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  • “Invisible Love” From NYFA Chair Bill Einreinhofer Wins Big at Paris International Film Festival

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    Chair of the Broadcast Journalism department at New York Film Academy, Bill Einreinhofer has a lot to celebrate after his film Invisible Love won three major awards at the Paris International Film Festival in February.

    Bill Einreinhofer on set of “Invisible Love”

    Coming off on its premiere at the Marche du Film, associated with the Cannes International Film Festival, in 2020, Invisible Love has racked up three awards including Best Narrative Feature Film, Best International Actor (Hoang Phuong), and Best International Collaboration. 

    In addition to Einreinhofer executive producing Invisible Love, NYFA’s roots run deep in the film, with Acting for Film alum Kazy Tauginas playing one of the male leads and former NYFA staffer Nancy Hanzhang Shen serving as both a Producer and the 1st AD on a set working in three languages (Vietnamese, Mandarin, and English).

    Hoang Phuong in “Invisible Love”

    Invisible Love takes place during the 1930s during the era of French Indochina and follows the story of one woman’s search for love, and how time and again her dreams are betrayed. “The subtext of the film is the nature of colonialism, and the corrosive effect it has on both the colonizers as well as those colonized,” explained Einreinhofer. “There is plenty of melodrama in this film and enough plot for perhaps three movies. While in North America and Europe Invisible Love is considered an ‘art house’ film, in Vietnam and China it is popular entertainment.”

    Einreinhofer is no stranger to working heavily with international markets and met the film’s director, Guo Xiang, while working on Einreinhofer’s documentary Shanghai 1937: Where World War II Began. We found we had a lot in common, even though we are totally different and each doesn’t speak the other’s language,” recalled Einreinhofer. “Director Guo valued my experience in international co-production and distribution while I admired his cinematic vision and resourcefulness. He wanted to bring authenticity to this period film [Invisible Love], and my background in non-fiction video and familiarity with Asian cultures helped to ensure historic elements of the film rang true.”

    Nancy Hanzhang Shen (Left) and Bill Einreinhofer (Right)

    The Broadcast Journalism Chair even makes a cameo appearance in the film as Dr. Sawyer, the director of a Western-run hospital in DaNang, where two of the key characters work. “It [acting] helped me better appreciate the ability of the actors to do the same scene time after time, with no slip-ups in dialogue and always hitting their marks, which I find challenging,” he shared. 

    Einreinhofer also explained that he was able to rely on Tauginas while on set to give him a quick tutorial on the do’s and don’ts of film performance as well as Shen, who served as a producer and 1st AD on the film. “I was also much taken by the sheer beauty of Vietnam, and how welcoming the people there are to Americans. For my generation, Vietnam was a war, not a place.”

    For those who see the film, Einreinhofer hopes that Invisible Love will speak to the notion that, regardless of culture or societal norms, love knows no barriers and surpasses all universal emotions. 

    The film now continues on the festival circuit for the next six months, after which Einreinhofer and the crew hope to sign agreements with distributors to get into the prime markets and platforms for a larger audience to view the film.

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Broadcast Journalism Chair Bill Einreinhofer on his continued success with Invisible Love and looks forward to announcing when the film is available to view for the public. 

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  • NYFA Documentary Filmmaking Instructor Lizzie Gottlieb Featured by ‘Insider’ to Talk About New Film “Turn Every Page”

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    NYFA Documentary instructor Lizzie Gottlieb has been directing film and theater in New York for the past couple of decades. As a director, Gottlieb has worked with Peter Dinklage, Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Amy Ryan, Michael Ian Black, Justin Kirk, Francie Swift, Josh Hamilton, Sara Ramirez, and more. Recently, Gottlieb got to work with another talent, notable editor, writer, and father to Gottlieb, Robert Gottlieb.

    (L-R) Robert Gottlieb and Robert Caro (Photo courtesy of Lizzie Gottlieb)

    The documentary, Turn Every Page, follows Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Caro and his 50-year argument and relationship with his editor, Robert Gottlieb (Robert), as they work towards completing a final book. The documentary from Gottlieb is an ode to the work of Caro and Robert over the last 50 years as Robert (89) awaits Caro (85) to complete his much-anticipated fifth volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson.

