2021 felt like a collective fever dream – a little strange but certainly not as unpredictable as its predecessor. This was a good year!
In the midst of this reflection, we wanted to take the opportunity to highlight the accomplishments the New York Film Academy (NYFA) community was able to create and achieve this year.
We have selected a handful of the many successes our alumni, students, faculty and staff were a part of – check out our infographic below!
Please note: NYFA does not represent that these are typical or guaranteed career outcomes. The success of our graduates in any chosen professional pathway depends on multiple factors, and the achievements of NYFA alumni are the result of their hard work, perseverance, talent and circumstances.
The nominations for the 94th Annual Academy Awards are in! This year’s nominees were
announced by the internet’s favorites Tracee Ellis Ross and Leslie Jordan on Tuesday,
By the pricking of my thumbs, some nominations this way come.
There were some snubs, firsts, surprises and some not-so-surprising but entirely welcomed
moments, like Denzel Washington dethroning himself as the most-nominated Black actor with
his 10th nomination for The Tragedy of Macbeth.
The Power of the Dog leads with 12 Oscar nominations including Best Picture,
Best Actor (Benedict Cumberbatch), Best Adapted Screenplay and director Jane Campion makes
history as the first female director to be nominated for Best Director twice.
The Power of the Dog’s Cinematographer Ari Wegner could make history as the first woman to win Best Cinematography.
Coming in close second this year is Dune with 10 Oscar nominations
including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Visual
Effects. NYFA 3D Animation and VFX Alum Francesco Panzieri was the in-house compositor for
the adaptation of the Frank Herbert classic. In a Q&A with NYFA about the film, Panzieri
told NYFA that he had been tapped for the project long before it began production; the
in-house team at Wylie VFX sought his collaboration after Panzieri’s work on Terminator: Dark Fate.
Also nominated for Best Picture is NYFA Guest Speaker Steven Spielberg’sWest Side Story. NYFA Musical Theatre Alum Ilda Mason was casted as Luz, a member of the sharks in Spielberg’s remake, shortly after her run on Broadway in Ivo van Hove’s Broadway revival of West Side Story in 2020. The on-screen revival is also nominated for Best Cinematography making it the 7th Academy nomination for Spielberg’s long-time collaborator and NYFA Guest Speaker Janusz Kaminski. But perhaps most outstanding is Steven Spielberg’s nomination for Best Director; with this nomination, Spielberg became the first director to be nominated 11 times in the category, dethroning former record holder and cult-favorite, Martin Scorsese.
Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter has been all the rave since premiering last December
and the debut feature is not letting up. Gyllenhaal is nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay
for her adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s classic of the same title. The film is also
represented in the Best Actress category, with Olivia Colman nominated for her
outstanding performance in Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut alongside Penelope Cruz (Parallel Mothers), Nicole Kidman (Becoming the Ricardos), Kristen Stewart (Spencer), Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye). Also nominated for her work on The Lost Daughter is Jessie Buckley for Best Supporting Actress. The film’s producers Osnat Handelsmen – Keren and Talia Kleinhendler spoke at length with the Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, Tova Laiter, during a Q&A about the process (and difficulty) of securing the rights to adapt an Elena Ferrante novel and filming during a pandemic with closed borders and a mostly international cast and crew. It seems it was worth it in the end as the film continues to collect nominations this award season. Not too bad for a directorial debut.
Beloved animated film Luca brings in a nomination for Best Animated Film for Pixar Studios.
NYFA Alum Raquel Bordin is part of Pixar’s International Editorial Department, where she
worked for 11 weeks putting the final touches on the coming-of-age Italian film. More of
Bordin’s work is headed to the big screen. She recently confirmed with us that she is
working on the animated sci-fi feature, Lightyear, set to release this summer.
Also in the Best Animated Film category is NYFA Guest Speaker Amy Smeed who continues to
soar as Head of Animation at Walt Disney Animation Studio and co-head animator for
Raya and The Last Dragon which has been nominated for Best Animated Film. The animated Danish documentary, Flee, is also nominated and makes Oscar history as the first film to be nominated for Best Animated Film, Best International Feature and Best Documentary.
Nominated alongside Dune for Best Visual Effects is Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Director Destin Daniel Cretton and actor Simu Liu spoke with NYFA during a Q&A curated and moderated by Tova Laiter about bringing the Marvel comic to life, representation and working with special effects.
Lastly, Drive My Car, adapted from Haruki Murakami’s short story by the same name and
directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, is the first Japanese film to be nominated for Best Picture
and the first Japanese film to be nominated in more than one category including
Best International Feature, Best Directing and Best Adapted Screenplay.
