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  • 7th Annual Nordic International Film Festival Partners with NYFA for Workshop Scholarship

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    NIFF 7th year LOGO BLACK

    The largest Nordic film festival outside of Europe takes the stage in its seventh year to showcase the power of international film. The 7th Nordic International Film Festival (NIFF) will take place between 8/25 and 8/29 this year in the heart of Manhattan. The Park Avenue location, Fotografiska, will feature films from an array of internationally recognized filmmakers. Included in this year’s selection: Persona Non Grata, Come to Harm, and Abyss of the Birds. Check out the full 2021 selection here

    persona non grata film poster

    Persona Non Grata (2021) directed by Lisa Jespersen

    Fotografiska, the largest photography museum in the world, is a key partner of NIFF. With a mission to inspire a more conscious world, the museum’s exhibits are developed by the artists themselves. 

    The festival was founded by New York Film Academy (NYFA) alumni, Johan Matton and Linnea Larsdotter. Actor and Producer, Johan Matton graduated from NYFA’s 2-year Acting for Film conservatory at the New York City campus, as well as the 2-day Line Producing workshop. Actress and Producer, Linnea Larsdotter graduated from NYFA’s 2-year Musical Theatre program also at the New York City campus.

    come to harm film poster

    Come to Harm (2021) directed by Anton Kristensen & Ásgeir Sigurðsson

    New York Film Academy has partnered with the Nordic International Film Festival for the third consecutive year to award a scholarship to the winner of the Aurora Borealis category. The award will be presented by NYFA New York Acting For Film Creative Director, Amy Van Horne.

    The two acclaimed Producers co-founded NIFF with the hopes of bridging the divide between Nordic film and the international film community. In keeping with its mission, NIFF dedicates its efforts to support the Black Lives Matter movement and gender equality in the filmmaking community. 

    abyss of the birds film poster

    Abyss of the Birds (2021) directed by Jacob Krzysztof Glogowski

    Caption: Abyss of the Birds (2021) directed by Jacob Krzysztof Glogowski

    In 2020, NIFF pivoted along with every other organization to keep its attendants and participants safe by re-structuring its film showings in response to COVID-19. They included outdoor film screenings and COVID-19 safety restrictions. Back with an in-person venue, the festival is ready to continue its work in maintaining a safe environment in adherence to CDC guidelines. 

    In keeping with its mission, NIFF allocated 50% of its 2020 Official Selection ticket sales to the Brown Art Ink and the Black Independent Filmmaker app. In 2019, the festival touted a staggering 250% more female directors showcased than in the top 250 grossing films in the US, which was a mere 13% in the same year. 

    New York Film Academy congratulates NYFA alumni Johan Matton and Linnea Larsdotter on the continued success of the Nordic International Film Festival as well as this year’s Aurora Borealis winner, Lisa Meyer who directed Birds of Passage.

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    August 23, 2021 • Film Festivals, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 741

  • Films From NYFA Australia Alumni Will Screen at 2021 Gold Coast Film Festival

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    New York Film Academy Australia is excited to share that alumni Stephen Osborne, Josh Hale, and Luke Speech have been selected to screen their films at the 2021 Gold Coast Film Festival (“GCFF”). This year, NYFA Australia is the only film school to have more than one alum featured among the festival’s robust lineup of curated film selections.

    An official GCFF selection, Osborne was invited to screen his film Strangeville at this year’s festival and compete in the Best Australian Indie Film category. The sci-fi dramedy centres in on an outback town, plagued with alien abductions, that must battle unknown forces and dismantle a law enforcement cover-up in the process.

    Still from Stephen Osborne’s “Strangeville”

    Osborne has previously received recognition for the short film Roommate Wanted For The End of The World, winning Best Short Screenplay at the Rome Prisma Independent Film Awards and Screenwriter of The Month for The Monthly Film Festival. His short film Jane also earned Osborne an award for Best First Time Director at the Oniros Film Awards, which he completed during his studies at New York Film Academy.

    In addition to being written and directed by Osborne, Strangeville also includes 21 members of the cast and crew who also attended NYFA’s Gold Coast campus. Among them is Vito Leo who plays Miles in one of the film’s leading roles. Leo has worked most notably on Thor: Ragnorok and the highly-anticipated Godzilla vs. Kong.