    “They are not slowing down because of their age,” Gottlieb told Insider in an interview about the project. “I think they both feel the enormous weight to finish [the final LBJ] book. I very much wanted this to be a story about them finishing their life’s work, not just a retrospective of their lives and how impressive they are.”

    The documentary film will also feature interviews from Ethan Hawke, Conan O’Brien, The New Yorker editor David Remnick, and former president Bill Clinton, who will make remarks of the impact of Caro and Rober’s work over the past 50 years. Gottlieb shared that most of the filming of the documentary was completed before the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the interview featuring former president Clinton was done recently over Zoom.

    NYFA instructor Lizzie Gottlieb

    Gottlieb is also known for her documentary Today’s Man, which aired on PBS and screened at festivals and conferences all over the world. Her film Romeo, Romeo was honored with the prestigious Excellence in Documentary Award by the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association (NLGJA).  

    New York Film Academy congratulates Documentary Filmmaking instructor Lizzie Gottlieb on her latest achievement, Turn Every Page, and encourages everyone to check out her latest documentary when it becomes available later this year. 

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    March 2, 2021 • Documentary Filmmaking, Entertainment News, Faculty Highlights • Views: 302

  • Actress Alaina Huffman Studies Filmmaking With New York Film Academy

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    Veteran actress and producer Alaina Huffman is no stranger to the film business and has appeared on some of your favorite shows and films over the past couple of decades. From Smallville and Painkiller Jane to Amber Alert and Netflix’s The Perfection, Huffman has a long list of film and TV credits that have allowed her to see the filmmaking process from both in front of and behind the camera.

    Huffman recently decided to take the time to expand her technical skills by taking one of NYFA’s Online Filmmaking Workshops, allowing her to take classes to study the filmmaking craft more in-depth.

    “I’ve had the desire to direct for some time,” Huffman shared. “I had a short I was set to direct last April but I had to postpone due to COVID. Between working and being a single mom of four, I never really felt I could fit school into my life. With all this downtime and watching my kids do homeschool, I felt it was the perfect opportunity to take classes.

    Photo courtesy of Alaina Huffman

    With a career spanning television fan-favorite titles to her indie film background, Huffman learned a lot during that time beyond being an actor, including what it takes to produce, direct, and work alongside the crew. “Once my career started to move into television, I was working with more established crews and actors. Every day on set is an education if you pay attention. You not only learn what to do, a lot of times you learn what not to do. Now 25 years into my career, I’m still learning along the way.”

    In addition to the teachable moments presented to Huffman on set, being in front of the camera over the years has brought her so much joy in collaboration. “I have a fondness for all the characters I’ve played, they are so special to me,” she revealed. “Being a part of a series is like being part of a family. There’s a closeness and special bonds that form. I have lifelong friends from my time on Stargate Universe, Smallville, Supernatural, and The 100. For me, I like when a character creates themselves. It’s almost effortless, they just come to me like it’s meant to be.”

    Photo courtesy of Alaina Huffman

    Like Huffman shared, even professionals who have been in the industry for years are constantly absorbing information and learning along the way, which is why coming to NYFA was another resource for Huffman to explore all the aspects of the filmmaking craft.

    “My advice to incoming students [at NYFA] would be to have fun! Ultimately filmmaking is a joy. Remember why you love movies and television and enjoy learning the tools to aid your creative process. It always amazes me that we all have access to the same equipment, the same information and yet we all come up with such diverse ideas. Enjoy learning from each other as much as the professors.”

    Alaina Huffman in “Stargate Universe” (Syfy)

    What’s next for Alaina Huffman? While we wait for her upcoming horror film Deep Focus, Huffman is slated to direct. “I’m shooting [a movie] next month called The Missing Twin and I’m super lucky in that in addition to playing the lead character, they’ve offered me the opportunity to direct the second unit. Once I finish that I’ll go on to direct my short film that got delayed.”

    New York Film Academy thanks Alaina Huffman for taking the time to share more about her thoughts on continuing her education at NYFA and looks forward to sharing more about her upcoming projects in the future.

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    March 2, 2021 • Entertainment News, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 242

  • NYFA South Beach Instructor Daniel Abrusci Wins Gold Promax Award

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    New York Film Academy is excited to share that Filmmaking instructor Daniel Abrusci has won a Gold Promax Award for outstanding achievement in sound design and mixing on the Cbeebies segment Christmas Lights for BBC Latin America. 