NYFA congratulates all the nominees, alumni and guest speakers for their nominations at the
94th Annual Academy Awards! We look forward to hearing the winners on March 27th, 2022 on
Check out the complete list of nominees below:
“CODA” – Winner
“Don’t Look Up”
“Drive My Car”
“The Power of the Dog”
“West Side Story”
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Jessie Buckley, “The Lost Daughter”
Ariana DeBose, “West Side Story” – Winner
Judi Dench, “Belfast”
Kirsten Dunst, “The Power of the Dog”
Aunjanue Ellis, “King Richard”
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Ciaran Hinds, “Belfast”
Troy Kotsur, “CODA” – Winner
Jesse Plemons, “The Power of the Dog”
J.K. Simmons, “Being the Ricardos”
Kodi Smit-McPhee, “The Power of the Dog”
INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
“Drive My Car” – Winner
“The Hand of God”
“Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom”
“The Worst Person in the World”
“Lead Me Home”
“The Queen of Basketball” – Winner
“Three Songs for Benazir”
“When We Were Bullies”
“Summer of Soul” – Winner
Writing with Fire”
“No Time to Die” – Winner
“Four Good Days”
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
“Encanto” – Winner
“The Mitchells vs. The Machine”
“Raya and the Last Dragon”
“CODA” – Winner
“Drive My Car”
“The Lost Daughter”
“The Power of the Dog”
“Belfast” – Winner
“Don’t Look Up”
“The Worst Person in the World”
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Javier Bardem, “Being the Ricardos”
Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Power of the Dog”
Andrew Garfield, “Tick, Tick… Boom!”
Will Smith, “King Richard” – Winner
Denzel Washington, “The Tragedy of Macbeth”
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Jessica Chastain, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” – Winner
New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA Filmmaking alum Hongyu “Neo” Li has been hired as the Development Executive and In-House Writer for Starlight Media. The production and finance company has produced several popular films including Crazy Rich Asians, Malignant, and Wuhan Wuhan. Li’s creative role includes overseeing treatments, ideas, pitches, and more. He reports directly to Starlight Media’s CEO, Peter Luo.
NYFA MFA Filmmaking Alum, Neo Li (above)
The China-born writer and filmmaker began his career with short films, including Hank and Waiting For Frank, both of which received international recognition. Li screened his short films at over 30 film festivals, including the Palm Springs International ShortFest, Cleveland International Film Festival, and Chicago International LGBTQ+ Film Festival. His most recent screenplay My Chinese Neighbor was semi-finalist at the Austin Film Festival Script Competition, selected as a 2020 New Reality Screenwriting Program finalist, and named a semi-finalist at the 2021 Nashville Film Festival.
Li spoke with NYFA about his latest role and life after graduating in 2018.
New York Film Academy (NYFA): What can you tell us about what you do as a Development Executive for Starlight Media?
Neo Li (NL): As a development executive, I am responsible for generating ideas, treatments, pitches, and scripts, and guiding producers and writers in the development of content, curating a growing slate of film and TV projects.
NYFA: What type of projects do you oversee as a Development Executive?
NL: I have been overseeing a couple of crime thriller projects, one with an Oscar-winning producer attached.
NYFA: What is the biggest challenge you’ve experienced in your work in the industry?
NL: There have been some challenges along the way. The biggest one was shifting my mindset from writing/directing to the perspective of an executive. As a writer/director, I mostly ask myself if the story is appealing to me or not, but as an executive, I have to consider more elements, such as talent, budget, IP, merchandising, distribution—it’s a package of deals. Of course, the story is essential, but it’s not the only factor that needs to be considered.
NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied to your work and experience since graduating?
NL: Directing, writing, and producing my year one film and thesis film at NYFA helped me understand how to complete a film from the logline stage all the way to distribution. The difference is, budgets in the industry are higher, and filmmakers need their work to appeal to a wider audience and are also responsible to their investors and backers.
As a film student, I was only commercially responsible to my selfless parents! But I do think that your short films from your degree will be your calling cards as you set out on a film career – so it’s important to think about what your films say about what strengths you can bring to a project.
In terms of specific classes, I think James Rowe’s directing class deeply enriched my knowledge in directing and story development. While developing my thesis film Hank, I wasn’t really confident about directing it myself, and my instructor David Newman strengthened my faith and confidence.
Mark Horowitz’s class in feature film sales, marketing, and distribution gave me a general idea of an executive’s world, which helped me stand out in my three-month internship. And I want to give a big shout-out to Crickett Rumley, who has been a steadfast supporter since I graduated and who has been a great resource for connecting alumni together.
NYFA: Are there any other upcoming projects or trends we should know about?