    Also on the slate for the GCFF is Hale’s House of Inequity, which will appear in the ‘Dark Nights and Fantastic Fans’ portion of the program, alongside screenings of Willy’s Wonderland and The Lord of The Rings trilogy. The film follows a group of friends that experience a day trip gone wrong after investigating an abandoned house where they must figure out how to survive the night.

    Still from Josh Hale’s “House of Inequity”

    The NYFA Australia alum is known for his critically acclaimed film Digital Athlete: The Road Set League, which earned Hale an IndieFEST Film Award of Merit, a Festival Award at the Festigious International Film Festival, and a Best of the Year Award nomination at the Gold Movie Awards. The producer-director is also in production on the documentary Do or Die and is currently in the development of the thriller Force of Evil.

    Hale’s House of Inequity was originally supposed to have its world premiere at the 2020 GCFF but was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The film credits 17 NYFA Australia alumni among the film’s cast and crew and features the work of NYFA Australia faculty members Stuart Lumsden (NYFA Australia Deputy Chair of Acting for Film), sound design instructor Vic Kaspar (House of Flying Daggers, Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban), and Patrick Ryan (NYFA Australia Associate Chair of Short-Term Filmmaking).

    “I am so proud of what we achieved,” shares Hale. “A local cast and crew utilising the incredible Gold Coast and its glorious production value. I am proud of this film.”

    Film poster for “Paint” by Luke Speech

    Also screening at GCFF is Speech’s Paint. The NYFA Australia alum’s film will screen as part of the EMERGE! showcase of short films that celebrates the best and brightest film talent from Queensland’s next generation of filmmakers.

    NYFA Australia is proud of Filmmaking alumni Stephen Osborne, Josh Hale, and Luke Speech, as well as the incredibly talented group of NYFA Australia alumni and faculty who served as the cast and crew for Strangeville and House of Inequity.

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  • New York Film Academy Partners with the 2021 FOLCS – International Short Film Competition

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) is excited to announce another year of partnership with the Forum on Life, Culture and Society (FOLCS) International Short Film Competition in a five-day virtual event, culminating in an Awards Night on April 8, 2021.

    FOLCS is a non-profit organization that houses culturally relevant conversation topics, providing a unique and enriching experience for audience goers that speaks to the moment with captivating conversations from special guests across multiple industries. NYFA has been a co-host on the FOLCS series of events for the last three years. 

    The annual FOLCS – International Short Film Competition (F-ISFC) is a special event that showcases short films that explore themes of justice, human rights, and the law by emerging filmmakers from all over the world. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for the very first time, FOLCS, in partnership with NYFA, will be virtually hosting its annual short film competition, allowing viewers to screen all of the finalist entries over the course of five days starting April 5, 2021.  

    Finalist films for the FOLCS – International Short Film Competition

    This year’s official film selections include titles from Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Malaysia, and the United States, giving entrants the opportunity to have their films shown to a wide audience and films viewed by distinguished professionals including renowned filmmakers, actors, writers, and journalists. Previous F-ISFC judges from NYFA include Cinematography Chair Piero Basso, Screenwriting Chair Randall Dottin, Filmmaking Chair Andrea Swift, and Filmmaking instructor Jonathan Whittaker.

    Actor William Fichtner

    All ISFC attendees will have the opportunity to vote on their favorite short, which will be counted towards the Audience Favorite Award which will be announced during Awards Night on April 8, 2021. The awards night is open to all F-ISFC ticketholders and will feature a discussion with the finalist filmmakers, NYFA’s own President Michael Young, and actor William Fichtner (Black Hawk Down, Prison Break, The Perfect Storm, The Dark Knight), who will present the award for The Best Short.

    HOW TO WATCH THE FILMS & VIRTUALLY ATTEND:

    The first 200 people to register for this year’s F-ISFC will receive tickets for the virtual film screenings free of charge, while all other registrants will be charged a $2 fee to unlock the official film selections. To view the F-ISFC slate of films selected for this year’s competition, click here. If you would like to register to attend one or all of the screenings for this year’s F-ISFC, click here to register. On April 5, 2021, you will receive an email with instructions on how to unlock and watch each film online. 