    The Promax Awards are the world’s premier celebration of outstanding achievement in entertainment marketing and design, honoring teams of creatives harnessing passionate fandom to drive audiences, create value, and build the biggest brands in entertainment.

    The one-minute animation Abrusci worked on in his home studio was extremely heavy in sound design. “When working with animation, sound design plays a huge role because there’s no audio to start with,” he explained. “I edited three different pieces of music into a one-minute spot in order for the music to be dynamic and help boost holiday emotions.”

    The South Beach instructor had to recreate the ambiance needed for the TV spot to feel a bit more realistic, adding in stylistic sound elements to elevate the story visually. “There’s plenty of creativity involved due to the fact that a lot of these actions might sound different in real life,” shared Abrusci. “Once we have all the different sound design, voiceover, and music elements, mixing is all about making things stand out and giving everything character and space in the frequency spectrum.” Essentially, sound mixing in itself plays an important role in fully forming a character, space, or idea.

    NYFA instructor Daniel Abrusci

    Abrusci urges anyone who is looking to hone their craft to “keep practicing” as it’s practice, trial, and error that allow you to master your skills. “The more time you put into something, the better you’ll become at it. Stay passionate and make it happen!”

    New York Film Academy congratulates Daniel Abrusci on his outstanding achievement and looks forward to what’s next from the talented South Beach faculty member. 

    To view the Christmas Lights spot, view the video below. 

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    February 25, 2021 • Entertainment News, Faculty Highlights, Filmmaking, South Beach • Views: 462

  • NYFA Photography Alum Jon Henry Named on The “TIME 100 Next” List

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) is excited to announce that Photography alum Jon Henry has been featured in TIME Magazine’s TIME 100 Next list for 2021.

    Last year, Henry won the prestigious Arnold Newman Prize for New Directions in Photographic Portraiture­ and the Kodak Film Photo Award—for his series “Stranger Fruit.” The alum also had his photographs from the series displayed on multiple pages in the October 2020 National Geographic issue.

    Cover of the ‘TIME Magazine’ issue featuring the ‘Next 100’ (TIME Magazine)

    TIME reporter Josiah Bates, who wrote the profile on Henry for the Time 100 Next issue shared that Henry’s prolific series “Stranger Fruit” is weighted with significance: “In visual artist Jon Henry’s series ‘Stranger Fruit,’ sons pose with their mothers as if they are lifeless, re-creating scenes of mourning. The mothers stare through the camera’s lens as if holding onlookers accountable for threats their sons could one day face. In 2020—after the killing of George Floyd by police­—the series took on new poignancy.”

    The alum was featured alongside other artists who made the list including director Boots Riley, Lakeith Stanfield, Florence Pugh, and more. Henry shared his gratitude for being included in the list on his Instagram account: “Honored beyond measure to be included in #time100next. The 2021 TIME100 Next list highlights 100 emerging leaders who are shaping the future of business, entertainment, sports, politics, health, science and activism, and more. Crazy.”

    NYFA alum Jon Henry

    Henry was also featured on the cover of JRNL 4 and was also profiled by Photograph Magazine. The NYFA alum and Photography instructor’s “Stranger Fruit” series is currently on display in Portland at BlueSky Gallery through March 27, 2021, and will also be featured in Miami from March 11 – May 21 at DotFiftyOne Gallery. The series has also gone international and is currently on view at the KP Gallery in South Korea, the first international solo exhibition for the project.

    Untitled 60, St Charles, MO (2020) – Photo Credit: Jon Henry

    New York Film Academy is thrilled to congratulate one of its own for being among those selected for TIME Magazine’s TIME 100 Next list for 2021 and is proud of the recognition that Jon Henry is receiving for his body of work and the “Stranger Fruit” series.

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  • NYFA Alum Uzair Merchant Works on CW’s “Superman & Lois”

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    Uzair Merchant has worked on some of the biggest franchises in the world. From Skyfall and Star Trek: Beyond to Fast & Furious 7 and Deadpool 2, Merchant has had an impressive roster of work, including his own personal projects, with his latest work displayed in the highly-anticipated CW series Superman & Lois.