NL: The biggest trend that I have been paying attention to is that of crime thrillers combined with high concepts. As evidenced by Squid Game, foreign language is not a barrier anymore. The determining element is the core and the theme – is it universal? People living in Seoul struggle with the issue of class, but so do the people in San Francisco.
NYFA: Do you have any advice for incoming NYFA students? Especially those seeking an MFA?
NL: Never underestimate the importance of your year one film, which is a great opportunity to make mistakes and conquer your fears. Stop submitting your films to those film festivals that will hand you 10 awards. Go to the real ones. Go to their screenings and panels and connect with people. You will get inspired, make friends and probably find your next director of photography, producer, or lead actor. When you have ten film ideas, choose the one that you personally respond to at an emotional level. For your thesis film, tell your OWN story and be sincere.
New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Li on his role at Starlight Media and his pipeline of projects. If you’d like to learn more about Neo Li’s work, you can visit his LinkedIn profile or read about him on his professional website.
Bruce Purnell, New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA Screenwriting alum, director and producer, has a new feature film coming this holiday season. Boxing Day, the story about a British author living in the United States who returns home to London for Christmas to introduce his American fiancée to his eccentric British-Caribbean family, is a romantic comedy co-written by Purnell. The main character’s relationship is put to the test, as his fiancée soon discovers the world her partner left behind.
The new romantic comedy was co-written with director Aml Ameen in his directorial debut. The plot of the film was inspired by director Ameen’s own life and will star Ameen himself. Boxing Day will also star Aja Naomi King, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste. The film will be the first UK holiday film to feature an all-black cast.
Promotional poster for Boxing Day (2021)
Financed by BFI and Film4 with Warner Bros. Pictures as a distributor for the film’s release in the United Kingdom and Ireland, Boxing Day is produced by Ameen and Purnell’s new label Studio113.
In a statement featured in a Deadline article, director Ameen quotes, “It is such an honor to be teaming up with Warner Bros. Pictures, Film4, and BFI to bring Black British Culture to the world in this universal holiday rom-com. It’s long been a dream of mine to capture films that reflect the wonderfully multi-cultural city that raised me while sharing stories from the diary of my life.”
NYFA MFA Filmmaking alum and writer Bruce Purnell (left)
Screenwriter Bruce Purnell has also worked as a director and producer, having developed and filmed several short films, including One Heart, Moments in the Grey, and Learning to Share. New York Film Academy congratulates Bruce Purnell for his success with his newest feature Boxing Day, coming to theaters this holiday season.
Screen still from Nika Nikanava’s short film, ‘Generation 328’
New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary Filmmaking graduate, Veranika (Nika) Nikanava, won “Best Student Short” at the 2021 Woodstock Film Festival with her short film, Generation 328.
After passing in a tragic hiking accident in Alaska before she could see the film fully finished, Nika’s classmates and other graduates from the NYFA Documentary Filmmaking program worked together to complete the film and submit it to film festivals on her behalf.
Veranika Nikanava (above), NYFA Filmmaking student and posthumous winner of “Best Student Short” at the Woodstock Film Festival
Anna Panova, one of Nika’s classmates, worked on post production and production of the film. Panova shared that for the graduates supporting the film, “it was important to work on this film as a memory and tribute to Nika’s life. It’s not about us, it’s about her… and making sure that the work of her life is getting proper recognition and is not forgotten. Even though she’s not with us anymore, her work continues to live.”
Generation 328 is a character-driven documentary following a group of mothers as they defy Europe’s last dictatorship, fighting to free their children from draconian sentences in brutal Belarusian prisons. Under article 328, it is common for young Belarusians to spend around ten years in prison for possession of less than a gram of marijuana.
Film poster for ‘Generation 328’
The story of Generation 328 is also one that was very personal to Nika. Originally from Belarus, she had a deep passion for telling stories about unheard heroes and was deeply concerned about human rights issues in her home country. Many of Nika’s acquaintances had been detained or knew someone that had been detained under article 328.
The film had its world premiere at DOC NYC in 2020 and has since been screened at festivals around the world, including the Anchorage International Film Festival, the Ghent Viewpoint Documentary Film Festival in Belgium, and the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival in Canada.
Due to the global pandemic NYFA, like most of the world, turned to remote education and many of NYFA LA’s recent Screenwriting graduates took classes, developed and workshopped their stories, and pitched in a virtual setting. But on Thursday, October 7th, 2021, for the first time in over a year, our students were able to pitch in-person to industry professionals. We celebrated with a return to the Andaz Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood for an industry PitchFest for the MFA and BFA graduates who completed their degrees during the pandemic.
