New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary Alumni Qualify for Academy Awards with Major Festival Wins

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Three New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary Filmmaking alumni qualified for the 92nd Academy Awards last month by winning major film festivals for their documentary shorts.

Where Chaos Reigns was directed by Braulio Jatar and Anaïs Michel. Jatar enrolled in both the 6-week Documentary Filmmaking Workshop as well as the 1-year Conservatory in 2016. A year earlier, Michel also studied in both the 6-week Workshop and 1-year Conservatory. Cricket Liu was directed by Julia Cheng, who graduated in 2018 from the 1-year Documentary Filmmaking Conservatory at NYFA’s New York campus.

Where Chaos Reigns won the Golden Gate Award for Best Short Documentary at the San Francisco International Film Festival. This continues the momentum of Jatar and Michel, who recently won Honorable Mention for the HBO Ibero-American Award at Miami Film Festival.

The documentary showcases Venezuelan citizens as they protest their government in clashes that sometimes lead to violence, and focuses on a paramedic group called “Green Crosses” that treats protesters, and the young medical student who founded the group. 

The San Francisco International Film Festival is the longest-running film festival in the Americas and a major cultural event in the Bay Area. According to their press release, Where Chaos Reigns was awarded the Golden Gate Award “for its audacity, its haunting images and its ability to bring us closer to the crisis in Venezuela than anything we’ve seen thus far in America … Their unflinching cameras capture singular moments of courage, fearlessness and violence that linger long after the film has ended.”

Andrea Swift, Chair of the Documentary Filmmaking department at NYFA’s New York Campus can’t help but agree, telling NYFA, “Braulio and Anais both did great work as students … It’s not at all surprising that when they met and joined talents, they [crafted] a film as powerful and unique as Where Chaos Reigns. The combination of their talents is formidable.”

Cheng’s film, Cricket Liu is an 18-minute short that profiles an aging cricket fighting master who uses his ancient art to earn money for a grandson he barely knows. At the American Documentary Film Festival, also known as AmDocs, the film won Best International Short Documentary. AmDocs was founded by Teddy Grouya in 2011 with a mission to promote and celebrate documentaries and, according to their own website, “independent filmmakers around the world who bring knowledge and awareness through their stories about real people and issues.”

Cricket Liu was the thesis project for Cheng while studying at NYFA. “I was so lucky to work with the gurus in the industry,” Cheng says of her NYFA instructors. “Just to name a few here: my [Chair] Andrea Swift was my story consultant, Claudia Raschke (DP of RBG) was my cinematography teacher, and Bob Eisenhardt (editor of Free Solo) was my editing supervisor. Without them, my film wouldn’t have come this far! Before coming to NYFA, I had little idea about nonfiction storytelling and didn’t know how to shoot and edit a film at all! This 1-year intensive, hands-on study at NYFA Docs completely changed my life as a filmmaker!”

Of Cheng’s accomplishment, Andrew Swift says, “It’s exciting to see a student create a thesis film that’s masterful enough to merit an Academy Award qualification. And Cricket Liu absolutely does. Julia is a great testament to how much a passionate student can accomplish in a 1-year Conservatory.”

Both the Golden Gate Award for Jatar and Michel and Cheng’s win at AmDocs each qualify their films for next year’s Oscars. A shortlist of nominees will be named later this year, before the official list of final nominees for all categories is announced in early 2020. Last year, NYFA Documentary Filmmaking faculty members worked on two Oscar-nominated docs, Free Solo and RBG, with the former winning Best Documentary Feature. 

The three NYFA alumni are now in production on feature documentaries. Jatar and Michel are currently in Colombia shooting a documentary about Venezuelan refugees, while Cheng is in the middle of production for two high-profile films in Beijing, China.

The New York Film Academy congratulates Documentary Filmmaking alumni Braulio Jatar, Anaïs Michel, and Julia Cheng on their Academy Award-qualifying festival wins and wish them continued success in their careers as well as next year’s awards season.

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