    Poster for “Superman & Lois” (CW)

    Taking the lead from its own universe of Superman (Supergirl, Smallville, and Superman: The Animated Series), The CW is back with Superman & Lois, a spin-off series of Supergirl that follows Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) and Lois (Elizabeth Tulloch) reprising their respective roles.

    Not much is known about how the series will play out, but it will feature Superman and Lois’ kids Jonathan and Jordan as they return to Smallville and are reacquainted with Lana Lang and her family.

    NYFA alum Uzair Merchant

    Filmmaking alum Uzair Merchant worked as the Assistant Art Director on the series, bringing the show to life through means of concept art, graphics, set design, props, builds, and construction. “Working on Superman & Lois has been pretty awesome I must say,” shared Merchant. “It’s lovely to dive into the Warner Bros. and DC Universe.”

    The show, which is still finishing up filming the first season, faced the added challenge of filming during the COVID-19 pandemic and had to adapt to and implement new COVID-safe protocols. “The crew [on Superman & Lois] is great and that’s something I always look for in a production. We’ve had COVID-19 procedures, which is what makes this production special being able to do all of this in the restrictions, but that’s been the challenge.”

    In addition to his work on Superman & Lois, the NYFA alum has done everything from commercials, corporate films, features, TV shows, music videos, and more.

    “The ability to build worlds and tell stories that can directly affect and influence people, cultures or voices was something that’s always fascinated me about filmmaking,” shared Merchant.

    “Coming to New York Film Academy to study film was a dream,” he revealed when asked about his time at NYFA. “I also wanted to experience studying traditional film, not just digital. Future students should come with an open mind and heart to dive into an unknown world, it’s important to immerse yourself into places out of your comfort zone. That’s why it’s film school. Experiment, explore and be honest with your art.”

    What’s next for the alum? Merchant has also worked on the upcoming film The Misfits, starring Pierce Brosnan, Tim Roth, and Jamie Chung. The alum has also been developing an entire universe over the last decade called Kreativ Universe from his company the Kri8.labs. Part of that cinematic universe will include Merchant’s script Black Rose that won multiple screenwriting awards and is currently in pre-production. Merchant is also producing a music track for the film called “Star Dust.”

    New York Film Academy congratulates Uzair Merchant for his outstanding work on Superman & Lois and looks forward to hearing more about the Filmmaking alum’s upcoming personal projects. Superman & Lois will premiere tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern on The CW.

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  • Netflix Limited Series “Behind Her Eyes” Stars NYFA Alum Eve Hewson

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    Netflix’s binge-worthy new limited series is Behind Her Eyes and it has everyone talking about all the twists and turns. The series, which released on February 17, stars NYFA alum Eve Hewson as lead character Adele.

    Eve Hewson studied at NYFA in 2008 in the Acting for Film program and has since appeared with Sean Penn and Frances McDormand in This Must Be the Place and Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. Hewson also appeared alongside Taron Egerton and Jamie Foxx in Robin Hood. She recently appeared in the BBC adaption of Eleanor Catton’s novel The Luminaries as Anna Wetherell that premiered in the U.S on February 14, 2021, on Starz.

    Eve Hewson as Adele in “Behind Her Eyes” (Netflix)

    Hewson’s latest project, Behind Her Eyes, is a psychological thriller adapted from Sarah Pinborough’s 2017 novel of the same name. The story follows the love triangle of single mother Louise and married couple Adele (Hewson) and David. With a series of shocking twists, and a highly talked about ending, the story is nothing short of gripping, where nothing is what it seems.

    Poster for “Behind Her Eyes” (Netflix)

    Hewson’s character Adele is married to David, who is having an affair with the new resident to the town, Louise. Adele, surprisingly, is interested in forming a friendly connection with David’s new lover but sets off an entangled web of twisted circumstances and conspiracy.

    New York Film Academy congratulates Acting for Film alum Eve Hewson on the release of her latest project and encourages everyone to check out the new limited series, now streaming on Netflix.

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  • Akinola Davies Jr. Awarded Short Film Grand Jury Prize at Sundance For Film “Lizard”

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Akinola Davies Jr. has won big at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, winning the Short Film Grand Jury Prize for his film Lizard.