Recent BFA & MFA Graduates at the Andaz Hotel for NYFA’s 2021 PitchFest
A catered event and mingling opportunity for the students, executives, and faculty alike, this capstone evening celebrates the New York Film Academy’s graduating Screenwriting students, offering them a unique opportunity to jumpstart their professional development by pitching their Film and TV thesis projects to entertainment industry professionals. And as an added bonus, many of the Screenwriting department faculty came to the Andaz to support the alums and, in many cases, meet them face-to-face for the first time.
Recent MFA & BFA graduates pitching their thesis projects at the Andaz Hotel
The students’ dedication and passionate love for their work shined as they pitched their thesis projects, which they had developed for nearly a year. Students left with new contacts, excitement about the scripts they’d worked so hard on and a sense of what it’s like to meet with industry professionals.
Recent MFA & BFA graduates pitching their thesis projects at the Andaz Hotel
Considered by the school to be their first night as professional screenwriters, this group of talented and creative students’ hard work has paid off, as they pitched agents, managers, studios, and Alternative Media, TV and Film production company execs in a relaxed, round-table environment.
Recent MFA & BFA graduates celebrate with Screenwriting Department faculty
Organized and hosted by Jenni Powell, Ashley Bank, and Morgan Dameron, the event featured representatives from Hollywood companies, including — Verve, Lit Entertainment Group, Anonymous Content, Fake Empire, VMI Worldwide, Imagination9, Yousif Nash, Scenario Entertainment, and Muidem Media.
NYFA wishes to thank all of its participants, particularly our industry guests, without whom this evening could not have been possible. Also, we’d like to extend a big congratulations to all of our MFA and BFA graduates and wish them the best as they move forward in their professional journeys!
Founded in 2020 and based in New York City, the Khatak Film Society aims to shine a spotlight on emerging filmmakers from eastern Asia. The Society showcases films from filmmakers located in other regions of the Himalayas and Tibet and recently finished Season 2 programming at the International Film Festival Manhattan (IFFM) in May 2021. Rose Lineses is also member of the jury for the IFFM 2021 in Manhattan. This will be her second time as a jury member in the October Autumn 2021 Edition.
Jameelah is a Saudi Arabian-born director and a member of the New York Women in Film and Television Organization. Inspired by the Tibetan people she met on social media, she founded the Khatak Film Society as a platform to “discover and nurture Tibetan/Himalayan up-and-coming filmmakers.”
Jameelah Rose Lineses (right)
Since 2020, the Society has screened two seasons worth of special programming for the IFFM. In their first season, the Society awarded ‘Best Music Video’ to Bhuchung and Karma Yeshi Namdak for their video, Tsedung. In the Spring of this year, the Khatak Film Society showcased Tibetan films as well as Ladakhi, Nepali, and Bhutanese films at their screenings. They awarded ‘Best Upcoming Filmmaker’ to Ngawang Dhargyal.
The Khatak Film Society is currently gearing up for Season 3 of its programming for the IFFM, which will take place between October 14th and October 17th, 2021. The programming includes both in-person and virtual events including:
October 14, 2021
Opening Night and Awards Ceremony
Location: Kalayaan Hall, Philippine Center
October 16 & 17, 2021 Virtual Film Screenings with select live screenings
Location: Producers Club
New York Film Academy congratulates Jameelah for the success of the Khatak Film Society and their third programming. You can see some of the conversations, films, and more on the Khatak Film Society YouTube channel.
August is National Black Business Month, where we as a nation of consumers recognize and support black-owned businesses across the United States. According to the 2019 Annual Business Survey (covering the reference year 2018), 124, 551 businesses are owned by Black Americans, representing just over 2% of total businesses in the US. In the Arts-related sector, only a handful of businesses (relative to the number of Black-Owned businesses across all sectors) are Black-Owned – they fall within the Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation sector.
In support of National Black Business Month, New York Film Academy is highlighting just a handful of incredibly talented NYFA alumni who not only own a business and have earned success through their crafts but continue to build their brands in order to support other artists.
We encourage you to support these individuals by contributing to their business or sharing their incredible work.
Writer, Producer, & Actress
Chief Executive Officer of HOORAE (formerly known as Issa Rae Productions), Issa Rae oversees the multi-faceted entertainment media company to ensure a diverse set of stories and stories about the community are told. An award-winning actress and producer in her own right, Issa Rae gained critical acclaim and international attention from her hit HBO show, Insecure. The show received multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominations.
HOORAE includes HOORAE Film & TV, as well as groundbreaking companies such as ColorCreative Management and Raedio.XXX. While overseeing the company, Rae continues to perform incredible work across Netflix and HBO, including The Lovebirds and Coastal Elites.
Rae studied filmmaking with us back in 2005. You can keep updated on the latest from Issa Rae by following her on Instagram or LinkedIn.
