Last Friday, Evgeniia Vlasova and I wrapped up a three-day online follow-up to last August’s Moscow Journalism Summer School (JSS). We ended early afternoon New York time, early evening Moscow time and after midnight Siberia time. About two-thirds of the JSS Summer attendees participated at some point over the three days. Some had personal obligations that precluded them from attending. One is a physician, once again treating desperately ill COVID-19 patients.
Each of the workshop participants produced a story on the theme “2020: The Year No One Expected.” While they all had a common subject, each approached the assignment in a unique way. Genia and I were very impressed by the maturity of the presentations. They were definitely better than what they did last August, although those were pretty good too.
We had two guest speakers. Jeff Platt is a general assignment reporter in Bakersfield, California. We invited him to talk about practicing digital journalism when you have limited resources. The other guest was Lara Gato, a NYFA Broadcast Journalism graduate and a Producer with CBSN, the digital streaming service of CBS News. We discussed the differences in producing stories for broadcast/cable television and digital platforms.
Gillian Kemmerer, Host of The Faceoff & Ice Diaries, guest lectured this Summer and tweeted out her support of the incredible NYFA Moscow Broadcast Journalism students.
I had the chance to guest lecture the @NYFA Moscow students remotely this summer. Seeing their final projects leaves me in awe of what they learned. This is an evocative look at how orthodox churches are handling (or not) COVID from Anastasia Dzutstsati. https://t.co/RzlGHFyVWD
One of the differences between August and January was a more pronounced emphasis on career development. For the final session, each participant answered four questions:
Where do you want to be in one year?
Where do you want to be in three years?
What do you have to do to reach these goals?
What is one concrete step that you can take in the next two months to advance your career?
These folks gave up part of their Christmas vacations to attend this workshop. I think it is indicative of the value they assign to the Moscow JSS. We ended by asking them to recommend friends and colleagues who would be suitable candidates for the NYFA Moscow JSS II.
In July, four of the JSS I participants will be in New York for four weeks to study at NYFA. All travel, housing, meal, and tuition costs will be paid by the U.S. State Department.
In August 2021, we will be holding JSS II. Ideally in Moscow, otherwise online. It too will be fully funded by the State Department.
For more information on NYFA’s Broadcast Journalism School, click here.
Elsabet Ademe was born in Ethiopia, and as a teenager, she embarked on the most dangerous journey of her life – traveling the treacherous smugglers’ route toward the West, living in several countries, and working in each one to save money. Her goal was to make it to the United States to pursue a career in film. Years later, Ademe is a U.S. citizen and BFA graduate from New York Film Academy with an active career in Los Angeles.
Acting for Film Alum Elsabet Ademe
“I had a dream of becoming an actress since I was six years old, so when I got a chance to follow my dream, I decided to go to school first,” said Ademe. “I did my research about a film school, then I came across the New York Film Academy in 2014. I took the Acting for Film 1-Year Conservatory program in New York, then I did few theaters in NYC. In 2016, I moved to LA and started the NYFA’s Acting for Film BFA program.”
After Ademe graduated in 2018, she picked up acting, casting directing, producing, and writing projects. Her first web series pilot, The Bartender, got picked up by PAN Africa Film Festival.
Ademe recently wrote a book called Behind Sunrise, based on true events, which is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and more. The book’s synopsis reads:
The story of the bright and positive, yet ferociously determined, Sarah Belay.
Sarah is a sixteen-year-old Ethiopian girl with big dreams. She wants to travel to Europe to pursue the arts. However, she has a huge problem – her family is dead set against it.
When she hears the man who drives her to school talk about human smuggling, her ears perk up. She knows what she’s going to do. Weeks later, in the dead of night, she leaves her home to embark on a journey that dramatically changes her life.
With little information from her transporters, Sarah travels the perilous off-road paths toward Sudan in the care of suspicious and increasingly cruel men. The battle for survival brings out the worst in some, and the incredibly good in others as a bond forms between some of the travelers.
