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  • Q&A With NYFA MFA Filmmaking Student Fernanda Belmar on Her New Film ‘Undocumented’ and the Power of Empathy Through Storytelling

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    Every writer has heard the expression “write what you know,” and MFA Filmmaking student Fernanda Belmar took that advice to heart in developing her intermediate film Undocumented. Inspired by her mother’s experience coming to the United States alone to work in order to support her family home in Chile, Fernanda said, “I can’t even imagine how hard it was for her to be away from her only daughter and her mother in a country where she didn’t even know the language.”

    NYFA’s Director of Film Festivals Crickett Rumley sat down with Fernanda and asked her to talk more about the film ahead of its screening in the New Filmmakers LA In Focus: Latinx and Hispanic Cinema Event this weekend, September 25 and 26, 2020.

    Cricket Rumley (CR): This is such a personal story. Can you tell us more about it?

    Fernanda Belmar (FB): My mom came here to the U.S. with my grandmother and me when I was four years old. We stayed for a year and a half until my mom decided to send my grandma and me back to Chile since it was getting harder for her to support us all. So, she stayed by herself. At that time, she was allowed to stay here for six months then go to Chile for the other six out of the year. But when I was nine, she took the risk and stayed here longer than she was allowed, and ended up working here for four years straight. She made that decision because she wanted to give me a better future. It was extremely hard being away from her, and I can’t even imagine how hard it was for her to be away from her only daughter and her mother in a country where she didn’t even know the language.

    Because of that situation, my mom is not allowed to enter the country again. I don’t know if next year that situation will change, but what I do know is that if something ever happens to me here she wouldn’t have the chance to come here because more than a decade ago she broke the rules to give her family a better life.

    Film poster for ‘Undocumented’

    CR: And that’s where the idea for the film came from?

    FB: Undocumented is about a Latinx family with immigrant parents and two American (U.S. citizen) daughters. They live in California except for their oldest daughter, who is studying in New York. A phone call informs the Gómez family that their daughter has been in an accident, and that’s when as a family they have to put everything on the line. Because as undocumented parents they can’t just take a plane and go since the risks of being detained or even deported are higher.

    Still from Belmar’s film ‘Undocumented’

    CR: What was your favorite thing about directing this film?

    FB: My favorite thing about directing this film is the emotions I felt during the whole process. After I met Carolina (who played the mom), Michael (the dad), and Victoria (the daughter who lives at home), I knew it would be an incredible project because when we talked about what Undocumented means to me they just understood. They felt the deep struggle of this family. On set they were the Gómez family. I can’t even put into words how I felt when I saw them bringing these characters and this story into life.

    CR: What a remarkable experience! Tell us, was the most challenging thing about making Undocumented? What did you learn in the process? 

    FB: While I was in pre-production on this film, I was also struggling with how to pay for my school tuition. I had to make the decision to take a semester break, and I wasn’t sure if I would make it back. I was hopeful, but I didn’t have anything secure at the time. And even though it was a devastating feeling, I was so excited about telling this story that I just kept going. We had a low budget, and just two days of shooting, so I had endless meetings with the heads of each department to make sure it would go smoothly and that our schedule will work. It was very hard, but what I learned was that as a director I need a crew that believes in the story as much as I do, because we can make everything happen.

    Still from Belmar’s film ‘Undocumented’

    CR: Which festivals have you been in so far? What has that experience  been like?

    FB: I’ve been in the First-Time Filmmaker Sessions, Life Screenings International Short Film Festival, Lift-Off Film Festival, and I also got selected in the South Texas International Film Festival. The experience has been great. I have had the chance to talk about my film with the audience at some of these festivals. Knowing that people that I don’t know get to see this story makes everything so much worth it.

    CR: I hear this from filmmakers all the time – that seeing your film, talking about your film with complete strangers, is so inspiring and invigorating. So what are you looking forward to with your screening with NFMLA? 

    FB: Wow! I am so excited about this festival. Last year NYFA invited me to this event, and I remember I was so in awe with the whole event, the films, the industry panels, the Q&A with the directors. I remember at some point during the event I told myself: “One day I’ll be part of this festival…” And now I’m actually going to be part of this! I just can’t believe it. I think what I’m most excited about is for the amount of people that are going to see Undocumented, and I wonder how they will react with this story. I’m excited about the entire festival and the opportunities they give us as filmmakers to engage with important people from the industry and the chance to talk about our films.

    CR: It’s going to be an amazing experience! Let’s back up a little. What were you doing before you came to NYFA? 

    FB: I got my undergraduate degree in Digital Audiovisual Communication in July 2018 in Chile. That’s where I found my passion in film after making multiple short films. In my last semester of school, I started my internship at MG Consulting, an important communication company in Chile. After three months as an intern, they hired me full time. While working with them I learned a lot about animation and graphic design. I got the opportunity to make videos for important clients like Sony Music Chile, MG motor, Reebok, and Mobike. 

    CR: Then you came to study at NYFA. What has that been like?

    FB: I’ve learned so many things here at NYFA, it’s insane! The amount of experience I have gotten so far has made me grow tremendously as a filmmaker and as a person as well. NYFA has given me plenty of tools and opportunities to make films and fail and learn and keep making films.

    What is good about NYFA is that everyone in the class has to make a project, so that means we don’t just get to direct, but also we get the chance to be part of the crew of someone else’s project. That’s how we get experience in our field, that’s how we know what we like about filmmaking and what we don’t. That experience is what shapes us to be great filmmakers.

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

    FB: Shout-out to Kim Ogletree for making me like producing someway, somehow. Shout-out to Nick Sivakumaran who was my first directing instructor and taught me so much more than just directing. To Kevin Richey the best cinematography instructor I’ve had. To Gil McDonald for teaching me the wheel to structure my scripts — now I can’t live without it. To Graham Tallman, a fantastic directing instructor. And shout-out to Missy (Dominguez, LA’s Director of Student Life) for always supporting me.

    Fernanda Belmar (Right) behind the camera during a film shoot

    CR: Several NYFA students were part of your crew. What was it like to work with them?

