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  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary Alum Kendall Ciesemier Talks Activism, Social Causes

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    Chicago native, New York-based producer, writer, and social entrepreneur Kendall Ciesemier has been making waves with breaking news stories and interviews about social causes ever since she was 11 years old. At that young age, she formed Kids Caring 4 Kids to empower young people to help provide basic human needs to children living in sub-Saharan Africa. While she was at Georgetown University, Kendall co-founded OWN IT, a women’s leadership initiative to empower college-aged women to engage with women leaders. And at New York Film Academy (NYFA), Ciesemier completed the 6-week Documentary program in 2017.

    Ciesemier’s personal history of health issues inspired her humanitarian work. Expounding upon that, she says, “My own health struggles entirely formed the lens through which I look at the world.” In lieu of gifts and flowers during her recovery, she humbly requested well-wishers donate to the village of Musele, Zambia — the most highly affected area by the AIDS epidemic at the time. “I found my purpose in founding Kids Caring 4 Kids,” added Ciesemier. Since 2004, 8,000 individuals in five different African countries have been assisted via the construction of dormitories, orphan care centers, a clinic, classrooms, computer labs, bicycles, indoor plumbing, meals, and clean water.

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    LINK IN BIO: My interview with #MeToo founder @taranajaneen just dropped on @mic’s FB watch show: #MicDispatch. Go watch and learn and wow! Tarana really brings it. We discuss Kavanaugh, the one year anniversary of the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the state of the #MeToo movement. . Here’s her message for survivors which I found so comforting: “I want us to lay our burdens down. This should be laid at the feet of the Senate. This should be laid at the feet of your local politicians. It should be laid at the feet of the school or institution or whoever that didn't protect you. It's not our burden to bear.” #survivors #believesurvivors #metoo #believewomen #metoomovement

    A post shared by Kendall Ciesemier (@kendallciesemier) on

    Now a producer at Mic, Ciesemier recently found herself helping out with an interview of rising political star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was elected to the House in 2018 as the youngest woman in Congressional history. The Democratic Socialists of America-endorsed 29-year old recently stunned the country after defeating longtime incumbent Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th District. Ocasio-Cortez was interviewed alongside fellow DSA-supported Cynthia Nixon, who lost her bid to defeat incumbent governor Andrew Cuomo.

    At Mic, her topics range from criminal justice reform, racial justice, the #MeToo movement, and more. Her recent interview with Alice Marie Johnson, a woman serving life without parole for a first-time nonviolent drug offense, helped lead to Johnson’s clemency as is arguably the highlight of Ciesemier’s career.

    Speaking of the experience, Ciesemier said, “We actually drove down alongside her family, three hours from Memphis to Alabama. We were racing to get there in time to pick up Alice and watching her walk across the street and see her family across from the prison was pretty powerful.” She continued, “I think, as a journalist, you’re taught to just do your job — but you’re also a human being. I don’t think I processed all of that experience until a good four days after. This is a story I’ll never forget.”

    Ciesemier tweeted her emotional reaction to the release:

    Activists also showed their support of Alice Marie Johnson’s release, including Reese Witherspoon, who thanked Ciesemeier on Twitter for her efforts:

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Kendall Ciesemier for her time and, more importantly, her community service, philanthropy, and activism. We wish her the best of luck with all her future endeavors.

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  • Q&A With Comedian and New York Film Academy (NYFA) Screenwriting Alum Aubree Sweeney

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    On Monday, October 22, New York Film Academy (NYFA) Screenwriting alum Aubree Sweeney returned to campus to perform a stand-up comedy set followed by a Q&A with NYFA screenwriting instructor, Eric Conner.Aubree Sweeney

    Sweeney earned a master’s degree in screenwriting at NYFA’s Los Angeles campus. After graduated NYFA’s screenwriting school, she studied with the Upright Citizens Brigade, an improvisational comedy theater and training center in Hollywood; from there, she transitioned to stand-up comedy and now she is a nationally touring comedian. Sweeney continues to build her theatre resume and has been part of several television commercials.

    Conner opened up the Q&A by asking Sweeney’s advice for aspiring comedians. “If stand-up is something you wanna do, just go hit as many open mics as you can,” Sweeney said, “and just keep getting onstage until you feel comfortable.” Sweeney shared that her background as a dancer and a baton-twirler for football games at the University of Arizona helped her with confidence.