    Sundance announcement of “Lizard” winning the Short Film Grand Jury Prize

    The film was written by Davies and his brother Wale Davies, and was backed by BBC Film and producer Rachel Dargavel. Lizard follows an eight-year-old girl, Juwon, who has the ability to sense danger. After getting ejected from a Sunday school service, Juwon witnesses the underbelly in and around a Mega Church in Lagos, Nigeria. In addition to the Sundance win, the film was also nominated for an ALFS Award by the London Critics Circle Film Awards.

    Film poster for “Lizard”

    Davies has previously made short films Zazzau and Unity Is Strength. The UK-Nigerian filmmaker is known for his exploration of themes of community, race, spirituality, identity, and gender. Ultimately, through his work in film and music videos, Davies aims to navigate the collision of both colonial and imperial tradition, whilst advocating a return to indigenous narratives. His next slated project will be sci-fi film X Us.

    NYFA alum Akinola Davies Jr.

    “I’m overwhelmed and as much as I’d love to gloat, filmmaking is really crazy hard,” shared Davies on his Instagram after the winners were announced in a virtual ceremony. “Big love to all those who were part of the shorts program – it’s an honour to be amongst such brilliant films. I have to say this award is really for the whole cast and crew who worked so hard and committed their all to this little film pre and during a global pandemic. I’m so proud this was made in Lagos by the many hands that make up the beautiful people of Nigeria.”

    To view the full list of Sundance Film Festival winners, click here.

    New York Film Academy congratulates Akinola Davies Jr. on his important Grand Jury win at Sundance for his short film Lizard and looks forward to seeing the film’s impact and Davies’ upcoming projects.

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  • NYFA Alum Irene Mendez on Film Sustainability and a UN Campaign to Change The Film Production Landscape

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    Spanish producer Irene Mendez has always been interested in visual storytelling. With her degree in communications coupled with her education from NYFA’s 1-Year Producing Conservatory, Mendez is seeking change in the production space, aiming to make all media projects more sustainable across the industry. 

    Coming to NYFA, Mendez knew it would give her a new perspective on film production. “I’ve always thought it is essential to know and understand how movies are made in different countries, and I saw in NYFA the opportunity to do so,” she shared. “NYFA has some of the best professionals teachers, including instructors who have won BAFTAs and have been in some of the most important film festivals.”

    NYFA alum Irene Mendez

    From her time at NYFA, Mendez has learned that preproduction is the most essential part of any project. “Work before you get to the set. Study every possibility that might happen once you are filming,” she emphasized. “Be ready for any inconvenience. It is so vital to plan what might happen and be prepared for any kind of problem. It is funny cause it’s actually the same advice I will give to anyone who wants to make a more sustainable film.”

    Mendez first got involved in sustainability in filmmaking after attending Madrid’s Another Way Film Festival in Madrid, which focused on sustainable progress in filmmaking. “I realized that we can do much more. There are many things we can change to create the same entertainment content in a much better way,” urged Mendez. “We can tell the same great stories without hurting the planet and its future. Even more, we can help to be part of the change.”

    Mendez is now involved with Fiction Changing the World, an organization that specializes in sustainable audiovisual productions, working both in reducing the negative impact of productions and creating fiction and entertainment formats that convey important info about sustainable development to the viewers. “There is a lot of things that we can do when we work on a project to reduce the negatives impacts and create good ones. Not only on how we do things but also in how we tell the stories and entertain.”

    This past year, Mendez worked with Fiction Changing the World on a UN campaign to show the world that a new way to make content is possible. “Being part of the UN campaign and seeing Paloma Andres and Rhoda N. Wainwright (Founders of Fiction Changing the World) speak beside people with innovative ideas and famous names as Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones), makes you understand that we are not alone. There is a lot of people trying to be part of the change. Thousands of unique ideas can help us all to do our bit.”

    Fiction Changing the World has also started their campaign The Dante Movement, which focuses on creating fictional media that will inspire sustainable action and change in the world among others to do their part. “Documentaries are a wonderful way to bring attention to different topics, but they have a couple of problems when it comes to reaching the general public,” shared Mendez when asked why the fictional format is a better medium for the campaign as opposed to documentary filmmaking. 