    FB: The best about my crew was the diversity that was in it. This crew had NYFA students from all over the world: India, Kazakhstan, Russia, Italy, Ecuador, Peru, Puerto Rico, Yemen and so many more. Having on the same set people from so many different places and cultures made the set incredibly rich.

    CR: These are trying times in the world today. Art matters more than ever. Do you want to share your personal views about the importance of film in the lives of humans living right now? 

    FB: Films don’t just entertain us, they also help us understand the world, and they give us the opportunity to see much more than what we are used to from where we are from. Films have the power to open our minds, to make us feel and relate to something we didn’t know we could. Films and the arts in generals are so powerful, and I believe that the arts are what can make us humans be better. 

    CR: Beautifully said! Lastly, tell us when your film screening is and where we can get tickets. Is there anything else we should know about the screening? 

    FB: The film is for two days: Friday the 25th and Saturday the 26th. You can get the tickets here in this link. There are two kinds of passes: 

    • One that is for the whole festival with industry panels, Q&A’s with all the directors and the screening of all the films
    • Or you can get single tickets for specific programs. My film is in Program #3: Generational Echoes, Saturday 26th at 6:15 pm PT, with the live Q&A at 8 p.m. PT.

    Since it is a virtual screening, after you get your tickets you’ll receive an email to watch the respective films at any time you want between Friday and Saturday. 

    I can’t wait to see you all there!

    The New York Film Academy is a proud Academic Delegation Partner of New Filmmakers LA and will be taking a group of students to the festival this weekend to enjoy the panels, the discussions, the networking, and the films. Fernanda, we’ll see you there! 

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  • Assembly Line Entertainment Founder & NYFA Producing Alum Janek Ambros Shares Exciting Slate of Upcoming Projects and Collaborations with Fellow Producing Alum Robbie Leacock

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    After graduation, it’s straight to set for many alumni; but for others, it means a new era of innovation injected into the film industry by bringing in new, incredible stories to new audiences. MFA Producing alum Janek Ambros decided to do just that by starting up his own international production company, Assembly Line Entertainment, which has already had films appear in festivals all over the world including Sundance and Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

    “When I first arrived in Los Angeles, I took a production company course at NYFA,” recalled Ambros. “It was in that class where I created the company logo, and the type of company I’d want (heavily inspired by American Zoetrope). Seven years later, we’re on a very similar path that was outlined in class – starting with shorts and moving on to high-end festivals like Sundance and TIFF, with more development focused on projects we make from the ground up. It’s testament to NYFA’s goal of learning by doing.”

    Janek Ambros (Right) at TIFF for Assembly Line Pictures’ ‘Human Capital’

    Assembly Line Entertainment already boasts an impressive filmography, including 10,000 Saints (Ethan Hawke, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld), Human Capital (Maya Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Liev Schreiber, Alex Wolff), and documentary Imminent Threat (Dir. Janek Ambros), among others. 

    “We’re excited to be working on a new large slate of movies going into 2021 that we’re producing with our new Head of Production, Kahlilah King,” shared Ambros. “From traditional narratives to social impact docu-series, we [Assembly Line Entertainment] have many projects that are adapting to the ever-changing landscape of distribution.”

    Alex Wolff (Left) and Maya Hawke (Right) in ‘Human Capital’ (Photo Courtesy of Assembly Line Entertainment)

    Some of those upcoming projects slated for release include Mondo Hollywoodland (Dir. Janek Ambros), animated political satire First New Nation, an untitled birthing docu-series (Written by Khaliah King), and Sixties, a digital campaign on social media that features 60-second films from countries all over the world to highlight new developing directors.

    Another upcoming project is feature film Hey, Johnny, directed by Ambros and produced by fellow NYFA Producing alum Robbie Leacock, who previously also produced Imminent Threat, serves as the executive producer the Sixties project, and is writing and producing upcoming mockumentary series The Flat Tyres for Assembly Line Entertainment. 

    Robbie Leacock (Left) on set of ‘The Flat Tyres’ (Photo Courtesy of Assembly Line Entertainment)

    After graduating from NYFA, Leacock started at Potboiler Productions as a producer’s assistant before moving up to assistant producer. He later served as an associate producer on Netflix’s The Red Sea Diving Resort before returning to the U.S. to join producing partner Janek Ambros at Assembly Line Entertainment. “We were always told that the relationships you build at film school are the ones that will last throughout your career, and this proved to be so true,” revealed Leacock. “We now have our first TV series in the works (The Flat Tyres), a satirical comedy about a gang of hijackers from the townships, for which we are currently shooting on location in Cape Town, South Africa.”

    With a slate of upcoming projects and new opportunities for Ambros’ production company, 2021 is set to be the biggest year yet for Assembly Line Entertainment and the NYFA alumni, who are working to create character-driven projects for audiences that reflect modern society.

    Assembly Line Pictures Founder Janek Ambros

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate NYFA Alumni Janek Ambros and Robbie Leacock on their upcoming projects with Assembly Line Entertainment and looks forward to hearing about new projects as they develop. 

    NYFA also encourages readers to check out Assembly Line Entertainment’s Instagram account, where their project Sixties will officially be launched. For a full list of the company’s productions, click here.

    Assembly Line Entertainment
    Founder: Janek Ambros
    Producer: Robbie Leacock

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  • NYFA MFA Filmmaking Alum Aastha Verma Screens ‘The Last Rights’ at Topaz Film Festival

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    “I think that film has the responsibility of promoting change and helping the advancement of society,” says Fall 2017 MFA Filmmaking alum Aastha Verma, and she is certainly doing that with her short thesis film The Last Rights. The story follows a young Indian woman who returns to her hometown of Varanasi, India, and challenges her society’s patriarchal traditions in order to give her deceased grandmother her last rites. Verma explained,“My goal in making this film was to shed light on how women are treated in tradition-driven India as well as how Indians who left to work abroad are perceived by their friends and families back home.”

    Beautifully photographed and filled with stunning imagery, The Last Rights premieres at the Topaz Film Festival in Dallas, Texas, where it will be available on demand September 8-13, 2020. Crickett Rumley, NYFA’s Director of Film Festivals, spoke with Aastha about her path to making this film.  