    Conner then inquired about Sweeney’s writing process. “Write it, rewrite it, rewrite it again, again, again, don’t look at it for a couple weeks — maybe a semester,” explained Sweeney.

    Aubree SweeneyShe continued, “Write it again, polish it, then you’ve got that confidence because you know this material; you know that it is written to the best of your ability, and then you’re going onstage, and then you’re gonna figure out what that little extra thing [is] that makes it better… I think that most of my confidence in doing stand-up comedy onstage comes from the work not onstage.”

    Sweeney also gave advice about how to deal with the anxiety of being new to performing stand-up, “I would recommend when you first start doing stand-up comedy, at the front, say ‘I’m new.’ I said it was my first show for probably the first 25 shows.”

    Sweeney shared some of the best ways to get gigs as a comedian: promote yourself as much as possible, be resourceful, be open to performing at unconventional venues like business expos and county fairs, and adapt your comedy content for different crowds.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Aubree Sweeney for her performance and for providing insider insight for aspiring comedians at NYFA.

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    November 7, 2018 • Guest Speakers, Screenwriting, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 169

  • Q&A with New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary Alum Mira Hamour

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    The award-winning documentary short Syria’s Tent Cities first found life as an MFA graduation project for New York Film Academy MFA Documentary alum Mira Hamour. It quickly took a life on its own, and thanks to the passion and incredibly demanding—both physically and emotionally—work put in by Hamour, the film has gone on to win eleven awards (and counting)  since its completion in July 2018.

    These honors include:Mira Hamour

    -London Independent Film Awards (Best Documentary Short)
    -South Film And Arts Academy Festival (Best Documentary Short Film)
    -Best Shorts Competition (Award of Merit)
    -Cinema World Fest Awards (Best in Show, Best Documentary Short)
    -International Independent Film Awards (Platinum Award)
    -Los Angeles Film Awards (Best Documentary Short)
    -Independent Shorts Awards (Gold Award for Best Documentary Short)
    -Top Shorts (Best Documentary Award)
    -Docs Without Borders Film Festival (WINNER: Revolution and Reform- Exceptional Merit)
    -Global Shorts (WINNER: Special Mention)

    Additionally, Syria’s Tent Cities has been selected to screen at the Studio City International Film Festival in Los Angeles, an official selection at Short to the Point festival, selected at the Short Long World Festival, been selected as a Semi-Finalist at the Directors Cut Int’l Film Festival, and chosen in the Top Shorts Semi-Finalist Top 40 films. Hamour will be attending the screening on November 14.

     

    The documentary short isn’t just a film—it’s a call to action by Hamour, telling vitally important stories from one of this century’s greatest humanitarian crises and educating its viewers on how they can help in their own small way. Not just a powerful work of filmmaking, Syria’s Tent Cities is an extrapolation of Mira Hamour herself—a passionate plea for empathy and understanding from an artist whose heart matches her mastery of the documentary craft. 

    Amid a festival circuit for Syria’s Tent Cities as well as pre-production and production of several other projects, Hamour found time to chat with New York Film Academy about her film, what drives her work, and her time at NYFA:

    New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what brought you to New York Film Academy?

    Mira Hamour (MH): I identify as Syrian-Canadian. Growing up, I’ve lived in the Middle East and Canada and most recently spent three years in the United States (New York, Los Angeles, and New Jersey).

    When I was in high school, I love watching documentaries. I loved hearing real stories, about real people and learning about all of these world problems that not many people really seemed to know about. I felt like a lot of the social issues that interested me stemmed from the misinterpretation and incorrect practice of religions, and I explored lots of world religions throughout my bachelor’s degree to see if I could find the root cause of these problems and misinterpretations. I wanted to prove that when interpreted and practiced correctly, every major belief system preached love, acceptance, and unity at its core. I focused on taboo and challenging issues and throughout my Undergraduate schooling; I extensively researched a variety of controversial topics, including feminism and homosexuality in Islam, Jewish masculinities and gender identity and, exploring ISIS and radicalization’s global impact.

    Realizing the incredible power of film to bring people together, inform audiences, and encourage them to make a change for the better, I knew that I wanted to study Documentary Filmmaking to learn how to effectively shed light on social issues and present my audiences with viable solutions for positive social change. 

    In July of 2014, I enrolled in a 4-week filmmaking summer course at NYFA while still working on my undergrad, to sort of test the waters and see if this was really for me. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Not only did I get to meet incredible people who are still very close friends to this day, it kickstarted my career in filmmaking and confirmed my love for it. As soon as I was done with my undergraduate degree, I enrolled full time at NYFA for my MFA in Documentary Filmmaking.