Leonice (Leo) Brown-Young Jr
Partner & Co-Founder
Co-Founder and partner in starting MoonRift Entertainment, LLC, Brown-Young Jr inspires and innovates by re-imagining the future. MoonRift Entertainment is an entertainment company with the mission o change the game by building a foundation for success. The business curates content across a variety of forms, including video games, films, and novels.
Always pushing the box, MoonRift Entertainment continues to reflect the same values of its co-founder. Brown-Young Jr is co-founder of Young Dreamers United, which strives to pave the way for success for middle school students in the San Diego area in California.
Brown-Young Jr studied with us to earn his MFA in Game Design 2021. You can learn more about MoonRift’s latest content on Instagram, or follow Young-Brown Jr on LinkedIn.
Founder & CEO
Founder & CEO of Studio Yez, Mlauli created her studio to illuminate and capture hearts at home and around the world. Studio Yezi is a development and animation studio dedicated to creating and telling stories made for people of color and the black community. Studio Yezi equalizes the playing field for black animators by creating content opportunities. Mlauli studied producing for film and TV as well as screenwriting with us back in 2015.
Learn the latest news about Studio Yez and updates from Thandiwe Mlauli on Instagram and LinkedIn.
Arthur Hylton (a.k.a. Nestlè Snipes)
Photographer & Visual Artist
Born & Raised In East Flatbush Brooklyn, Arthur goes by the professional name, Nestlè Snipes. Snipes founded Snipes Studios in order to create imagery that models his passion and visual influences. Snipes considers himself a muse-based photographer and takes inspiration from other professionals like Helmut Newton, Yves Klein, and Daido Moriyama.
Snipes focuses his imagery around muses of color and processes his photos as little as possible to ensure the models are depicted as realistically as possible. Snipes prides his craft around creating art that forces audiences to see the world as it “really is” and not “as they want it to be” by creating work that showcases models of color into scenes that typically feature light-skinned models.
Founder and Creative Director of RDCYF Brand, Eferere has a wide array of filmmaking and content creation within the entertainment industry. RDCYF Brand is an award-winning production company and agency founded in 2019. Based in NYC, the agency has produced a variety of content. Eferere brings to the agency his own film in film direction, music videos, editing, video color grading, and general content development.
Experienced entrepreneur and CEO of Soul2Soulz, Nicole “Soul” Creary has a professional history of working for nonprofits doing social work as well as for film and education organizations.
Soul2Soulz’s mission is to create connections that build positive relationships. The organization aims to develop communities where youth, families, and all people, reach their fullest potential. Creary has professional strengths in organizing grassroots initiatives and coalitions, philanthropy, and community organizing.
Creary studied filmmaking with us back in 2018. You can keep tabs on her work and the great work of Soul2Soulz on Instagram or LinkedIn.
Like all of the alumni we’ve noted here, there are many other NYFA alumni with no shortage of drive to share their voice through business acumen or support for the black community. Continue to raise the bar by supporting Black-owned businesses even beyond this month.
Bob Ahmed opens his interview at the 2021 SEEMA Summit with a translation from a poem written by a famous Indian poet, Mirza Ghalib: “To be human is easy, but to be humane is almost impossible.” Thus was born the inspiration for his award-winning short Tikkun Olam (2021), which tackles the subject of homelessness in Washington, D.C. The short film is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
Image Source: IMDb
For anyone who has lived in the nation’s capital or is familiar with the city’s history of poverty, you may not be surprised by the alarming number of homeless, an issue that plagues veterans and civilians alike. Tikkun Olam is a poignant film that revolves around the love and humanity of an eight-year-old boy who encounters a homeless veteran.
Based on Ahmed’s own experiences while living in Washington, D.C., The Daily Times described the film as an “urgently needed story of hope in our broken world today” with “blistering performances”. Views & News describes the film as “a rare, polished gem” with “riveting performances”. Voice of America calls it “a unique film on an important topic”.
Director and NYFA Filmmaking Alum, Bob Ahmed | Photo courtesy of Arielle Lewis
Tikkun Olam won almost universal acclaim garnering success on the festival circuit where the director’s choice to focus on his actors, putting them in a position to evoke truly intense emotional responses was rewarded. The film won ‘Best Short Film – Teens’ at the 22nd ShorTS International Film Festival in Trieste, Italy in July 2021. The short is also an official selection for the 35th Washington DC International Film Festival and the 27th Sedona International Film Festival, which is ranked amongst the “Top 10 film festivals in the world.”
“I studied at the New York Film Academy and that is where I really got inspired to make film,” says Ahmed in an interview with South Asian icon, Aroon Shivdasani, at the 2021 SEEMA Summit.