    Crickett Rumley (CR): Congratulations on such a compelling story, Aastha. Tell us about yourself. What were you doing before you came to NYFA?

    Aastha Verma (AV): Before coming to NYFA, I got my bachelor degree in International Business Management. What got me into filmmaking was a number of factors, one of which was that I felt that there was a perspective that was missing of sorts. I did not see any of the films in theatre tackle subjects that I was passionate about. Plus, I used to do photography as a hobby, so at some point I started to wonder what kind of stories would I be able to tell with more than one frame? A combination of both of these factors led me to Los Angeles.

    CR: What was your favorite thing about directing this film?

    AV: Quite frankly, all of it, the experience as a whole. More specifically, this was my first time directing actors in a professional function. Instead of the regular set you’d have for a thesis film, it was a city in India, with a completely different filmmaking culture which made the whole thing quite thrilling. I had never tackled a project of this scale beforehand, so it was quite a challenge. But this very same challenge motivated me to live up to it.

    The production phase was very much a collaborative process with my cast and crew as everybody believed in the project which made it, all in all, a very wholesome experience. I was very grateful for my cast and crew.

    ‘The Last Rights’ film poster

    CR: What was the most challenging thing about making the film? What did you learn in the process?

    AV: The most challenging part of it all was when, during pre-production we took the team to the Shamshan Ghat, the funerary riverbed where the rites are performed. It’s the location where the final scene of the film takes place.

    The local priest’s brother essentially snuck us in, acting as a chaperone, as my team and I looked around and took notes about how the location looked. We had originally brought cameras to film the location so we could then study it at home, but they had been confiscated. The reason for such secrecy is that women aren’t allowed to be at the Shamshan Ghat. The production designer and I were the only women there, and all the men there that day (who were not part of the crew) looked at us as if our presence was heresy. 

    So the challenge was figuring out how to portray an act that I had never been able to even witness firsthand. The very reason we were there was to see how exactly the rites are done, beyond what is simply written in books. There was an irony to it all: I was making a film about this very inequality, yet I wasn’t even allowed to be at the Ghat physically without a chaperone.

    Eventually we recreated the scene on a private property bordering another part of the river.

    CR: What are you looking forward to with your screening with the Topaz Film Festival?

    AV: I’m really excited to meet new people all in the same industry as me. Those conversations will definitely be fun. In fact, there’s an entire panel dedicated to helping the filmmakers meet and interact with each other, and I’m glad to be a part of it.

    CR: How do you think your education at NYFA and the work you did here prepared you for a career in filmmaking? Do you have any special shout-outs to faculty or staff who really helped or inspired you?

    AV: Well, the way NYFA works is that they expose you to extreme shooting conditions so when we’re actually on set, professionally, we’re mentally prepared for the ropes. I think that’s an efficient way of allowing us to learn the ropes. Plus, the fact that it’s such an international school allowed me to be paired with many filmmakers from different countries and walks of life which helped me find my individuality as an artist.

    Special shout-out to Nick Sivakumaran, as well as Scott Hartmann, Kim Ogletree, David Newman, Igor Torgeson and Crickett Rumley for their help with this film, as well as everybody else who taught my course in NYFA!

    Aastha Verma behind the scenes on ‘The Last Rights’

    CR: Since you graduated, you’ve been really busy with music videos. Can you tell us about that?

    AV: It was definitely a breakthrough in my career, a level-up of sorts. It was a wonderful experience to be a part of the team and working with a crew composed of both NYFA alumni and other professionals. Diljit Dosanjh is one of India’s most popular up-and-coming singers, so receiving an invitation to work as a producer on all the music videos from his latest album was amazing. The pandemic didn’t stop us head-banging to the tunes on the set!

    CR: These are trying times in the world today. Art matters more than ever. Do you want to share any words, your personal views about the importance of film in the lives of humans living right now?

    AV: The biggest lesson I am taking away from these times, specifically, is about compassion and patience. Staying at home due to COVID-19 is almost a sort of purgatory, like when your parents put you in a corner. It allows you to reflect on who you are, what your art is.

    It also enables compassion, allows you to appreciate those who are there for you, and be there for others, when the chips are down. These are all lessons that movies have taught us throughout history, but that I only found myself truly appreciating in these trying times.

    CR: What time is your film screening and where can we get tickets? Is there anything else we should know about the screening?

    AV: I’m glad you asked! Up until the 13th, The Last Rights is screening all day, at any time. You can get the tickets here. Please go check it out!

    If you want to know more about the process of making this film, I will also be speaking at the ‘Meet the Filmmakers’ panel on Sunday the 13th from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. PT. Click here to get your ticket.

    Finally, the film is in the running for Topaz’s Audience Award! If you like the film, please don’t forget to vote for it. To vote, it’s easy: once you’re logged in on the virtual catalog (or at the content library, watch.eventive.org/me), all you need to do is go the screening page, select The Last Rights from the sidebar, and a ballot will appear below the “cover image” in the center of the screen.

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    September 11, 2020 • Film Festivals, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 699

  • NYFA AFA Filmmaking Alum Nick Venuti Screens Film ‘Buffalo Scientists’ at Dances With Films Festival

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    In a classic case of “write what you know,” recent alum Nick Venuti, from the Fall 2018 AFA Filmmaking class, drew from his past when developing ideas for his thesis film, Buffalo Scientists. “Thinking about what it would be like if two of my childhood friends attempted some big crazy thing and picturing how it would play out” was his inspiration. “They always had big imaginations and typically don’t think things through,” Venuti said, ”so I thought it would make an entertaining movie. From there, I just started thinking, how could I turn it up a notch? What if the clerk (main character) was our favorite high school math teacher, Mr. Hughes?” 

    The result is Buffalo Scientists, a quirky dark comedy, that had its world premiere at the Dances with Films festival in Los Angeles on August 28, 2020.  Director of NYFA’s Film Festival Department, Crickett Rumley, caught up with Nick to talk about the film right after his first screening and before his second with the well-known indie festival. 