Arriving in Sudan, Sarah finds work and saves money for what she believes is the most dangerous leg of the journey – the long trek through the Sahara Desert and into Libya. The passage, however, is a nightmare far worse than anything she could have imagined. Abandoned by the smugglers in the vast barrenness of Al Kufrah, the friends escape and hire a local Libyan smuggler to get them to Tripoli.
Instead, he takes them to the middle of the desert and into even more life-changing dangers. Will Sarah survive the journey to reach her dreams? Or will the circumstances beyond her control destroy her?
Ademe will appear in the short film Raine on the Run, which is slated to be released later this year and will continue to expand on her acting and writing skills for the future. “I’m Ethiopian so English is my second language and I have learned a lot to develop my writing skills, while also building a network through NYFA,” shared Ademe. “I discovered myself at NYFA and through me, I can do anything.”
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.
New York Film Academy alum Aditya J. Patwardhan’s most recent directorial feat, Transference is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video. The psychological thriller tells the story of a trauma therapist who begins experiencing terrifying phenomena following the death of her estranged father.
Aditya, who hails from Jaipur, India has directed an array of different works from feature films to documentaries to short films and TV series. He has directed and produced films in multiple foreign languages including Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, and Lithuanian. His passion for film developed in his childhood through his love of music and instruments. “My filmmaking journey really began at the age of seven when I was introduced to music. After learning to play tabla, drums, and the piano during my early school years, one of the first things I was enticed with was observing how background score shapes a film. It became one of my primary obsessions to notice background scores and try to duplicate them at home on the keyboards and drums. Films like The Lion King, Titanic, and The Matrix played a key role in influencing me in terms of music and its association with video. Naturally, I assumed that I would want to grow up to be a music director.”
His path to film was not direct but one that passed through a variety of different jobs and industries. After obtaining his degree in computer sciences and playing drums for a rock-metal Megadeth and Metallica cover band called Jettatura in his free time, Aditya worked as a social media manager, a media and advertisement head, a music composer, and a music video director. All of these experiences ignited his passion for storytelling, eventually leading him to NYFA’s MA in Film and Media Production program . “What attracted me most towards NYFA was the hands-on nature of its 1-Year (Filmmaking) program. I saw that it gave me a thorough filmmaking education at an accelerated pace and prepared me for a real-world experience sooner than any other school or program that I looked into. The second thing that appealed to me was the filming ‘sand-box’ that NYFA offered. What I mean by that is NYFA has almost all the major filmmaking departments and so within the school, I was able to learn the skills of collaboration with all film vertices.”
Transference is not his only work available on a major streaming platform. A Touch of Aurora (also known as When Red is White) is also available on Amazon Prime Video. The film, which has amassed over 20 nominations and 12 awards in over four countries on the festival circuit, is a Portuguese-language Brazilian drama that tells the story of a couple both of whom are visually impaired. Sara, played by Brazilian film star Thaila Ayala, was born blind while Luis, a former successful soccer player with a glamorous past, lost his sight following a car accident.
Aditya J. Patwardhan behind the scenes on the set of “A Touch of Aurora.”
Another recent production, And the Dream that Mattered features a number of NYFA alumni including acting for film alumni Themo Melikidze and Jongman Kim. The film is in Korean and tells the story of an actor in his 40’s who goes through a midlife crisis when he visits his family and realizes that he has not achieved what he set out to do.
His latest project, Rivers: The Upstream Story, is a docu-fiction feature that Aditya both produced and directed. The film follows four characters: Adriana, a refugee from crisis-hit Venezuela, Kankana, an Indian actress working in Hollywood, Suraj, a street cleaner from a slum in Rajasthan, and Ravi who is a television news reporter from Jaipur.
“We journey with them as they travel across India, an ancient civilization struggling with climate change, water crisis, poverty, and hygiene issues,” explained Aditya. “One of the storylines in the film portrays Isha Foundation’s Rally for Rivers, a pan India water-conservation drive supported by the Government of India and endorsed by celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Shahrukh Khan.”