    Irene Mendez on set

    “They [documentaries] often focus on particular topics, which is fine, but it is more difficult to get millions of people interested in very a specific issue. Also, documentaries are not always the first choice of entertainment for the general public. On the other hand, fiction is a format that is consumed by everyone on the planet; it leaves no one out. It is a more global and entertaining way to send a message and to educate and raise awareness.”

    “For example, I would dare to say that the vast majority of Spaniards of my generation know that water rotates in a different direction in each hemisphere thanks to an episode of The Simpsons in which Bart travels to Australia,” Mendez said. “Fiction is a way to reach every home. We all get motivated watching the Avengers fighting together against Thanos. In our universe, we can all unite to fight our own common enemy.”

    Though The Dante Movement is focused on fictional stories to get the message across to viewers, Fiction Changing the World still allows for other formats to be used to reach different people, like documentaries. In addition to working with the organization, Mendez has also been working on the TV series Foundation for Apple TV+ here in Spain, but what Mendez expressed she is most proud of is producing the first certified Positive Carbon Footprint spot for Greenpeace

     

    “This proves that it is possible to create sustainable content. We had to think from the script in how to make it more environmentally friendly way,” shared Mendez. “I had several meetings with the screenwriters and the production company to explain to them what are the points that make a film create more or fewer carbon emissions and what makes more negative impacts. They quickly understood what was needed and realized that thinking in a sustainable way doesn’t have to compromise the project’s creativity.” 

    As a lover of making films and the environment, Mendez is an advocate for change in the industry, working to make sets reduce their negative impact on the environment from issues like not recycling properly and consuming more on set than necessary. “The reality is that there are many more things we aren’t doing right. The material we use to build a set, the fabric to sew amazing costumes, and the places we choose to use as scenarios are decisions we can make to reduce the negative impact of production,” she explained. “Our responsibility as filmmakers is not solely to entertain, but also to inform and inspire our audiences. We have the power to reach every single soul, and we should use it.”

    New York Film Academy would like to thank Irene Mendez for taking the time to share more about the sustainability movement that is taking place on sets all over the world. With the urgency to act, filmmakers like Irene can continue to make a difference and be agents for change across the industry. NYFA looks forward to seeing what’s next from the alum and to hear more updates on Mendez’s mission for film sustainability. 

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  • NYFA Alum Boise Esquerra’s “Blackwater” Screens at 2021 Slamdance Film Festival

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    Known both as a festival “by filmmakers, for filmmakers” and for its Oscar-qualifying short film awards, the Slamdance Film Festival has long been a mecca for emerging independent directors. This year NYFA alum Boise Esquerra, a graduate of the Los Angeles campus’s MFA Filmmaking and MFA Screenwriting programs, will be right in the middle of the action when his episodic film Blackwater screens in the virtual festival February 12 – 25, 2021. 

    In the days leading up to the festival Crickett Rumley, NYFA’s Director of Film Festivals, caught up with Boise to talk about the personal experience that inspired his series and the importance of filmmakers from diverse backgrounds telling their own stories.

    NYFA alum Boise Esquerra

    Cricket Rumley (CR): Hi, Boise! Congratulations on getting into Slamdance! Tell us a little about yourself.

    Boise Esquerra (BE): I’d be happy to. I am a Native (Hopi) and Mexican American filmmaker enrolled in the Colorado River Indian Tribes in Parker, AZ. I am a recent graduate of the New York Film Academy (MFA Screenwriting) and hold a BA in Digital Filmmaking and Video Production and an additional MFA in Filmmaking from NYFA. I love storytelling, creating, and everything that entails filmmaking from start to finish. Currently, I reside here in lovely Burbank, CA, and am represented by Sandra Avila at Inclusion Management.

    CR: Tell us about your film. What is it about and where does it take place?   

    BE: Blackwater is an episodic pilot about Native American country music star Birdie Blackwater whose career is fizzling due to excessive drinking that began 10 years ago. Upon moving back to her home reservation, barely clinging onto what little dignity she has left, Birdie is arrested for a barrage of drunken charges and lashing out at tribal police officers during a late-night performance. The next day, tribal courts order Birdie to complete 180 days of wellness therapy and intense probation or face two years in prison. Birdie now finds herself contending each week with a group of offbeat individuals who each possess their own…“unique” mental limitations. The story takes place on a fictional Native American reservation call Red Rock. 