    Crickett Rumley (CR): Congratulations on getting into Dances With Films!  Tell us a little bit more about your film. 

    Nick Venuti (NV): Buffalo Scientists is a comedy about an ex-history teacher named Bill Peterson. Bill works at a convenience store in Sacramento run by his egotistical manager, Carl. After Carl leaves for the night, 2 masked men, Jeremy and Alan, enter to rob the store. During the robbery they recognize Bill as their former high school history teacher. After reminiscing about the past, Bill decides to join the boys on an adventure into the night.  

    CR: And what a bizarre adventure it is.  It must have been so much fun to direct.  What was your favorite thing about directing it?

    NV: It was the first film that I felt like I was really the director. I had such an amazing team with me on set that for the first time ever I didn’t feel like I had to micromanage every aspect of production. I could focus solely on directing. I got to spend so much more time with the actors than I ever have. I love doing almost everything on set, but it was so cool to experience being just the director for once. 

    Film poster for ‘Buffalo Scientists’

    CR: Did you experience any challenges in making the film? 

    NV: I think the most challenging part for me, and for a lot of people is the final 5% of post-production; when the energy and excitement of being on set and seeing the first cut is over. It is hard to work in that final stretch where you have already seen the film 50+ times and you still need to watch it two or three times a day just to clean up all the small glitches and hiccups. You start to fall out of love with the film a little bit after seeing it so many times. After crossing the finish line, all the fun comes back with festivals and showing people for the first time, but the hardest part is definitely locking the film. 

    CR: I agree. I think all artists get tired of their work at some point, and that’s when you have to dig in even deeper.  What was your biggest takeaway from making the film? 

    NV: I learned how awesome it is to have a producer helping. I could not have done it to this scale if I didn’t have my producer (and NYFA Alumni) Andrew Reyna. I handled all the paperwork and logistics for my previous films, so I didn’t realize how much a great producer frees you up to focus on the creative aspects until this project. 

    CR: Let’s back up a little. How and when did you decide to go into film?  

    NV: I am from Binghamton, a city in upstate New York. I started looking into film when I had a stop motion project in high school. I loved directing and writing the project so much that I took some film courses at my local community college. My teacher saw I was really passionate about the subject, so he recruited me to drive down to the Everglades to work on a project for the school. I had to live in a tent for two weeks as we had to shoot a documentary for a local news station. At this point I still barely knew how to turn on a camera, but I loved every second of it. When I got back, I started looking for film schools. I knew I wanted to try and make a career in film, so I began looking for a school that could help me do just that. I discovered the New York Film Academy, went to New York to check it out and knew it was the place for me. I went to the New York City campus for the first year and liked it so much I decided to do my second year at the LA campus. 

    CR: Do you think your education at NYFA and the work you did here prepared you for a career in filmmaking? 

    NV: I think NYFA does an amazing job at throwing you straight into the deep end and just having you try to see what you can do. I believe just two months in we already had four films under our belts. This made it so easy to experiment and try things that I would never have done otherwise. We just constantly had to make new films and got to see what worked and what didn’t. It was tough making a new film every week but it was essential in helping me to build my own style and voice. 

    Nick Venuti on set with actors

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

    NV: There were so many teachers that helped and inspired me: Lea Brandenburg, Ben Cohen, Brad Sample, Joe Burke, Crickett Rumley, and Richard D’Angelo all impacted me more than they could ever know. There are many more but those in particular stood out. 

    CR: Thanks for the shout-out!  Much appreciated.  So, this is your first film festival with Buffalo Scientists, and Dances with Films is such a great place to get started.  What has it been like to work with them? 

    NV: Dances with Films has been absolutely amazing. The festival has to be online this year due to COVID-19, but they are working as hard as they can to get it as close to the real thing as possible. They have virtual lounges and panels, and everything is live. It all helps it to still feel special even though we can’t experience being in Los Angeles and in the theater. Dances with Films has gone above and beyond with this as an online festival. 

    CR: What were you looking forward to about your screening? 

    NV: Before the virus, I was really looking forward to finally sharing the film with everyone in The Chinese Theater on the big screen and getting to meet the other amazing filmmakers in our block. Unfortunately, the whole festival went online, so that dampened the excitement a little, but it still was a pretty cool feeling knowing that lots of people from all over the world were watching. 

    CR: You moved back to New York after finishing your degree at the LA campus. What are you up to these days? 

    NV: I’ve been keeping busy since getting out of school. I have directed a few local commercials, was DP for a feature film in January, shot a couple music videos for local artists, and I have been getting consistent editing work on the side. Currently, SUNY Broome hired me to direct and shoot virtual field trips for the college and I have been working on scripts for future projects. I am also waiting to see how Buffalo Scientists does in festivals and if there is any interest in a feature version of the film. 

    CR: Back to Dances With Films, when is your next screening and where can we get tickets? 

    NV: We have another screening on Saturday September 5 at 11:15 pm PDT. You can get tickets for the Midnight Shorts block here.

    CR: Is there anything else we should know about the screening? 

    NV: Although our film is a comedy, I want to mention that we are placed in the comedy/horror section of the festival, so some of the films in our shorts block can be very dark and violent. 

    CR: Definitely one for the late night crowd!  Congratulations again, Nick.  Enjoy that next screening.

     Nick Venuti’s film, Buffalo Scientists, will screen a second time on Saturday, September 5, 2020 at 11:15 p.m. PT. For tickets and more information, click here.

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    September 3, 2020 • Film Festivals, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 451

  • New York Film Academy MFA Filmmaking Student Phyllis Tam Named a Finalist in 47th Annual Student Academy Awards

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    New York Film Academy’s (NYFA) own Phyllis Tam, who recently graduated with her MFA in Filmmaking from NYFA’s Los Angeles campus, has been named a finalist in the 47th Annual Student Academy Awards for her narrative short film Fragile Moon.

    Still from Student Academy Award finalist film ‘Fragile Moon’ (Photo Courtesy of Phyllis Tam)

    Tam’s short film will compete in the Narrative (Domestic Schools) category in the Student Academy Awards.