Aditya had this to say to incoming NYFA students, “the best thing about NYFA’s programs is the fast pace and hands-on style. But that is also something every incoming student should look out for. They have to be prepared to work hard and tirelessly for the length of the program they’re doing.”
“One of the most important things that stand out to me about my initial days in NYFA is the opportunity I got to experiment with my films,” he continued. “I always made sure that any story I told was out of my comfort zone. The protective umbrella of a film school is where you can do just that: try out as many genres and ideas as possible because failure will have fewer consequences here than in a real-world scenario.”
Aditya J. Patwardhan with the cast of “And The Dream that Mattered,” including NYFA alumni Themo Melikidze (second left) and Jongman Kim (third left).
It was with the help of NYFA’s Industry Lab that Aditya was able to produce his first multi-language film, Red Souls. “The film,” explained Aditya, “deals with with the subject of human trafficking between Brazil and the US, and won the Best Film award at the Los Angeles Brazilian Film Festival, making me one of the first Indian directors to win an award at a Brazilian festival for directing a Portuguese film.”
“Almost all the projects I have done have had important team members who were from NYFA and I had collaborated with them first when I was doing school projects. That just stresses how important good collaborations are and the crucial role NYFA plays.”
New York Film Academy wishes Aditya J. Patwardhan success for his upcoming projects. We urge everyone to check out A Touch of Aurora and Transference on Amazon Prime Video.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Documentary Filmmaking alum Eleonora Privitera graduated from her 1-Year program in 2019 and has been continuing to prove she is a filmmaker that seeks to make the unknown stories of real people heard.
Before attending NYFA, the Italian native had an extensive background in social anthropology and was involved in ethnographic research fieldwork focused on urban violence and humanitarian projects in South America and East Africa. In 2019, she released a subversive short about an LGBTQIA+ movement using art and political performances to fight homophobia in Queenz of The Night. Now the alum is back with her new documentary short, Rebirth, and this time it’s closer to home.
Still from “Rebirth,” directed by Eleonora Privitera
The emotionally-driven film, which follows Privitera’s own parent’s as her mother (Grazia) and father (Vincenzo) grapple with Vincenzo’s cancer. On one hand, the film portrays Vincenzo grappling with mortality, while Grazia strives to cope with the burden of caring for her husband while accepting the reality of the disease that is taking over someone she has loved for over 40 years.
“My response was to start to intimately film how his and my mother’s lives have changed while dealing with the disease,” shared Privitera. “Being far away from home, I knew that he and my mother didn’t really want me to know the burden that was currently happening in their lives, but I wanted to be part of the struggle and I couldn’t pretend there wasn’t one.”
“Therefore, in this difficult time, on the hard road they were both on, all I could do was film them with empathy and love in order to artistically explore their interior worlds, fears, and hopes.”
The film screened at the San Diego Italian Film Festival and was the recipient of the Silver Award, acknowledging Privitera’s breathtaking film, which captures the tough reality of two people very close to the filmmaker.
New York Film Academy congratulates Documentary Filmmaking alum, Eleonora Privitera, on her well-deserved Silver Award win at the San Diego Italian Film Festival and looks forward to future documentary projects from the alum.
On December 9, 2020, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the honor of hosting a live video Q&A with actress & NYFA alum Aubrey Plaza, actor Christopher Abbott, actress Sarah Gadon, and former NYFA instructor and director of the film, Lawrence Michael Levine, to discuss their highly-anticipated new film Black Bear. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.
The movie Black Bear is a meta thriller about movie-making, creativity, and ego from writer-director Lawrence Michael Levine. The film debuted earlier this year at Sundance and is certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Black Bear boasts an incredible cast, featuring NYFA alum Aubrey Plaza(Ingrid Goes West, Parks & Recreation), Christopher Abbott (Catch-22, First Man), and Sarah Gadon (True Detective, Alias Grace).
