’s Award-Winning Film ‘The Farewell’

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    The Farewell Qianying Zhou & Anna Franquesa-Solano

    NYFA Alumni Qianying Zhou & Anna Franquesa-Solano

    The Farewell, the multiple award-winning drama-comedy film starring Awkwafina, was shot by director of photography and New York Film Academy Cinematography alum Anna Franquesa-Solano, with BFA Filmmaking alum Qianying Zhou working as 1st Assistant Camera.

    Both Solano and Zhou started their journeys from outside the United States. Solano originally hails from Spain and attended the 1-Year Cinematography conservatory at NYFA’s New York campus in 2010. Zhou, who enrolled in the 1-Year Filmmaking conservatory at NYFA’s New York campus in 2010 before continuing her studies in the BFA Filmmaking program at NYFA-Los Angeles, is from China.

    I believe in order to grow, you have to step out of your comfort zone,” Franquesa-Solano tells NYFA. “My first big leap was moving to New York without even speaking English in order to study cinematography. A few years later I challenged myself again by shooting The Farewell, a demanding project that came with a lot of responsibility. These two have been so far some of the most important decisions of my career.”

    The Farewell Anna Franquesa-Solano

    NYFA Cinematography Alum Anna Franquesa-Solano

    These decisions have paid off, both for Franquesa-Solano and for the beautifully-shot film. The Farewell was a Grand Jury Prize nominee at Sundance before earning numerous nominations and awards, including nominations for Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes and BAFTA Awards and, most recently, winning top prize at the Independent Spirit Awards for Best Feature.

    The Farewell tells the story of a Chinese family who decide not to tell their grandmother she is dying, scheduling a wedding to bring the family together before she dies. The film was written and directed by Lulu Wang and stars Awkwafina, the Queens-born rapper, comedian, producer, writer, and actress who has steadily risen in fame since appearing in films like Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians. Her dramatic talent in the film earned her numerous nominations and awards as well, including a Golden Globe win for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

    New York Film Academy congratulates 1-Year Cinematography alum Anna Franquesa-Solano and BFA Filmmaking alum Qianying Zhou on the success of The Farewell and looks forward to following their blossoming careers!

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  • New York Film Academy Australia (NYFAA) Partners With Australian Production Design Guild (APDG)

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    New York Film Academy Australia (NYFAA) is excited to announce its official 2020 industry partnership with the Australian Production Design Guild (APDG).

    APDG Fiona Donovan

    NYFAA Associate Chair of Filmmaking Patrick Ryan presenting the APDG Award for Best Production Design for a TV Drama or a Web Series to winner Fiona Donovan

    The APDG welcomed NYFAA to the 9th Annual APDG Awards Ceremony last December. Patrick Ryan, Associate Chair of Filmmaking, presented the award with NYFAA naming rights for Best Production Design for a TV Drama or Web Series at the Australian Production Design Guild Awards held in Melbourne.

    The APDG Awards is an annual event organized by the Australian Production Design Guild. The event acknowledges excellence in design on Australian or International productions for feature films, short film, TV productions, webseries, and stage productions. This year, the event was held on the prestigious stage of The Melba Spiegeltent.

    Ryan spoke onstage while presenting the award, saying “On behalf of NYFA Australia, I’d like to say a thank you to all the production designers for making this world a little more beautiful one work at a time.” It was met with a round of applause from the industry guests.

    Nominees included Black Mirror: Striking Vipers, Bloom, and Tidelands. The winner was Fiona Donovan, APDG, for her work on A Place to Call Home.

    In 2020, the APDG will make further headway into Queensland, where a thriving film industry is led by leading local and international practitioners across the fields of NYFA Australia’s studies.

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    January 29, 2020 • Community Highlights, Entertainment Australia, Film School • Views: 2248

  • Feature Film By NYFA BFA Filmmaking Alumni ‘Easy Living’ Screens at Santa Barbara International Film Festival

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    Easy Living, the debut feature film by New York Film Academy (NYFA) BFA Filmmaking alum Orso Miyakawa and his brother Peter—and shot by NYFA BFA Filmmaking alum Andrey Nuzhnyy, is screening at this month’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival as an Official Selection.

    The film is self-described as a melancholic, coming-of-age comedy about a fourteen-year-old boy, his older sister, and a bizarre American tennis teacher who come up with an absurd plan to help a migrant sneak across the border. It recently had its premiere at the Torino Film Festival in Turin, Italy.