    “I could not be more excited that Fragile Moon made it to the semifinals for the Student Academy Awards,” shares NYFA’s Director of Film Festivals, Crickett Rumley. “Phyllis worked so diligently to perfect every single detail of her film — down to the placement of subtitles — that it’s no wonder her dedication paid off. It is such a timely story about the impact that immigrating to the U.S and pursuing the American dream has on families. The themes of memory, loss, and the healing power of art resonate long after the film is over.”

    Still from ‘Fragile Moon’ (Photo Courtesy of Phyllis Tam)

    “We are proud to see Phyllis Tam’s creativity and hard work pay off with her film Fragile Moon as she continues to advance in this prestigious competition for student filmmakers worldwide,” says NYFA President Michael Young. “Like Phyllis’ honorary achievement with the Student Academy Awards, we are excited to see NYFA students go on to achieve their dreams with their outstanding work.”

    Finalists for the Student Academy Awards were announced on August 13, 2020, with the ceremony confirmed for Thursday, October 15, 2020.

    The winners of the Student Academy Awards will be eligible to compete for the 2020 Oscars in the following categories: Animated Short Film, Live Action Short Film, or Documentary Short Subject category. Previous Student Academy Award winners have gone on to win 11 Oscars, and receive 63 Oscar nominations, among them include: Cary Fukunaga, Spike Lee, Trey Parker, and Robert Zemeckis.

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  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA Documentary Filmmaking Alum Drama del Rosario Awarded ‘Juried Prize’ in The 2020 PBS Short Film Festival

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    In late July, New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA Documentary Filmmaking alum Drama del Rosario received one of the two awarded prizes for the 2020 PBS Short Film Festival. The documentary filmmaking alum caught the eye of voters and the prestigious Jury for the competition and ultimately received this years ‘Juried Prize’ for his film In This Family

    Del Rosario was awarded the prestigious prize by eight jury members, who selected the NYFA alum’s film as their favorite out of all the festival selections. In addition to del Rosario’s film, all festival selections are available to the public to watch online.

    ‘In This Family’ film poster

    Del Rosario is a Filipinx documentary filmmaker based in Los Angeles. He is the recipient of the 2019 BAFTA-GSA Commissioning Grant for his documentary film, I’m Okay (And Neither Are You), which touches on sexual assault trauma from a gay couple’s perspective. The NYFA alum is known for creating documentary films that challenge the Filipinx Catholic background and he has worked with many international names including BeBe Zahara Benet (Winner, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 1) and Sophie Sumner (Winner, America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 18). 

    His latest documentary, In This Family, is a twelve minute short film that chronicles what happens after del Rosario’s teach outs him as a gay man and includes recordings of his family’s reaction to the news.

    “Thank you so much to everyone who watched and voted for my documentary! Your support has been so overwhelming, and I am so moved by all the messages from queer youth, parents of queer children, and teachers of queer students,” shared del Rosario. “I hope this documentary moves us closer to helping the LGBTQIA+ community feel safe and loved, especially within Asian families and schools.”

    Del Rosario also credits NYFA alum Naya Rivera, who tragically passed away in early July, as a source of inspiration for his short film. “In the documentary, I reference various queer programs, Glee especially. Naya Rivera’s character, Santana Lopez, was one of the crucial queer characters that helped me and my family get to where we are now. It is a testament to how much queer entertainment can change the life of a family on the other side of the world. Rest in Power, Naya Rivera.”

    The NYFA alum also shares that this documentary is an important release in his native country as it is produced by Cinematografo, which is under the Filipino production company ABS-CBN International. “It has been so humbling to have this documentary represent how important it is to keep Philippine media alive and growing! Our voices need to be heard!” His full statement can be found below.

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    WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER!!!!!!!! 🎉🔥✨💕😭🎊⭐️🏆 My documentary film “IN THIS FAMILY” is officially the JURY WINNER for this year’s PBS Short Film Festival! This is so huge coming from a very, very stacked jury! 😱 Thank you so much to everyone who watched and voted for my documentary! Your support has been so overwhelming, and I am so moved by all the messages from queer youth, parents of queer children, and teachers of queer students. I hope this documentary moves us closer to helping the LGBTQIA+ community feel safe and loved, especially within Asian families and schools. ❤️ Furthermore, showcasing this documentary at this particular time has been special to me for two reasons… 1️⃣ First, this documentary is executive produced by Cinematografo, which is under ABS-CBN International. As a lot of people know, ABS-CBN and Philippine media in general are not in a good place right now because of Philippine politics. It has been so humbling to have this documentary represent how important it is to keep Philippine media alive and growing! Our voices need to be heard! 2️⃣ Second, I am extremely touched by all the messages from Glee fans regarding the recent death of Naya Rivera. In the documentary, I reference various queer programs, Glee especially. Naya Rivera’s character Santana Lopez was one of the crucial queer characters that helped me and my family get to where we are now. It is a testament to how much queer entertainment can change the life of a family on the other side of the world. Rest in Power, Naya Rivera. ❤️ I am incredibly honored to receive this award. Thank you so much to CAAM (@caamedia and their superstar team @czarinagee, @akolaurenlola, @livinproofsf, @gracehwanglynch, @krakauer, @sushboy34 ++) for believing in my film as your official entry and for always supporting my career as a documentary filmmaker. Thank you so much to PBS (@pbs) for putting together an amazing film festival with an amazing film line-up and jury. And most of all, thank you so much to my family for continuing to change and grow. I would not be where I am right now had you not powered through the discomfort of growth and change. ALL MY LOVE! 🏆💕

    A post shared by Drama Del Rosario (@dramadelrosario) on

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate NYFA Documentary Filmmaking alum Drama del Rosario for his latest achievement and looks forward to what is next from the talented filmmaker. 

    To watch the full documentary, view below or click here

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  • Film by New York Film Academy (NYFA) Filmmaking Conservatory Student Kai Kaldro Selected for NewFilmmakers NY Festival

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    Native New Yorker and New York Film Academy (NYFA) 1-Year Filmmaking Conservatory student Kai Kaldro has always immersed himself in multiple film genres for inspiration, including noir and neo-noir, which influenced his latest film and NewFilmmakers NY Festival pick, Sinner’s Lullaby.