    CR: Sounds very powerful. Can you tell us about the inspiration for this story? 

    BE: The inspiration for Blackwater came about in September of 2018… a tough experience. I had started a new class (Transmedia) at the New York Film Academy in Burbank, CA. The ultimate goal of the class: develop, write, and shoot a web series pilot. During the first half of the six-month course, I was given the news that my older brother Brandon had developed cirrhosis of the liver to such a serious extent that he would need a liver transplant. My brother had gotten this condition from depression and extreme alcoholism after the death of our mother in 2015. The additional news I would receive from him is that he would be opting for hospice care and wanted to just go peacefully with family for the remainder of his time. That news, to say the least, was devastating. 

    Shortly after his funeral, I returned to my Transmedia class. The project I had been working on up to that point was scrapped. I wanted to write something I was familiar with. I had felt my brother in my heart moving me to lean into all that I had experienced with drug addiction and dependency. I also wanted to heal from losing him to alcoholism. Thus, I put forward a new proposal to my instructors, which was Blackwater

    CR: Boise, I’m so sorry for your loss and the pain your family must have experienced. It’s truly inspiring how you were able to transform your personal tragedy into a meaningful story, and so quickly. 

    What was it like to direct the film?

    BE: My favorite experience directing Blackwater was working with such a phenomenal cast and crew who brought their A-game to each and every scene both on and off-screen. I mean, this was a set from heaven, and pulling off a thirteen-page script in just one day with minimal time, a skeleton crew, and several different scenes went by like clockwork. Heck, we even had an hour to spare after the whole thing was over! Directing that day was one of the best experiences I ever had on set.

    Kyla Garcia as Birdie Blackwater (“Blackwater”)

    CR: You directed a thirteen-page script in one day? Wow! Dare I ask what was the most challenging thing about making the film? 

    BE: It’s crazy because you usually are anticipating challenges that may or may not arise on the day of production, and they did of course, but they were minor and quickly remedied. No. The challenges here were definitely in the final days leading up to production. You would think that getting a simple location (an empty room) for the group scene would be easy-peasy in LA, but when you’re working with a shoestring budget, a simple task all of a sudden becomes a near impossibility. And that was the case up until the last week of location scouting. We finally locked our location, which was an old American Legion post here in Burbank. It was great because they had everything we needed for each scene! 

    The other difficult part was not in pre-production or production, but actually editing. Here I am, dealing with footage of numerous great takes from each actor/actress and reviewing them over and over. Now, you have to realize, that when you’re dealing with high caliber talent as we had, each throwing you grade-A performances with each take, it is extremely hard to pick the right one! This was mainly the case with our main character, Birdie Blackwater, portrayed by Kyla Garcia. What she brought was gold, I tell ya…GOLD. So for her, sorting through the stuff she gave us and settling on certain clips was by itself a two-month process. Keep an eye on Kyla, SHE IS AMAZING!

    CR: It’s true – Kyla is downright riveting to watch. Besides the editing, what did you learn while making this film?  

    BE: To say I didn’t learn much would be a “shooting myself in the foot” moment and never being able to walk right again, hahaha. I learned a hell of a lot. But I’ll narrow it down to one thing above others, and that was giving my talent the freedom they needed to experiment with their characters and craft on set. There was a lot of ad-libbing, and the more I stepped back and let them have at it, the more they gave. Their performances were elevated, and aside from the few adjustments I gave every now and then, I just kept my mouth shut and steered the ship. I believe this is extremely important because, by the end of any script, these people are going to be the ones who embody this person you wrote, and ultimately bring them to life – and not only the talent, but the entire crew as well. 

    As a director, I realized that you can only hold onto the material for so long before giving it up. You must trust your talent and pass the baton you have and be the coach they need, guiding them from the sideline. Hopefully, if you put in the hard work needed in pre-production and cast the film right, the process will fully evolve on its own. You only need to sit back and enjoy the show at that point. 

    CR: Can you talk about the development process for this pilot and the class you developed it in? 