    Orso Miyakawa and Andrey Nuzhnyy met during their first year together at NYFA’s New York campus. Together, Miyakawa and Nuzhnyy moved to Los Angeles a year later to complete their BFA in Filmmaking studies at NYFA’s Burbank-based location.

    easy living torso miyakawa

    NYFA BFA Filmmaking alum Orso Miyakawa

    “We always worked on each other’s projects,” says Miyakawa of his time with Nuzhnyy at NYFA, “we watched hundreds and hundreds of movies together, and most importantly, we developed a similar sense of humor—which I believe is the key to understanding why we collaborate so well with each other.”

    After graduating and working on various film sets around the world, Miyakawa and his brother Peter, who also collaborated on several NYFA projects, returned to their home country of Italy where they started a production company with their friends, family, and Nuzhnyy. Their company, Wise Pictures began producing short films and music videos before moving onto international feature films and collaborating with artists like Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name, Suspiria)

    Their film Easy Living kicked off its festival run with its premiere at Torino, one of the largest fests in Italy. The film, written and directed by the Miyakawa brothers, was inspired by their childhood home, a small seaside town on the border between France and Italy.

    easy living Andrey Nuzhnyy

    NYFA BFA Filmmaking alum Andrey Nuzhnyy

    Despite its specific, personal roots, the Miyakawa brothers have always aimed for the film to reach a universal audience. “The movie takes place around the Italian border with France,” Miyakawa tells NYFA, “but it could easily be transported to the US border with Mexico and work perfectly fine.”

    Easy Living will screen at Santa Barbara International Film Festival, one of California’s most prestigious cinema fests, on Monday, January 20 at 4:30 p.m. local time. The film will screen two more times at Santa Barbara, on Tuesday, January 21 at 2:40 p.m. and Wednesday, January 22 at 8:20 a.m.

    New York Film Academy congratulates Peter Miyakawa and New York Film Academy (NYFA) BFA Filmmaking alumni Orso Miyakawa and Andrey Nuzhnyy on Easy Living and encourage everyone in the Santa Barbara area to check out the film!

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    January 28, 2020 • Film Festivals, Film School, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1393

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Welcomes MultiChoice Talent Factory Scholar-Filmmakers

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    New York Film Academy started off the New Year by welcoming two esteemed MultiChoice Talent Factory full scholarship winners to our hands-on, intensive 8-Week Filmmaking workshop in New York City. These winners were chosen as the top of their class at the Multichoice Talent Factory in their respective countries.

    MultiChoice Talent Factory

    Jim Miller, Mainala Silondwa, Hillary “Hillax” Lanogwa, Blake Babbitt

    The Multichoice Talent Factory is MultiChoice Africa’s flagship Corporate Social Value (CSV) initiative. It is a 12-month training program distinctly designed to train the next generation of African film and TV creatives in partnership with stakeholders across the continent and globe—including New York Film Academy. 

    The scholarship winners are Mainala Silondwa from Zambia and Hillary “Hillax” Lanogwa from Kenya. Silondwa is an emerging film director who was a production manager for the final-year MTF student film, The Painting and casting assistant, production manager and offline editor for Savannah Skies; Lanogwa is a cinematographer who was the camera operator for MTF student films Ensulo and Promises.

    “The entire New York Film Academy Filmmaking Department’s team considers it a huge honor to welcome both Mainala and Hillary,” declares NYFA instructor and Chair of Short-Term Programs, Jonathan Whittaker, “two high-caliber filmmakers who bring so much raw talent and passion into the classroom and on set, to NYFA 

    MultiChoice Talent Factory

    Blake Babbitt, Mainala Silondwa, Hillary “Hillax” Lanogwa, Jim Miller

    “These scholarships present not only the opportunity to hone Mainala’s and Hillary’s skillsets but also to positively impact their respective domestic film markets. The time-tested techniques and protocols they will learn from their Hollywood and New York experienced instructors will give them a leg up on the competition back at home. We have no doubt that after proving themselves yet again in our programs both Hillary and Mainala will go on to have enduring and successful careers in the industry.”

     written by Blake Babbitt, NYFA Associate Director of Outreach

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  • Acclaimed Director, Writer, and Producer Phillip Noyce Joins New York Film Academy (NYFA) Faculty as Master Class Instructor

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    Phillip Noyce, the acclaimed and award-winning director, screenwriter, and producer of film and television, has joined the New York Film Academy (NYFA) faculty and this week taught his first master class to MFA Filmmaking students at our Los Angeles campus.