Ahmed believes his role as the director is not to evoke emotion from his actors, but rather to remove the pressure from the set and create an environment in which the actors can create someone truly special on camera.
This approach with his actors which encourages them to do what they believe they would do in a scene (even if slightly different from the script) reaps rewards as the short film was also selected for the 21st D.C. Asian Pacific American Film Festival and selected for the 10th D.C. South Asian Film Festival.
The director is working on a new film, Johnny & The Golden Gifts about a young boy in Washington D.C, whose life spirals out of control because of a personal tragedy. The story explores themes of forgiveness as a solution to ongoing challenges in modern American Society.
Considered both a Director and Screenwriter, Ahmed also wrote, Lost in DC, about a Pakistani man who visits Washington, D.C. and runs into a former high school friend. The two men spend the next several days in each other’s company, learning more about the other’s path in life following their school days. The script is currently a finalist at the 52nd Nashville Film Festival, an Academy Award Qualifying Film Festival.
New York Film Academy congratulates Bob Ahmed for his success and looks forward to the upcoming Johnny & The Golden Gifts.
When Angolan filmmakers Fradique (a.k.a. Mario Bastos) and Hugo Salvaterra, a NYFA Fulbright student, met in high school, little did they know it would be the beginning of a friendship and collaboration that would continue into adulthood, where they would both be studying at the New York Film Academy, and take them to the prestigiousWe Are One: A Global Film Festival. Created by the Tribeca Film Festival as a fundraiser for organizations addressing the world’s COVID-19 crisis, We Are One includes selections from top festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, Venice, and Rotterdam.
Air Conditioner, Fradique’s first fictional feature as writer and director,will premiere on YouTube on Saturday, June 6, 2020, at 11:45 am Eastern. It will then become available on demand for seven days afterwards. Attending the premiere is free, but donations are welcome.
Crickett Rumley, NYFA’s Director of Film Festivals, caught up with Fradique and Hugo right before the festival and asked them about their experiences.
Fradique on set of ‘Air Conditioner’ (Photo Credit: Cafuxi)
Rumley:Congratulations on this amazing success. Fradique, could you tell us more about Air Conditioner and how it came to be?
Fradique: This is actually a project that I had started writing a couple of years ago while I was developing what was supposed to be my first fiction film, The Kingdom of Casuarinas. Air Conditioner was kind of a side project that eventually ended up becoming my first fiction film, which for me was a big lesson on how in our line of work these things take many years. Sometimes the next one is not the one you thought it would be. The film was written by me and the director of photography, Ery Claver, who is a very talented filmmaker and someone that sees cinema as I do.
Air Conditioner is a magic neo-realistic journey through downtown Luanda, Angola, where we follow Matacedo, a security guard of an old building, while he tries to retrieve his boss’s AC in a city where all the AC’s are falling. This is a film about loss, how we live together as society, and a critique of social classes in a city that is past-present-future. My biggest inspiration for this film was my own life experience growing up and living in many different buildings in downtown Luanda and also the idea that these invisible workers that are the heart and soul of our city should be main characters on the stories we watch on the big screen.
Rumley: What was the most challenging thing about making the film? What did you learn in the process?
Fradique: The film was produced and shot with a very small crew, almost guerrilla-style, so letting go and accepting what surroundings are offering you was my biggest challenge and lesson. Usually in all my projects, I try to be as meticulous as I can regarding the script, storyboard, and shooting plan, but with this film we wanted to work not only with non-actors, but also with the real location where the story takes place, the building. In the end, the film resulted from creative acts derived from a deep structure. It privileges character and location over traditional narrative. The improvisation in this project was not simply a free flow of expression, but a rigorous and disciplined act of playing from a given structure at its core. I believe that this mixture was essential to bring some raw and poetic experiences to the screen while pushing at the same time stronger performances from the cast.
Film poster for ‘Air Conditioner’
Rumley:The film premiered at Rotterdam, which is an amazing place to launch. What was that experience like?
Fradique: Yes, the film had its World Premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in the section of ‘Bright Future Main Program’ in 2020. For me, it was an honor to have the first festival screening at IFFR. It was my second time over there and I love and stand for everything that the festival believes. A lot of filmmakers that inspire me have been at IFFR; it’s a great home for the global south cinema. The feedback after the screenings exceeded my expectations, which were very low because I was very tired after a year of working on the film. We had five screenings and they were all sold out before the festival even started. The audience in Rotterdam are very generous and authentic cinephiles. We had great reviews at The Hollywood Reporter, The Guardian, and other local newspapers. The original soundtrack, which was composed by Aline Frazão for the film, was one of the elements that reviewers and the audiences mention a lot. She did an incredible job, and I believe the music in the film brought to the surface the soul of the main character, Matacedo, as well the city of Luanda.