    BE: Given I had changed my proposal during the six-month Transmedia course, development for Blackwater was done in a three-month period, which is not much time. But…it came very easily to me. The vision for it was clear, so it was really a matter of honing in on what was already in my head. I knew I wanted to do something that was set in a Native American world, and I completely cast with Indigenous talent. This was something I have always wanted to do, I just felt I hadn’t honed in on my craft enough back then. But now it was different. I felt confident enough to give it a try. It was a matter of finding the right, tone, cast, and overall theme, which it turned out to have many. 

    CR: Do you have any special shout-outs to faculty or staff who really helped or inspired you?  

    BE: One of the coolest things about the Transmedia 1 & 2 courses at NYFA were instructors Jenni Powell and Chris Modoono. Not only were they extremely wise and easy to talk to, but their guidance was priceless as they were able to get me from concept to a finished pilot. I can’t stress enough about the creative freedom Jenni and Chris gave us in class. I really owe the experience and opportunity to them and to NYFA. 

    CR: That is so cool. You know every teacher’s dream is to inspire and elevate students at the level you just described. 

    Let’s talk about the amazing festival run you’re having with Blackwater.  

    BE: Blackwater has garnered twenty festival selections, five of those being the Austin Film Festival, Slamdance, Nashville Film Festival, Hollyshorts, and Cinequest Film and VR Festival. 

    CR: That is any filmmaker’s dream list! So what are you looking forward to with Slamdance? 

    BE: I hope to get as much positive attention as possible and of course find a potential buyer or investor for continued production. Native American content and storytelling are so important in this day and age — and extremely hard to find. Slamdance is one of those benchmark experiences you constantly take a step back and go “Wow, I did something really cool here” and realize you’re on the right path. I also hope to network virtually and meet many of the talented filmmakers at this year’s festival! 

    Poster for “Blackwater” pilot

    CR: You will definitely have some great opportunities there. Do you have any advice for recent graduates making their way into the professional world?  

    BE: I would say be consistent, persistent, and honest in your work and what it is exactly you want for your future. Filmmaking and its many crafts are a life long pursuit. Pursuing it should make you happy, grateful, and full of good spirit to have such a calling. If it doesn’t, maybe take a step back and re-evaluate. Focus on what you want, whether that is screenwriting, directing (or both), and constantly sharpen your craft and talents in that world every day in some shape or form. Look to each day as an opportunity to move towards that ultimate goal, and eventually one day…you’ll find yourself there. But don’t forget to have fun and relax along the way. Be happy. 

    CR: Those are very wise words. And speaking of wise words, let’s talk about these trying times we live in today. Do you want to share any thoughts about the importance of film in the lives of humans living right now? 

    BE: Well, if I do share anything, it’ll be about the importance of diverse inclusion in today’s film industry and breaking the current mold at hand. And I am speaking specifically to Native American inclusion. Native Americans are perhaps the most underrepresented culture in the film and television industry right now in terms of film and television content, screenwriters, directors, and leading talent. We as Native Americans have been fighting an extremely uphill battle in finding large, fair platforms or opportunities to tell “our own stories,” tell our own history, and voice our own point of view. Since the dawn of cinema, history has been flat-out brutal in our depiction, reducing us to “elk skin and feathers,” mascots, savages, and whatever else the multitude of history books will have you believe. We as a people, as a culture, need to be allowed to write and depict our own stories, our own views, and our own history. Blackwater is one such example out of the 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States. The time for diverse inclusion is now, and Hollywood needs to comply accordingly. 

    CR: The time is definitely now, and I’m so happy that you and your work are a solution to this lack of diversity in Hollywood.

    So how we can watch your film during Slamdance and see your Q&A? 

    BE: Slamdance is an online format this year, meaning anyone with a computer or smart TV can access it for only ten bucks. Yes… $10. We’re talking the crème of the crop here, people! Although the official schedule of events isn’t out yet, getting your pass now will ensure you do not miss a single screening. All films will be viewable throughout the festival from February 12th – 25th

    Blackwater will be screening in the “Episodes” block with many other awesome filmmakers and their films, and you will also be able to watch our Q&A as a bonus feature. Go to www.slamdance.com now for your ticket! 

    CR: Thanks for stopping by, Boise. Congratulations and best of luck!

    [NOTE: NYFA students can get their festival passes for $5 by using their NYFA email address].

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    February 11, 2021 • Diversity, Entertainment News, Film Festivals, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1140