    Throughout his prolific career, Noyce has worked with such celebrated luminaries performers as Harrison Ford, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington, Michael Caine, Meryl Streep, Val Kilmer, James Earl Jones, Rutger Hauer, Kenneth Branagh, Angelina Jolie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Bridges, Willem Dafoe, Liev Schreiber, and Renée Zellweger.

    Phillip Noyce

    Noyce began his first NYFA master class by showing behind-the-scenes footage from his award-winning film, Rabbit-Proof Fence, before going into the early beginnings of his filmmaking career. Noyce was born in New South Wales, Australia, and moved to Sydney at a young age. Before he was twenty years old, he started running the Filmmaker’s Cinema along with Jan Chapman, where for three years he screened the short films of directors who would go on to develop the Australian New Wave, such as Gillian Armstrong, Peter Weir, Bruce Beresford, Paul Cox, and George Miller.

    After working in television and directing a few feature productions, Noyce made his breakout film, Dead Calm, which launched the career of Nicole Kidman. Soon after that, he was living in Los Angeles directing major Hollywood studio films, including the Jack Ryan films Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, starring Harrison Ford. 

    Since then Noyce has written, directed, and produced numerous commercially and critically successful films like The Saint, The Bone Collector, Salt, The Giver, The Quiet American, and Rabbit-Proof Fence, as well as various TV pilots, episodes, and miniseries like Vietnam, Tru Calling, Luck, Roots (2016), and the recent Netflix original What/If.

    Noyce has been recognized for his outstanding contributions as a filmmaker, earning multiple nominations and awards for his work. These include a National Board of Review award for Best Director, a London Critics Circle Film Award for Director of the Year, several awards from film festivals like the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Bangkok International Film Festival, and numerous awards from Australian institutions including Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Awards for Best Film, Best Director, and a special Lifetime Achievement Award.

    Phillip Noyce

    In his new role on New York Film Academy’s faculty, Noyce instructed MFA Filmmaking students on several aspects of the craft, using scenes from his films Dead Calm and Rabbit-Proof Fence to illustrate many of his talking points, using his decades of experience as a director, writer, and producer. He described how “having a hard back and soft front” was vital for directors–a strong vision and determination that cohabitates with a willingness to listen and accept new ideas.

    On directing the right screenplays, Noyce expressed that the most important thing for a good script is that you have to love it–to have an emotional connection to it and be passionate about the story. He proved his own point by relating to the class how he passed on a huge offer to direct the next Jack Ryan movie so that he could focus on the indie film Rabbit-Proof Fence.

    Additionally, Noyce covered everything from artistic voice and vision to the practicalities of directing stunts and action scenes, such as the famous truck sequence from the Angelina Jolie vehicle, Salt. The master class even included a trust exercise where students took turns guiding other students whose eyes were shut around the room without using dialogue, forcing them to connect and place trust in one another. 

    After covering several aspects of filmmaking in detail, the master class concluded with a lecture on television, including a video of a TV series pitch that a writer had recorded for Noyce. He contrasted it with a written pitch that he distributed to the class, who then discussed which pitches they preferred and why. Phillip finished the night by taking suggestions from students for other subjects they’d next like to learn more about, promising to focus on these and more in upcoming master classes he’ll be teaching at the Academy.

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    January 22, 2020 • Faculty Highlights, Film School, Filmmaking • Views: 1878

  • New York Film Academy MFA Filmmaking Alum Jaco Dukes Premieres ‘El Guardia’ at Cannes Film Festival’s Marché du Film

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    New York Film Academy MFA Filmmaking Alum Jaco Dukes saw all of his hard work come to fruition last May when he premiered his film El Guardia at the Cannes Film Festival’s Marché du Film.

    Dukes originally hails from Chile and first attended NYFA in September 2011, enrolling in the MFA in Filmmaking program at our Los Angeles campus. “My first year at NYFA was one of the best years of my life,” says Dukes. “For the first time, I was able to think about filmmaking all day, every day of the week. It was paradise. My thesis film that I shot at NYFA opened the door for me to every project and work opportunity that came after. So I think that, if you have all the guidance, support and resources that NYFA can offer (like the amazing instructors; James, Ryan, Nick, Tim, Andrew, and many others), plus an obsession for film and filmmaking, then probably great things will come.”