    Kai Kaldro was born to two musicians in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and is the youngest of four children. He grew up with a fascination for making movies and, in addition to filmmaking, is a passionate freelance editor, specializing in reels, promo clips, trailers, and music videos. Kaldro’s creative style for his projects place a heavy emphasis on mysterious atmospheres, special FX, high contrast photography, action, and rock music. 

    ‘Sinner’s Lullaby’ official selection for NewFilmmakers NY Festival

    Kaldro’s latest film, Sinner’s Lullaby, was recently selected to be part of the NewFilmmakers NY Festival, which was the first film circuit Kaldro says he has ever applied for. “It was admittedly nerve-racking awaiting a response. The mentality I had about entering Sinner’s Lullaby into festivals was that I just hoped it’d make it into at least one, so now I feel like a pressure has been lifted, and I’m more at ease awaiting to hear back from the others,” he shares.

    “I think that’s a feeling that is prevalent in many avenues of the film business, whether it’s actors waiting in great suspense to hear back from auditions, filmmakers checking their email to hear back about their script from producers, or waiting to read reviews from critics. So, my process felt very much educational in terms of getting me ready for the future in the industry, and I’m grateful for that experience.”

    Kaldro’s short film, Sinner’s Lullaby, is a black & white, romantic neo-noir short film produced on a budget of $200. The mobster film centers around a young private detective from Brooklyn named Charlotte Meridian and her lounge singer girlfriend Barbara Ann Bergman, as they discover the true nature of their romance when confronted with a menacing face from the past.

    NYFA filmmaking student Kai Kaldro

    The film’s pre-production took eight weeks, principal photography was shot over the course of three days. and post-production took close to a month to cut. “I wanted Sinner’s Lullaby to look and feel very stylized and over-the-top in it’s presentation and atmosphere. I think as academic and cerebral as many make noir out to be, for how it explores the amoral side of the human psyche, there’s an inherent element of fun mysterious camp to it all, and I really wanted to embrace that.,” reveals Kaldro.”  

    While there is a mystery that unravels throughout the first act, Sinner’s Lullaby is, first and foremost, a love story. “It’s about how the ones who we love the most are the ones who, deep down, we actually know the least.” Kaldro, who is working on a feature-length script for Sinner’s Lullaby, hopes to bring the full length feature to life some day as a more realized concept. 

    His biggest inspirations for his film were Jacques Tourneur’s Out of The Past (1947) and Bound (1996) by The Wachowskis. “I’m a big fan of classic black & white and technicolor films, and the idea of a same-sex couple, but in a black & white period-esque setting, with very benign, playful, and old-fashioned sort of dialogue/acting akin to Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Becall, Ginger Rogers, or Fred Astaire has always interested me.”

    Miranda Rizzolo as Charlotte Meridian in ‘Sinner’s Lullaby’ (Photo courtesy of Kai Kaldro)

    “The original Motion Picture Production Code had restrictions in place to present the couples on screen in classic films as almost fairy-tale like, and I think there’s a very charming innocence to a lot of those on screen duos that I really adore, but The MPPC also prevented homosexuality from appearing on film,” tells Kaldro. “I’ve always felt, historically, gay and lesbian characters were robbed of having that kind of treatment and on screen chemistry, so that’s what we set out to achieve with my characters in this film (Charlotte and Barbara).”

    Miranda Rizzolo (Charlotte) and Elvira Levin (Barbara), a NYFA alum, really understood the classical, romantic dynamic. While filming, they really knocked me dead with their performances and chemistry on screen together and both actresses were fantastic to work with.”

    While Kaldro continues his studies at NYFA, he reveals he has an upcoming sci-fi short on the horizon called Dissolved Girl, which follows a young, misunderstood computer hacker and an undercover robot cop during a time of heated cultural tension between humans and machines in a futuristic NYC. “The cast, crew, script, and locations have been secured, we’re just waiting on things to substantiate here in the city from COVID-19, so that we can return to work safely.”

    Elvira Levin as Barbara Ann Bergman in ‘Sinner’s Lullaby’ (Photo courtesy of Kai Kaldro)

    Kaldro encourages students and filmmakers alike to “stick to their guns and make the films they’re most interested in seeing” and shares, “you can always see the uncompromising spirit within a lot of student/low budget films, when those involved are making the kind of content they hold a lot of reverence for, whether it’s the story, the aesthetic, or both.”

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Filmmaking student Kai Kaldro on his outstanding achievement of having Sinner’s Lullaby selected for the NewFilmmakers NY Festival and looks forward to following Kaldro’s filmmaking career.

    UPDATE 8/17/20: Kaldro’s film was selected as a semi-finalist in the Rainbow Cinema Awards LGBT Film Festival.

    UPDATE 8/25/20: Kaldro’s film was selected for the Venice Shorts Film Festival,

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    July 7, 2020 • Film Festivals, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1216

  • New York Film Academy’s South Beach Campus Announces Winners for NYFA South Beach Made at Home Festival

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    With many festivals being cancelled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, New York Film Academy South Beach instructor Eduardo “Eddy” Santa-Maria decided to engage South Beach students to create their own films from home and have a place to have them shares and voted on for NYFA’s first-ever Made at Home Festival, presented by NYFA South Beach. The Festival’s winners included MFA Acting for Film student Yulia Korotkova (Student Choice Award), and One Year Filmmaking Conservatory student McKenzie Mortensen (Staff & Faculty Choice Award).

    “I constantly see students stop each other in the halls and ask ‘hey how’s that film going,’ and I’ve seen those same students leave that conversation inspired and ready to make a film of their own. That infectious creativity seemed to have died down as we move to remote learning,” shared Santa-Maria. “So, in order to get that vibe back, the itch to create, I figured the Festival would give them a challenge where their creativity would be put to the test and, hopefully, inject that sense of creativity that NYFA is famous for.”

    Students who participated in the Film Festival were given one month to develop, write, shoot, and edit a 5-minute film completely shot from their own home. With the Coronavirus pandemic shutting down many areas all over the country, students were encouraged to use what they had at home, from camera equipment (mobile phones, DSLR) to casting their film with only themselves or who they lived with. 