    NYFA: Can you tell us about your film Syria’s Tent Cities?

    MH: My debut film, Syria’s Tent Cities, was shot in Jordan, Lebanon, and Canada. It started out as an MFA graduation project, but I worked on it long after graduation and have now developed it into the 30-minute award-winning documentary short that it is today.

    Identifying as both Syrian and Canadian, watching the refugee crisis continually worsen has been especially difficult for me. I felt helpless, and knew that many others also wanted to help but didn’t know where to start. Almost eight years into the crisis, I noticed that the Syrian refugees were now being viewed as one, singular mass statistic. I spent many summers in Syria growing up and have amazing memories there; I wanted to remind the world that these refugees are individuals: they’re parents, they’re children, they’re teachers, they’re families, they’re friends. In many ways, they’re not very different from us, they’ve just been forced into a very unfortunate situation and had their world turned upside down.

    My film is unique in that it explores the Syrian Refugee Crisis from both a local and global perspective by examining the lives of Syrian refugees in Middle Eastern refugee camps while also answering the question of what happens next, once they’re resettled in North America. While planning the film and working on months of pre-production from Los Angeles, one prominent issue kept coming up: there are hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrian children around the world growing up without any access to education. In the long run, this could have very dire consequences and prevent them from becoming self-sufficient, contributing members of their society. The lack of education takes away from what’s left of their childhood and doesn’t give them a sense of importance or purpose. I knew that I not only had to focus on education while making the film, but also present the audience with feasible solutions to help fix this problem. 

    Throughout the film, the refugees work to improve their situation through the efforts of the two individuals I chose to tell this story through: Nowell Sukkar, founder of Nowell’s Mission working in Jordan and Lebanon, and Mazen El-Baba, founder of H.appi Camp working from Ontario, Canada. Both of them have dedicated their lives to making education and inclusiveness a right for all Syrian children. 

    I also worked with Human Rights Watch in Jordan and Lebanon to better explain the situation to the audience; instead of blaming the refugees’ parents automatically, the HRW researchers break down the many reasons why all these barriers exist and how we can combat them.

    Mira Hamour - Syria's Tent CitiesNYFA: What inspired you to make Syria’s Tent Cities?

    MH: The Syria we see on the news today is painfully different from the one I knew growing up; it’s hard to come to terms with just how bad things have gotten in a relatively short amount of time. As with many other global crises, after a while people begin to grow tired of it because, even if they want to help, they don’t know how to. It seems too complicated, too difficult, and they feel helpless. And that’s why I wanted my film to focus on the specific issue of education and how the lack of it is killing refugees’ childhood, their ability to dream, aspire, and achieve.

    During a visit to my home city of Toronto in August of 2016, I spoke with newly resettled Syrians who noticed a world of difference in their children who had just attended the first ever H.appi camp, a free summer camp experience exclusively for newcomer refugee children. H.appi aimed to help these children integrate into Canadian society, improve their linguistic skills and aid them in overcoming the trauma that they had experienced before arriving to Canada. When I actually made the film a year later, I realized that whether they’re living illegally in neighbouring countries or permanently resettled in Canada, many of the refugees were united in one thing: their goal to achieve a better life through a good education and the mental health resources many of them needed to overcome the trauma of war.

    NYFA: What was your experience filming Syria’s Tent Cities?

    MH: Personally, working on Syria’s Tent Cities was especially challenging. For starters, I had under two months to travel to two continents, three countries, and four cities to shoot all of my footage. One of the things about being a low-budget student and having to operate as what was often a one- or two-person crew is that you learn to wear many, many hats on the job. As with most of my other projects, I was in charge of directing, producing, shooting, recording sound, and editing Syria’s Tent Cities. 

    As someone who’s doing the job of five people on location at refugee camps in the Middle East, I needed to be able to handle my emotions, even when faced with a seven-year-old girl whose leg has been amputated during the war staring longingly from her wheelchair as her twin sister and other siblings run around their one-bedroom apartment. Even when a two-year-old little boy being raised by a single father is so deprived of the love of a mother he lost while the family were fleeing the country that he curls up in your lap while you’re shooting an interview with his father and clings to you, refusing to let go when you have to leave later. Mira Hamour - Syria's Tent Cities

    I had to keep my composure on location; if I was an emotional wreck, the film wouldn’t get made and no one would hear their story. There were many, many tears when I got home. But I’d have to get up the next day and do it all again, pretending that my heart wasn’t breaking every time I met another child who just didn’t understand why they had to lose family members and run from what was once a safe and happy home. What kept me going was that I knew I was helping, I was telling their stories and encouraging the world to change their lives. In making this film, I truly feel like I grew so much as a person and a filmmaker.