    El Guardia Jaco Dukes

    The English-language poster for ‘El Guardia’

    Since graduating NYFA, he has written and directed the short films Silent and Mikey, as well worked several others as an editor and cinematographer. Dukes directed, wrote, and co-produced El Guardia, his first feature film. The script is based on the true story of the highly acclaimed businessman, life coach, and best-selling author Juan Rosado from Puerto Rico, and was inspired by Rosado’s empowering book Rags to Riches (El Guardia Que Compró Su Sueño).

    The story focuses on a frustrated security guard that starts a network marketing business as a second job with his mentor and veterinarian friend, which leads them into a life-changing journey that will affect the lives of everyone around them.

    The film made its grand debut at the Marché du Film in Cannes, France in May 2019. The distribution of the film is being managed by Adler & Associates Entertainment, who are submitting the film to festivals around the world as well as planning a theatrical premiere and distribution in cinemas in Puerto Rico, Miami, New York, and Los Angeles sometime in 2020.

    El Guardia Jaco Dukes

    NYFA MFA Filmmaking alum Jaco Dukes

    Dukes is currently working on his next screenplay, an indie film that he’s always wanted to make—he’s devoting all of his energy to producing it in 2020. Says Dukes, “[El Guardia] was the most challenging learning experience of my life as a film director, and thanks to all the obstacles, failures, and successes I had making this film, now I am a little more confident about directing my passion project, my own script, and kick ass with it.”

    New York Film Academy congratulates MFA Filmmaking alum Jaco Dukes on the Cannes Film Festival Marché du Film premiere of El Guardia and looks forward to seeing what he makes next! 

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    January 10, 2020 • Film Festivals, Film School, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1828

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Filmmaking Alum Li Cheng’s ‘José’ Gets National Release After Winning Queer Lion Award at Venice Film Festival

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    It’s becoming more and more common for New York Film Academy (NYFA) alumni to win major festival prizes, so it wasn’t any surprise when news broke out that Filmmaking grad Li Cheng won the 2018 Queer Lion Award at the 75th Venice Film Festival, one of the world’s most prominent cinema competitions; his film José is now the first Central American film to do so. Following the prestigious award as well as premieres in 50 countries and 100 festival cities worldwide, José now has a national USA theatre release, starting in a dozen major markets, with Cheng personally be presenting the film and speaking with audiences during each of the first three days for both the New York and Los Angeles screenings.

    Li Cheng Jose

    NYFA alum LI Cheng on set of Jośe, Courtesy of YQstudio LLC

    In 2008, Cheng attended the 4-Week Filmmaking workshop at our New York campus. “My NYFA experience was wonderful,” Cheng tells NYFA, “and key to getting started right: hands-on, quickly, low-cost/high-value, with passionate film professionals, and meeting and working together with creative, energetic, inspiring faculty, staff, and student-cohorts from day one. I couldn’t have asked for more, or a better kickstart to my career in film.”

    Cheng used that kickstart to his full advantage. His feature film José is a nuanced look at the challenges and joys of gay life in Central America. The Spanish-language, English-subtitled film follows star José (Enrique Salanic), who lives at home with his mother (Ana Cecilia Mota), who makes ends meet by selling sandwiches at bus stops and who is not ready to let go of her youngest child. But when he meets Luis (Manolo Herrera), José is pushed to break down his own boundaries and take a leap of faith with this new relationship. 

    José was written and produced by Cheng, along with George F. Roberson, and was shot in Guatemala with a non-industry artist and academic crew, making it the first major LGBTQIA+ film to come from the nation. Outsider Pictures is the film’s North American distributor and world sales, while international festival sales are handled by Rediance (of Paris and Beijing).

    Li Cheng Jose

    The powerful film has resonated with audiences. Winning the Queer Lion is an incredible achievement; the Queer Lion Award is the trophy awarded, starting in 2007, to the “Best Movie with LGBT Themes & Queer Culture” among those presented during the Venice International Film Festival. Previous winners include Tom Ford’s A Single Man and Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl. José has also won Best Film at the Boston LGBT Film Festival and was cited for its “confident visual sense…a sensitive portrait [with a] depth of feeling” by The Hollywood Reporter.

    The film will screen at the Quad Cinema in New York City from Friday, January 31 – Sunday, February 2. Tickets are available here. Other screenings for José, including at the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles on February 7, can be found here. Q&A sessions between the audiences and Cheng will follow screenings each of the first three days for both the New York and Los Angeles releases.

    New York Film Academy congratulates Filmmaking alum Li Cheng on winning the Venice Film Festival’s Queer Lion award and looks forward to following his career as a filmmaker!

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