Rumley:Fradique and Hugo, what are you each looking forward to with the film’s screening at We Are One?
Fradique:How this festival was put together still amazes me. We Are One offers a global audience easy access to great films and conversations about filmmaking. It’s free, yet it’s also open to donations to fight against Covid-19. For me as a filmmaker in the current crisis that was an important criterion to join this initiative because it has bigger concerns than defending a particular festival or film. It shows how important it is to work and act collectively. We are all still learning and trying to figure out what the future of independent cinema and festivals will be, but it’s important to try new formats and be open. I hope at the festival Air Conditioner reaches audiences that probably were not going to watch this film or simply give someone who is at home a small pleasant journey to Luanda, Angola.
Hugo:Personally, I’m mostly proud of the company’s achievement, amazed at the scale and sheer diversity of the festival. After attending many festivals like Tribeca, LA and NY film festivals or even the Venice Biennale, this feels like the most diverse and representative curatorship I’ve seen thus far. It truly represents cinema and independent cinema as a planetary global experience. It also gives me added hope that the usually non-English, non-western filmmaking voices can also be heard on a global scale for a more democratic and inclusive future for all independent filmmakers.
Filming ‘Air Conditioner’ (Photo Credit: Cafuxi)
Rumley:Let’s backtrack for a minute to the beginnings of your collaboration. How did you meet and start working together? Was it attending NYFA, or back at home?
Fradique: I met Hugo while I was still in high school here in Angola. Afterwards we went to study abroad. He went to Europe, and I went to the US in 2004 where I did NYFA’s 1-Year Filmmaking program and also a BFA at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. Once I got back to Angola in 2010, I started a production company called Geração 80, with Jorge Cohen and Tchiloia Lara. Hugo was one of the first artists to come on board at Geração 80. Our production company will celebrate 10 years this year.
Hugo:I met Fradique in the cocoon of our high school here in Luanda, Angola, in our youth. If my memory doesn’t fail me, I think I formed a kinship with him when I was still in university in Lisbon making music on the side. He showed some interest in shooting a video for a small EP I had made in my bedroom, something I never expected, and it meant a lot at the time. Our connection really took off when I joined Geração 80. I did my first job for the company while I was living in London in the end of 2011 then joined in early 2012, way before NYFA. I was still an aspiring filmmaker, writing film reviews and working mostly with photography. A memorable day is when I first made it into his bedroom, shortly after arriving from London. Large sections of his DVD film collection mirrored mine. That’s when I realized that more than a friend, I had found a brother through our shared passion for film.
Rumley:Hugo, what was your position on ‘Air Conditioner?’
Hugo: I was fresh from returning to Angola post-NYFA and figuring out how to promote my film “1999” here in Luanda. In an independent production company, a lot of sacrifices have to be made in order to make things happen. So I was focused on the commercial end of the company making sure that my colleagues could enjoy the freedom and necessary focus to produce and shoot the film.
On set of ‘Air Conditioner’ (Photo Credit: Cafuxi)
Rumley:Your production company sounds really interesting. Can you describe it, how you work, what you do, how you started it?
Fradique:We will celebrate a decade next month. We started only with three people, and today we are a group of eighteen professionals working in the audiovisual industry in Angola. At the beginning the goal was to just make cinema, but soon we realized that we had to do other work to survive. In Angola there’s no film funds or initiatives, so being able to put together a production company that does not only cinema, but commercial and corporate work gave us the resources to be able to build a great team and acquire top equipment to make us more independent. Over the last ten years, we produced one feature fiction film, four feature-length documentaries, six short films and worked on a couple of international co-productions. When it comes to producing our films, we work very much like a collective. Everyone works on each other’s projects, and we only finish a film when it reaches an audience. We don’t make films to be put into drawers, we believe independent/author cinema should meet bigger audiences as well. We are tired of seeing our film theaters only with Hollywood films. We want not only more Angolan cinema in our theaters, but also African cinema.
Hugo:For me the real beauty of being part of this collective is also that, all of us, despite our differences, are committed to the power of movies, storytelling and all its magical elements. Our aim is to make movies, not products, which is increasingly more difficult in a time where everything is commodified either through likes or commerce. Making movies for us is not a job, it’s a way of living. We are in essence not in the movie business, but in the business of making movies. It’s our passion and desire to make films that informs the process and the how and that to me is special.
Rumley:How do you think your education at NYFA and the work you did here prepared you for a career in filmmaking?