Laiter opened up the conversation by asking Levine how the film itself came to be made. The director cited his wife and frequent collaborator, Sophia Takal (Black Christmas; Hulu’s New Year, New You) as his inspiration. “I can remember the origins of part two was the working relationship with Sofia [Takal], but I wouldn’t say it would resemble the one in the film.”
The film, Levine explained, is also a result of what many artists tend to do when they are stuck; try something new. “I think I just wanted to do something different and I was writing all this stuff that was very boring and conventional. I was going through a rough time and was bored professionally. It [Black Bear] was, in some ways, kind of about what I was going through.”
(Clockwise) Tova Laiter, Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon, and Lawrence Michael Levine
Then Plaza got involved in the project and, in addition to landing the starring role, became a producer on the film. In one of her best performances to date, the NYFA alum revealed that the toughest scene for her was the infamous “breakdown” scene in the second part of the film. “The movie within the movie just because that scene was very complex (a lot of people and a lot of chaos). That was the day, I was always scared and terrified to shoot it and it was a lot to keep all of those things in play and, in a technical sense, it was very trippy.”
The meta concept of a movie within a movie, for some, seemed to reveal a more mysterious plot than Levine originally intended. “It’s interesting because the response has been ‘the film is mysterious.’ I guess I will say the simplest thing about it is it’s one artist [played by Plaza] doing two interpretations of a scene. The audience is left wondering: Which is real? Are they both real? When does she start writing this? Is it prior to or after meeting the couple? It’s two different ways of exploring the theme of heartbreak and betrayal.”
Allison (Aubrey Plaza) and Gabe (Christopher Abbott) in “Black Bear” (Momentum Pictures)
In each part of the film, Plaza, Abbott, and Gadon give knockout and emotionally-driven performances, playing dual versions of their role. “I was very intrigued to get two parts in one movie. It’s like you’re getting paid for one but doing two parts,” joked Abbott. “Larry [Levine] wrote something so genius, especially with something with Aubrey [Plaza] and Sarah [Gadon] attached to it.”
When asked by a student whether it seemed “daunting” to play different characters, Gadon, who plays Blair, shared that it actually wasn’t daunting at all for her. “When I read the script, I was really excited. It was such an original script and I had never read anything like it, and I knew it would make for a really intense movie.”
Caption: Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon) in “Black Bear” (Momentum Pictures)
After discussing Black Bear, the guests turned the conversation towards more technical questions from NYFA students and alumni, who asked the artists about both the directorial and acting process. For directing, Levine provided that sometimes directing means “stepping away, trusting, and letting them [the actors] take the reins and be comfortable. The intention is to make the actors feel safe and supported by having their back if they are lost. I had faith in these three [Plaza, Abbott, and Gadon] and I was dying to work with them for Black Bear.” Abbott reminded actors that in most characters, there’s “always a little bit of you in there,” but it’s about determining “how different the character is from you” versus how you are alike that will help you be able to fully dive in. Gadon added that it’s about making a character feel as fleshed out as possible, a nod to screenwriters everywhere to remember to help the actors let that character leap off the page.
Plaza shared that it’s important for those about to enter the film industry to continue to explore their craft, make mistakes, and network. “It’s important to focus on those kinds of communities and collaborations rather than figuring out how to ‘get in’ to the industry. If there is anything concrete, you want to get in front of casting directors more than anyone. So focusing your strategy and surrounding yourself around a community of like-minded people is important, because you don’t know what could lead to the next opportunity.”
Aubrey Plaza, Lawrence Michael Levine, Christopher Abbott, and Sarah Gadon at Sundance Film Festival (Zimbio)
Plaza also remarked during the discussion about her NYFA days and shared with students that “New York Film Academy was so important.” She reminisced that prior to getting into the Teen Filmmaking program that she would stay up late at night and look at the pictures, “dreaming about being in that program.”
Laiter thanked Plaza, Levine, Abbott, and Gadon for taking the time to join the conversation and for discussing their process and experience filming their critically acclaimed film Black Bear, as well as sharing their expertise with students.
New York Film Academy would like to thank Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon, and Lawrence Michael Levine for sharing their time and acting experience with NYFA students and alumni.