    New York Film Academy is a proud partner of this year’s FOLCS – International Short Film Competition and looks forward to being part of this special event celebrating aspiring independent filmmakers from around the globe. 

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  • NYFA Alum Rajni Mysore Chamaraj on Working With Her Sister and Studying in Los Angeles

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    Rajni Mysore Chamaraj, along with her younger sister Shynica Mysore Chamaraj made The Day I Met Joshua, a short film about a social media influencer who encounters a path of self-discovery in the desert. The film was written, directed, and edited by both Chamaraj and Shynica and was screened at the Canadian Academy qualifying festival, Yellowknife Film Festival. The short film also garnered Chamaraj a Best Debut Director award at the Hollywood Film Awards and the Best Editor award in the New York Movie Awards. 

    Film poster for “The Day I Met Joshua”

    “I always felt that film combined the paradox of human nature so well, sometimes the simplicity of a character has left a deep impact. It brought about many changes, subtle, yet life-changing for me. This thought always lingered as to how visual storytelling overcomes all the barriers, be it geography, the human mindsets, or cultural barriers.” – Rajni Mysore Chamaraj

    Chamaraj got her start in Mumbai as the Assistant Creative Director for a television show on Star Plus, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, and eventually became involved in sports broadcasting as an Assistant Producer, creating live and pre-recorded content for sports including NBA games, Champions League, FIFA-U19 World Cup, French Open, World Rally Championship, PGA tours exclusive for the Indian audience. 

    NYFA alum Rajni Mysore Chamaraj (Right) and sister Shynica Mysore Chamaraj (Left)

    After nearly working for four years in the television industry, Chamaraj took her first step to follow her dream of being a storyteller and made the tough decision to leave her job and take-up full-time filmmaking. Her younger sister Shynica, also a filmmaker, was a big influence on that decision. With both siblings having a strong love of the universal language of film and understanding of the other, both knew they needed to pursue filmmaking and eventually work together. 

    “As siblings, we always influenced each other synergistically through our 3:00 a.m. philosophical discussions or just staring randomly into the cityscape of Mumbai with the Arabian Sea in the backdrop,” recalled Chamaraj. “It’s during one such moment, it struck me that I should also get into serious filmmaking and that my sister and I would make a brilliant team. So our idea of teaming up as a family was born with an idea to create an entertainment company that creates multimedia content inspired by regional themes for a worldwide audience. Essentially, we want to use the power of filmmaking to create content that inspires and elevates the human spirit and Entertainment studio that nourishes and mothers evolved, elevated entertainment.” 

    Before venturing into the business of filmmaking, however, Chamaraj wanted to hone her skills and began talking to friends and colleagues about their own film industry journey, leading Rajni to learn more about New York Film Academy. 

    “I attended a two-month program in NYFA Mumbai and instantly fell in love with their teaching methods. You shoot and learn from your mistakes, and there was more hands-on experience than theory classes. The faculty were from around the world which gave me a glimpse into how a long-term program would look like.”

    Photo courtesy of Rajni Mysore Chamaraj

    Eventually, Chamaraj applied and got accepted into the Film & Media Production MA program at NYFA’s Los Angeles campus. “While living in Los Angeles and studying in NYFA, the biggest advantage I got was that I worked on projects that had crew members from around the world. You get real-life experience of working on a film set right In the collage. [Students] can use this wonderful opportunity and make mistakes and learn from them too. It’s just a preparation for you to face the real world that’s not always as conducive as you would like it to be.” 

    “I am an Indian, the whole process of filmmaking is pretty different in India compared to the American way, so I had to learn a lot of new things such as division of work, laws of the land, and constantly update myself with the latest equipment, and technologies. So as an international student, you need to learn to adapt. You’ll learn that this is an important key that can make your career as a filmmaker outside your home country a little less stressful and a little more enjoyable. Go put your best foot forward, The staff and faculty at NYFA will be with you every step of the way. There were always there for me when I needed them.” – Rajni Mysore Chamaraj

    Poster for “The Day I Met Joshua”

    Now, Chamaraj and her sister are in the thick of their careers, with the recent success of their short film The Day I Met Joshua, which received a positive global response on the film festival circuit. 