Fradique:NYFA gave me the foundation of what it means to be an independent filmmaker. Learning how to work collectively on other classmates’ projects and at the same time experience different positions on the set was fundamental for me to be able not only to fully understand the craft and the importance of every person on set, but also l to later on have the resources to open up a production company in my home country. On top of all that, I did my one year program almost entirely on film. We only did one main digital project with a MINI DV, no REDs at the time. Everything else was in 16mm, and each gave me more confidence as a director in the beginning of my career.
Hugo:I was already in my early 30s when I made it into NYFA, so I almost missed the window to becoming a filmmaker. I’m very grateful for the two years spent there, particularly in New York, where I was able to find the confidence and tools not only to learn what filmmaking is, but also find my artistic voice. Los Angeles was different but essential in learning a more formal, business-oriented way of producing films. There, I focused more on how to write a feature within a more conventional three-act structure and developed technically on set, playing with the vocabulary of film in a way that made me a much stronger filmmaker.
Filming ‘Air Conditioner’ (Photo Credit: Cafuxi)
Rumley:Do you have any special shout-outs to faculty or staff who really helped or inspired you?
Fradique:I have great memories of teachers like Tassos Rigopoulos and Claude Kerven. Together with my fellow classmates, they represent the best first lessons I had about filmmaking.
Hugo:Brad Sample’s capacity to analyze, deconstruct and mentor, Ben Cohen’s humor, intellect and love of film history, Rae Shaw’s production acumen stand out. Sanora Bartels, Greg Marcks, and Robert Taylor for teaching me the science of script writing. There are others I’m sure, but those stand out.
Rumley: What advice do you have for recent graduates making their way in to the professional world?
Fradique: As it became easier to have the resources to make films, also it seems more difficult with so many options to follow or trying to keep up with all the trends and gadgets. My advice would be don’t get stuck on the gear, to spend more time and make meaningful connections and partnerships with the people you work with. Watch a lot of films and think collectively, that’s the root of filmmaking. Surround yourself with people that are different from you but have the same passions, values towards art and don’t forget the best stories are found at home, wherever that might be.
Hugo:Filmmaking is a mansion with many rooms and it’s very easy to get lost wandering in it, figure out what your strengths are and sink into what and who you are. By that I mean, what do you bring to a story, a set, a crew, a production company? What are you making films for? If you’re able to answer that, regardless of success or failure, you will find the nourishment you need to carry on.
Cast and Crew of ‘Air Conditioner’ including NYFA Alumni Fradique and Hugo Salvaterra (Photo Credit: Cafuxi)
Rumley:These are trying times in the world today, and art matters more than ever. Do you want to share any words about the importance of film in the lives of humans living right now? The role of Angolan film in world cinema?
Fradique:The world we have today is the result of the same and single story being told for centuries. We need more diversity behind the cameras and in what see on the screen. We need to remember that culture, art, is not mere entertainment or something to disconnect us from our daily life online. Be aware not only of your country’s borders, but your social and society borders as well. Cinema is more than a mirror; it is art and memory with all the senses, feelings and its lapses. Let’s take care of our memories.
Hugo: At its core, film is still the only art form that explores what it means to be human. It’s not the imitation of life, it is the imagination of everything life could be. In a time when the very existence of organized human life is at stake, we have to make sure, now more than ever, that the films we’re making get to the core of that exploration. There is a war raging that isn’t new, one that is fought between commerce and the full potential of film as an art form. It’s an age-old battle, where there will always be those who will try to define films as a monolith, by creating markets and monopolies where the overarching definition and structure of a film is the same and where its success is only measured by if it won anything in a festival or how much money it made vs. the whole history of the art form, where the writers, directors and producers made a film because they wanted to birth something that was urgent, as a way of life, as means of catharsis, beyond conventions of class or structure. Filmmakers have made the history, inside big studios or the smallest of spaces, with the biggest crews and the most skeletal ones, by understanding and studying film history and the art form. Angola is a young country and is showing potential to create both types of films, both profit-driven ones and ones that channel and respect the history of film as an art form. We champion the latter.
Rumley:Anything else that you would like to say to the NYFA community?
Fradique: Be safe and be informed. If you have the chance, watch Air Conditioner at We Are One: A Global Film Festival starting June 6th.
Rumley: Congratulations! We wish you the best with your We Are One screening and in all your endeavors. Keep making art; keep telling your stories. They matter.
New York Film Academy would like to thank Fradique and Hugo Salvaterra for taking the time to speak about their new film, Air Conditioner, and congratulates them on the premiere of their film at the We Are One Film Festival.
UPDATE June 19, 2020: Fresh off their screening with the We Are One Global Film Festival, Fradique and members of his crew and production company, Geração 80, will join Crickett Rumley, NYFA’s Director of Film Festivals, for a discussion of their film Air Conditioner on June 25, 2020.