New York Film Academy’s (NYFA) Professional Conservatory of Musical Theatre (PCMT) recently performed their original musical, NOT WORKING: A 2020 SONG CYCLE earlier this month with live, COVID-safe performances at East River Park Amphitheatre in New York City.
The original production was conceived and directed by NYFA’s Travis Greisler (The Cher Show) with musical direction by Kevin David Thomas (A Little Night Music) and was created especially for the Musical Theatre students at NYFA.
NYFA PCMT students rehearse before the show’s debut
NOT WORKING: A 2020 Song Cycle is a nod to the 1970’s song cycle WORKING, and portrays the various stories and vantage points of topics ranging from the global pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, quarantine and isolation, and our immense desire to be telling stories live and in person again.
The full length, live musical showcases NYFA’s PCMT students performing contributions from 15 different composers/lyricists from many racial backgrounds, gender identities, and sexualities. Each composer wrote about their various points of view on all things 2020 during this time where many have been missing the element of live performance for the majority of the year.
“It is a show about all the things that are not working in our world, written in 2020, about 2020, and performed in 2020,” said Greisler. “A thing most new musicals never get to do as they usually take so long to get written and eventually produced. We had quite the opportunity on our hands and I didn’t want to waste it.”
In addition to the performers, composers, and lyricists involved in the show, NYFA’s PCMT also collaborated across disciplines with NYFA’s Filmmaking and Cinematography departments to capture the live performance for online streaming distribution so as to reach a potentially even larger number of viewers.
Photo from live performance of “NOT WORKING: A 2020 Song Cycle”
“One of the things this pandemic has taught everyone in the performing arts is the necessity to find new and creative ways to bring our performances and talents to a large audience in an unconventional way,” shared Pierro Basso (AIC-IMAGO), Chair of NYFA’s Cinematography Department in New York. “What the pandemic has not done, however, is deter from the longstanding collaboration between the Filmmaking, Cinematography and Musical Theatre departments at NYFA.”
“NYFA is so proud of all of our students for their continued excellence in the face of very difficult circumstances,” added Senior Executive Vice President and COO at NYFA David Klein. “We are so proud of our Musical Theatre Department, the Professional Conservatory of Musical Theatre, and our musical theatre students and faculty who have overcome what seemed to be insurmountable obstacles to live performance to create a new musical during a global pandemic.”
Photo from live performance of “NOT WORKING: A 2020 Song Cycle
The show’s producer and Chair of NYFA’s Musical Theatre Department Kristy Cates (Wicked, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) also added, “I am thrilled that NYFA gave us the green light to create and produce this amazing new piece of work and I know this show has been an extremely uplifting and cathartic experience for all the performers, composers and audiences alike. We are proud we were able to share NOT WORKING with New York City.”
From working with globally recognized brands like Champion and U.S. Polo Assn. to working on Miami-based short films Hi8, My Dear Delilah, Watch Me, and Piece, NYFA alum Michael Bradway is booked and busy, focusing on both an acting and modeling career that he explains compliments both disciplines.
(Photo courtesy of Michael Bradway)
Bradway grew up in Boca Raton, Fl with his mom and two sisters. Bradway remembers first being intrigued by modeling and entertainment when his twin sister Natalie was approached at their local mall one day by a talent manager. “Slowly, one opportunity led to another,” he shared. “However, I didn’t know I wanted to be an actor until my senior year of high school when I was in the school production of Fiddler on the Roof, it was was an incredible, new experience.” That experience led Bradway to apply for NYFA’s South Beach campus to pursue a BFA in Acting for Film not long after.
Campaign for Polo (Photo courtesy of Michael Bradway)
“NYFA South Beach felt like the best choice being a hands-on acting for film program, where I could also study theatre,” Bradway said. “Being at NYFA South Beach for the past three years has taught me so much about acting and filmmaking. For example, hitting your mark, being in the moment, and learning about numerous actors and playwrights. We took editing and film craft classes to get a better understanding and gain more respect for the filmmaking side of a project too. One thing I learned at NYFA, that will stick with me forever, is to always be the most prepared person in the room and there is no excuse not to be.”