    The film is based on Chamaraj’s own experience while on a vacation in Florida. “My phone became unusable as its entire software crashed. That night, I had a sense of awakening because it felt like a personal loss, How could a mere gadget have such a deep impact on me?” 

    Chamaraj and Shynica then wrote the film and shot it in the Mojave desert. “It was both a challenging and exciting experience. On the third day of the shoot, we even had unexpected rain, we had to stop shooting for a bit,” she remembered. “While shooting in nature, we have to be extra prepared as we are fighting the uncontrollable elements and all this with a cool head.”

    Shooting “The Day I Met Joshua”

    “We had crews representing almost nine different counties, from India, the USA, Cuba, Ireland to China. So as a team, we had to learn to communicate with each other effectively, considering each one of us was from different cultural backgrounds, it was important to keep the overall morale of the whole team-high and positive.”

    In post-production, the film took its shape. With the film marking the first time Chamaraj and Shynica were officially working together, their whole family celebrated their Best Original Story win at Hollywood Gold Awards. “Even more surreal was when our film was screened to a private audience at the Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank in the very same auditorium where an iconic film like Casablanca was screened for the very first time.”

    Poster for “Finding Home”

    Chamaraj currently resides in India and is working on getting her work visa in the U.S. During the pandemic, the NYFA alum wrote, directed, and edited a short Spanish web series in LA called Finding Home, which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime UK and US. As of now, Chamaraj is working on a four-part anthology series about the lives of four urban Indian girls living in different cities of India. 

    “We just shot the first part in Hyderabad city,” she shared. “I am also working as a screenwriter for an Indo-American feature film to be shot in mid of 2022. It’s going to be an exciting ride, I am looking forward to following my heart and dedicating all my energies to bring to life the stories that have had a deep impact on my life.”

    New York Film Academy is excited to share the success of Rajni Mysore Chamaraj and her sister for the film The Day I Met Joshua and looks forward to seeing Chamaraj’s upcoming projects come to fruition in the near future.

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  • NYFA Filmmaking Alum Meital Cohen Navarro Wins George Sidney Independent Film Competition For Best Narrative Short

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) is thrilled to announce that MFA Filmmaking alum Meital Cohen Navarro has won the George Sidney Independent Film Competition at the world-class San Luis Obispo International Festival (SLO Film Fest) for her NYFA thesis film, Over My Dead Body. The film screened at the festival March 9 – 14, 2021.

    Film poster for “Over My Dead Body”

    Over My Dead Body is written, directed, and produced by Israeli-born female filmmaker Meital Cohen Navarro. Her short film explores the taboo of religious intolerance and inter-cultural marriage after a young Jewish Persian-American woman named Isfahan tells her parents that her fiancé is Muslim.

    Over My Dead Body had its world premiere at the prestigious UK Jewish Film Festival in London last November and its North American Premiere at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. Ahead of the film’s West Coast premiere at SLO Film Fest last week, Cohen Navarro also received critical acclaim for Over My Dead Body from Voice of AmericaNational Magazine Kayhan London, and the Jewish Journal.

    NYFA alum Meital Cohen Navarro

    “As a grandchild of immigrants, making this film was an amazing journey,” recalled Cohen Navarro. “I hope the film helps families with intergenerational rifts to better understand each other: for parents to see the toll it has on their children and for the younger generation to acknowledge their parents’ equally heartbreaking cultural challenges.”

    Behind the scenes during filming “Over My Dead Body”

    Shot in English and Farsi, Over My Dead Body features Muslim, Christian, and Jewish actors and iconic stars of Persian cinema Mary Apick (Dead End) and Bahram Vatanparast (Zan-e bakere) in leading roles.

    “I believe our role as filmmakers is to project a view of our daily lives onto the silver screen with such sincerity and honesty as possible,” shared Apick. “Each character must face all challenges and obstacles that we all face every day in today’s world. Meital Cohen Navarro has certainly accomplished that delicately and beautifully in the film Over My Dead Body.”