    McKenzie Mortensen, who won the Staff & Faculty Choice Award for her short film Quarantined, was inspired to make her film due to her own personal experiences of being alone during the pandemic. The Burley, Idaho native’s short film is a horror-comedy about a girl who becomes so bored and lonely that she makes friends with an evil villain, who crawls out of her television. In addition to the full film below, Mortensen has also shared her Quarantined storyboard available here.

    “I hope the audience was able to relate to my short emotionally since my film subject was very current,” says Mortensen. “I also hope they were able to let out a laugh, chuckle or giggle.” Mortensen will graduate from the One Year Filmmaking Conservatory from NYFA’s South Beach campus in September and plans to pursue a career in film editing. In addition to her short film Quarantined and Doritos Super Bowl competition entry, Mortensen also created a short stop motion film, which can be viewed here.

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    Utah vibes ❤️ #2019

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    Winner of the Student Choice Award, Yulia Korotkova, was inspired to create her short film Waters after playing around with different shots and angles taken on her cellphone. After attempting to create a shot of someone being pulled out from under the bed, she was inspired to create a thriller about soul-collecting water that could be condensed for the Festival’s parameters. “The original script was a ten minute film and we [Korotkova and her husband] feel proud of having created this film only using an iPhone without any professional equipment,” she explains.

    Behind the scenes for ‘Waters’ (Directed by Yulia Korotkova)

    Korotkova, who was born in Russia and grew up in Venezuela, moved to Miami 11 years ago and is currently studying acting at NYFA South Beach. Waters, she explains, is her first-ever film. “I was hoping to entertain and, at the same time, show how there is no need for expensive equipment and large expensive production in order to tell a story.”

    NYFA South Beach student Yulia Korotkova

    While the film is not yet posted publicly, Korotkova has released a teaser trailer and encourages readers to check out some of the behind the scenes information for her film.

    Santa-Maria shares he hopes students can realize they don’t need huge sets, expensive cameras, or a large crew to tell a heartfelt story. “As cheesy as it sounds, I wanted our students to realize that no matter where they are in life, no one can take away their ability to tell captivating stories.”

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate NYFA South Beach students McKenzie Mortensen and Yulia Korotkova for winning the top prizes for the South Beach Made at Home Festival and encourages everyone to watch each student’s available footage to get their own creative inspiration. 

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  • NYFA Alum Screens Thesis Film ‘Loving Byron’ at New Filmmakers LA Monthly Film Event

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    A few years ago, filmmaker Deante’ Gray was staying in his mom’s  house in Houston, Texas, while recovering a torn ACL from playing football for the Houston Texans. After leaving the NFL, Deante’ took his career in a completely new direction and enrolled in the New York Film Academy’s MA in Film and Media Production program.

    This Sunday, June 28, 2020 at 12:00 p.m. PT/3:00 p.m. ET, he will be screening the results of that venture, his thesis film Loving Byron, at New Filmmakers LA’s monthly film event.

    Crickett Rumley, NYFA’s Director of Film Festivals, spoke with Deante’ as he prepared for the screening.

    Film poster for ‘Loving Byron’

    Crickett Rumley (CR)Congratulations on getting selected for New Filmmakers! Tell us about your film.

    Deante Gray (DG):  Loving Byron is about a 17-year-old boy who runs away from his problematic home with his girlfriend to live in the middle of nowhere. After finding out she’s pregnant, he has to decide how far he’s willing to go for the love of his life.

    CR: What was the inspiration?

    DG: My inspiration for making this film was my upbringing and seeing how similar a lot of me and my peers were as teenagers growing up in Houston. How a kid can be so in love, so hopeful in life, and it all being stripped away at a moment’s notice.

    Reflecting now on where I’m at in my life, it’s insane how one decision can lead people, good people, down so many different paths. I think in large part where I am in my life, is purely out of sheer luck. I wasn’t smarter than my peers, I wasn’t any more athletic, I didn’t hold a higher moral standard than any one kid growing up. I just got lucky that my collection of choices and decisions didn’t lead me to a path of potential destruction.

    Deante’ directing behind the scenes on ‘Loving Byron’

    CR: The film is beautiful, yet the circumstances very much reflect the times we live in today.  Without spoiling the story, can you talk about how Loving Byron addresses systemic racism and the Movement for Black Lives?

    DG: I think anyone with a deep understanding of systematic racism and the affect it has historically had on the Black community will be able to immediately see the tree in which these issues stem from within the community. And if that’s not enough. There’s a scene between two characters in my film — it’s probably my favorite scene I’ve ever written — that tells you verbatim what systematic racism is.

    CR: It’s a powerful scene. What was your favorite thing about directing this film?

    DG: Definitely the character exploration I went through with my actors prior to filming and also during filming. I felt in discussing with my actors why characters made certain decisions through the movie I was indirectly in my own therapy session. There would be times where I’d realize there were things about my own upbringing that I had never even considered or talked about, and I was forced to somewhat channel those deep feelings and understand them better. Not only that, but my lead is actually my best friend that I grew up with in Houston. So our connection and us knowing everything about one another only amplified the focus and care that was needed to make this film what it is.

    CR: It sounds like the process of making this film had a healing effect. It’s so cool you got to experience that with an old friend. What were other challenges you faced in making the film?

    DG: The most challenging thing was learning how to properly navigate a workable budget. I’m still fairly new to this level of filmmaking, so I don’t know very much about the places and resources to get funding for a film like this. A lot of it was me learning as I was going.

    I learned that you truly can’t be an introvert in this business. If you really want to make a film and want money for it, you have to go out there and get it for yourself.

    Still from Deante’ Gray’s thesis film ‘Loving Byron’

    CR: Just as the film is getting out there now.  Which festivals have you been in so far?

    DG: This will be Loving Byron’s fourth festival selection. Before COVID-19 happened, it was selected for the San Diego Black Film Festival, and that was a tremendous experience. It was my first time since my NYFA screening that I got to interact with audience members after the viewing of my film. It’s moving how impactful certain people can find your film to be. The Q and A’s were amazing along with all the networking events that they had for us filmmakers.