Pursuing acting and modeling has been a helpful experience for Bradway, who recommends that actors look into modeling opportunities to improve their craft. “It’s a great way to explore a different style of art and meet people in various industries,” he explained. “Agencies hold open calls online with instructions, so depending on where you’re located I suggest looking up the agencies in your area.”
Bradway is currently signed with SELECT Model Management and has booked multiple campaigns for famous brands like Champion, U.S. Polo Assn., Verizon, and Brightline Train. “Brightline Train was definitely one of my favorites because of all the running we had to do through the train, in a park, and they even created their own mock highway for us to run through too,” revealed Bradway.
Champion campaign (Photo courtesy of Michael Bradway)
When asked about whether he prefers acting or modeling, the NYFA alum explained that both creative pursuits have given him so much joy. “I’ve been so fortunate to have worked with incredible people and companies worldwide,” he shared. “I don’t necessarily have a favorite between the two. Acting has actually helps me with modeling and vice versa. Modeling can be very interactive, even without having to say any lines. You’re capturing a moment with each photo taken and most of the time the company/photographer wants those moments to look natural. Acting has definitely helped me with that skill.”
In addition to modeling helping his acting skills and acting helping his modeling, Bradway also shared that NYFA South Beach campus’ close-knit community helped him grow in his craft and build a community of faculty and students alike. “it’s a building full of amazingly talented and genuinely wholehearted people who are currently working in the industry,” he gushed. “They are funny, hardworking and all have the same goal in mind; to tell their stories. There are so many stories to tell which is why more people should be exploring acting and filmmaking. Many hands are involved in a single film with a vast amount of different jobs, so there is something for everyone.”
New York Film Academy would like to thank New York Film Academy South Beach alum Michael Bradway for taking the time to share more about what he has learned from modeling and acting and how both careers have helped him grow in the industry.
She has shot some of your favorite icons from Natalie Portman and Will Smith, to Steven Spielberg and Ryan Coogler, and capturing music icons U2, Metallica, Kanye West, and more. The NYFA Filmmaking alum, Rozette Rago, has had quite the career and she is only getting started, having recently nabbed a spot on the coveted list of “The 30.”
The 30 is recognized throughout the professional photography industry as a “go-to” outlet to discover some of the best photographers in the world and serves as a platform to elevate emerging photographers growing their careers. Each year, The 30 are selected through a nomination and jurying process that includes the input of established photographers, photo editors, art directors, curators, and other industry leaders that are cultivated by Photo District News Magazine.
Rago attended an 8-Week NYFA Filmmaking program in 2010 and has since gone on to shoot for The New York Times, The Washington Post, TIME, Vanity Fair, The FADER, HBO, A+E Networks, Rolling Stone, and many more. She has also been profiled by CNN and Masterpiece for her body of work and has been hailed by Culture Photo Editor at The Times as “one of those photographers who elevates the ordinary,”
NYFA alum used for U2’s promotional materials (Photo by Rozette Rago)
After arriving on the scene in Los Angeles, Rago shot for bands like U2, Interpol, and Metallica, which then allowed her to leverage her portfolio to get a job as a photo editor at Time Out Los Angeles. For the past three years, she’s been a photo editor at Wirecutter in addition to contributing to other publications and networking with other women in the industry. She’s a member of groups including Authority Collective, Women Photograph, and Diversify Photo.
Steven Spielberg (Photo by Rozette Rag0)
The Filipino-American photographer shared with The 30 that she is grateful for the path that she has taken and shares it has “landed me exactly where I want to be,” with a career that has captured stories, scenes from music, performers, and more.
The cast of “Crazy Rich Asians” and Director Jonathan Chu by Rozette Rago
New York Film Academy congratulates Filmmaking alum Rozette Rago on her incredible journey and for the well-deserved recognition by her peers on being named in The Annual 30 Photographers List.