    New York Film Academy congratulates Meital Cohen Navarro on her well-deserved win for her film Over My Dead Body at the SLO Film Fest, and looks forward to when her short film will be available to the public.

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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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  • 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 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: 1615

  • NYFA Alumni Meshal Aljaser, Tushar Tyagi, and Dr. Ariel Orama López Qualify for 93rd Academy Awards

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) is excited to announce the eligibility of three alumni projects that are officially qualified to be nominated in the upcoming 93rd Academy Awards for the Live Action Short Film category. With the Oscars ceremony pushed to April 25, 2021, the Academy will announce the shortlist of potential nominees on February 9, 2021, with the second round of voting narrowed to five official Oscar nominees on March 15, 2021.

    The following short films from NYFA alumni have qualified to be nominated for the 2021 Oscars in the Live Action Short Film Category: 

    • Screenwriting BFA alum Meshal Aljaser with Arabian Alien 
    • Acting for Film Workshop alum Dr. Ariel Orama López with 2ḦOOM [Zoom] 
    • 1-Year Filmmaking alum Tushar Tyagi with Saving Chintu

    Short films can qualify for nomination in one of three ways: a seven-day theatrical run in one of six major US cities, winning a qualifying award at a competitive film festival or winning a Gold, Silver, or Bronze Medal in the Student Academy Awards.

    Arabian Alien, written and directed by Saudi filmmaker Meshal Aljaser and produced by NYFA Producing alum Almotaz Aljefri, tells of a married Muslim man, who gets over his depression after a space alien is introduced into his life. The film had its world premiere at the prestigious Sundance 2020, where it won the Vimeo Jury Award and later went on to be the winner of the Atlanta Film Festival (AFF) Jury Prize for Best Narrative Short Film where it was hailed a layered, suspenseful and powerfully strange tale of societal taboos and marital tension, told with emotional precision, silent-film-evoking visuals, cultural authenticity, and startling humor.”

    The AFF win for Arabian Alien, which cemented the film for Oscar consideration, catapulted the film to further critical acclaim including a feature in GQ Middle East, among others, applauding the work of Aljaser and Saudi influencer and actor Mohammed Alhamdan (Warchief), who starred in the film. 

    2ḦOOM [Zoom] from Dr. Orama López is an experimental live-action and animation hybrid short film about two brothers from the Caribbean who discover what unifies them. Using the backdrop of the current pandemic and the all-too-familiar COVID communication platform of choice, Zoom, the film includes voices and talents from the Caribbean, Latin America, Spain, and Italy.

    This is Dr. Orama López’s second consecutive nod for Academy Award consideration with his previous short film, One, qualifying for an Oscar nomination in 2020. “I feel blessed by the opportunity to qualify for the Oscars two years in a row,” Dr. Orama López shared. “I believe that films, more than entertain, can heal us, and represent who we are, as humans.”

    Saving Chintu from Tyagi tells of an American-Indian gay couple who travel to India to adopt a child living with HIV in an orphanage and encounter cultural challenges along the way. Starring Adil Hussain (Life of Pi, Star Trek: Discovery), the film appeared as an official selection at numerous film festivals and received notable critical acclaim, most recently being hailed by both Variety and Rolling Stone India.

    The NYFA alum shared that being part of the 2021 Oscars race is “almost unbelievable” and having Saving Chintu “being watched and celebrated at the top film festivals and praised by so many is a very blissful feeling.”

    NYFA congratulates the alumni who have qualified for Academy Award consideration and wishes them the best of luck when the shortlist is announced on February 9, 2021. 

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  • New York Film Academy Looks Back at the 2020 Highlights

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    As we look back through a challenging year that was 2020, we wanted to take the opportunity to highlight the accomplishments the New York Film Academy (NYFA) community was able to achieve. In the below infographic, we have selected a handful of the many successes our alumni, students, faculty and staff were a part of.

    For more NYFA community stories, you can read more on our blog and headline articles.

    Student Map


    Alumni Successes
    Faculty success stories

    2020 Gif Infographic

     

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