    Loving Byron also won the Remi award at WorldFest Houston International Film Festival, which unfortunately due to COVID-19 got suspended.

    CR: And now you’re in New Filmmakers LA’s monthly screening – it’s such a great local festival. What are you looking forward to this weekend?

    DG: I’m curious to see if a virtual festival can still have that communal filmmaker vibe that typical film festivals have.  A cool thing that they are doing is after the Q and A’s, they are holding random Zoom rooms of four to five people for 30 minutes or so. So it does allow you to briefly network with other filmmakers and people in the business. You never know who you might see in there!

    Still from scene in ‘Loving Byron’

    CR: Maybe someone you collaborate with in the future! But let’s go back to the past for a minute and talk about your work at NYFA. How do you think your education prepared you for a career in filmmaking?

    DG: With NYFA, and the specific master’s program I was in, it was such a loaded fast-paced learning environment. It forced me to truly eat, breathe, and live film. It provided a concrete schedule that allowed me to really maximize and take in the wealth of knowledge and on-set experience you constantly get at NYFA. I was also in class with tremendous filmmakers who knew so much already and consistently pushed their creativity. In large part I wanted to prove to myself I belonged, and I think I did.

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

    DG: I can’t thank my directing instructor David Newman enough for his critical and straightforward approach to filmmaking. His way of teaching and his stress that a director’s responsibility is not only on the set but to an audience as well has definitely stuck with me since our very first class. I also have to thank him for introducing me to the Criterion Collection one day in the library. Changed my life, ha!

    Robert Taylor, who was a screenwriting professor at NYFA during my time there, really helped shape my writing style as well. And gave me tremendous confidence to try new things and take meaningful risks within my writing. Any conversation, no matter how long or small, I always would come away just inspired to keep writing.

    And last but not least you, Crickett! I hadn’t the slightest idea of festival strategies. And since the first day I sent you my film, you’ve been nothing but supportive and helpful to all my pressing questions on the best way to get this film out there.

    Also special s/o to the workers in the library. I’m in there so much (even as a graduate) I know they get tired of me. But they always have been super helpful and nice to me.

    Deante’ behind the scenes shooting ‘Loving Byron’

    CR: Aww, my pleasure! You’ve made a wonderful film, and I’m delighted I get to help you put it out into the world. Speaking of getting out into the world, do you have any advice for recent graduates making their way into the professional world?

    DG: I’m still trying to figure this all out. It’s been undoubtedly hard, trying to stay afloat and wondering what the best route is to get in the business. I think for me, as someone who’s currently freelancing, it’s a lot about staying hungry and hustling every chance you get, while still being inspired to be creative and make things.

    I think you definitely have to have a level of persistence as you go about emailing people, meeting people and even social media. It’s something I’m not the best at. I’m still trying to be better at it. But in the same breath, I know my work ethic, and I know the quality of work I put out. So when the time does come to showcase myself to the right people, I know I’ll be ready.

    New York Film Academy would like to thank Deante’ Gray for taking the time to speak about his film Loving Byron and congratulates him on his film screening for the new Filmmakers LA monthly film event.

    Deante’ Gray’s Loving Byron will screen on Sunday, June 28, 2020, in “Shorts Program 1: Belated Spring” at 12:00 p.m. PT, with a Q &A Following at 1:45 p.m. PT.  To reserve tickets, please visit the New Filmmakers LA website
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    June 26, 2020 • Film Festivals, Film School, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1533

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum’s Documentary Film About Life Changing Meditation Technique Selected for the New York Lift Off Festival

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    In addition to having his film selected in the New York Lift Off Festival, New York Film Academy (NYFA) Filmmaking alum Naman Goyal is using his latest documentary as a means to educate others during the global Coronavirus pandemic about a unique meditation technique that could assist individuals with their mental health in such unprecedented times. 

    Naman Goyal, who hails from India, graduated from NYFA’s One Year Filmmaking Conservatory  in 2010 from the New York City campus. The Jaipur-based filmmaker is now gaining media attention surrounding his feature documentary The Magical Guru and His Secret Mantra (revealed), which portrays a unique meditation technique that is having a positive impact on hospital patients and others seeking healing. 

    NYFA Filmmaking Alum Naman Goyal

    The docu-film explores an alternative healing method, otherwise known as “’Energy Healing Meditation Technique” and its founder, Guru Ram Lal Siyag. This meditation technique is said to build up the body’s immune system and generate antibodies that could help fight off bacteria or even a virus. 

    Goyal completed filming the documentary in January 2020, a few months before COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. “Initially, I only wanted to make a half an hour film on this topic, but as I started researching, the project just expanded into a feature film and one and a half years just flew by,” shares Goyal. The docu-film, includes interviews from doctors and patients who benefited from the Energy Healing Meditation Technique both physically and mentally. Some patients interviewed even included former cancer patients who experienced significantly reduced cancer recovery times. 

    When the global pandemic hit, Goyal knew his documentary would be an informative resource for Coronavirus patients seeking healing. “I started sending clips of my documentary to patients in Wuhan (China), Daegu (South Korea), Milan (Italy), and New York City through Facebook,” says Goyal. 

    At the time the pandemic reached Goyal’s own city of Jaipur, India, he showed the meditation technique to a Coronavirus patient, who recovered a week after beginning the meditation, along with their prescribed medication. Goyal then reached out to another patient in Jodhpur City, who also owed their recovery to the meditation technique. Goyal has since been interviewed by a number of news outlets including India’s CNN-News18 about the technique featured in his documentary (Video below with English subtitles).

    Goyal’s docu-film  has already attracted festival attention and has been selected to appear in the upcoming New York Lift Off Film Festival. Goyal reveals the film may have an official release in September 2020 and shares that he is in talks with the U.S. Department of Health (NCCIH and NIH), who are looking at the possibility of doing a clinical trial with the meditation technique. 

    New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Naman Goyal on his forthcoming documentary film The Magical Guru and His Secret Mantra and looks forward to upcoming projects from the Filmmaking alum.

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