    NYFA: What are your plans for Syria’s Tent Cities?

    MH: My main goal was that I didn’t want my audience to leave the theatre feeling sad and helpless. I wanted to give them tools and solutions to make a difference. In the film we see Nowell and Mazen; they’re not millionaires, they’re not people who have absolutely nothing else going on in their personal lives. Mazen is a full-time medical student and Nowell is a mother of two who has to tend to her own family’s wellbeing. 

    Yet they still make the time to help, they’re dedicated. And although I don’t expect every person who watches the film to start a non-profit like theirs, they show us the small ways in which we can all help truly make a difference in these children’s lives. Simple things and contributions that actually end up having a noticeable and positive impact in the long run. 

    It was incredibly inspiring to work with them and I really hope that, when they watch the film, the audience is inspired in the same way I was. I set up a page on my website where people who watch the film can learn more about Mazen’s and Nowell’s work and make a simple contribution that will truly end up making a world of difference. 

    Additionally, after working with Human Rights Watch through making this film and seeing all of the incredibly valuable research they do on the ground, I partnered with them and created a page specifically dedicated to this cause! All donations that come through the page from the link on my website will be designated to Human Rights Watch’s Refugees Division, specifically for their work on Syrian Refugees.

    I’m especially proud of Syria’s Tent Cities. As someone who identifies as both Syrian and Canadian, this story really hit close to home. It’s something I wanted to do for so long that every (increasingly difficult) challenge that I was faced with while making this film was a blessing I was grateful for, because it meant that I was finally actually making the film and telling the story of Syrian refugees. Mira Hamour - Syria's Tent Cities

    As proud as I am of how well the film’s been doing and as honoured as I am to be able to tell this incredible story, the awards are especially meaningful because they confirm that people recognize the importance of the film’s message and that they’re moved to give it an audience and help. This is just the start, but I know that I’ve succeeded in beginning to raise more awareness, which is what I set out to do when I first made the film.

    I plan to continue showing the film to as many audiences as I possibly can; this is a crucial problem and small contributions can make a very large difference in the life of a refugee child.

    NYFA: What other projects are you working on or do you plan to work on?

    MH: While working in the field of Documentary Filmmaking, I’ve created films that focused on issues that I felt needed to be heard and further explored. I wanted my films to not only educate the audience on the issue at hand, but to also show them clear ways in which they can help and make a difference or learn about an issue that was once foreign to them and become more accepting, compassionate individuals.

    One of the films I’m working on now, PCOS, is about the often neglected and discredited Poly Cystic Ovarian Disorder in women and how the many side effects it causes impact those affected by it, including facial hair in women. Some of the women in the film resort to elective weight loss surgery to reverse the symptoms of their PCOS, while others accept and try to change society’s harsh criticism of them. I actually have the condition myself and am one of the characters in the film (truly challenging as a simultaneous director!)

     

    I’m also about to release a short documentary film about two Syrian senior citizens who relocated to stay with their family abroad. And while they’re technically safe and living in a comfortable home, their whole lives have been uprooted extremely unexpectedly. At their age after retirement, they expected to live out the rest of their days in familiar Syria, and so they now spend much of their time reminiscing and missing those they lost to the war and during the move. Living in a state of constant uncertainty, major change, and having to adapt to a completely foreign country at their advanced age has made them question whether leaving Syria was worth it, and so the film is named Safe or Sorry.

    Apart from my own projects, I also currently freelance, primarily in Documentary Filmmaking. Most of my jobs are in pre-production and/or production. I love researching a great topic extensively, reaching out to people, booking and conducting interviews, being on location shooting vérité and seeing my subject’s world through the camera’s lens. 

    When people let you into their lives in that way, it’s a really great, fulfilling feeling — there’s a certain mutual trust and understanding there. The amazing people that documentary filmmaking brings into your life and the relationships you develop with the people you film are truly incredible and constantly remind me of why I got into this field and how fortunate I am to call this my job. For instance, making Syria’s Tent Cities was such a humbling and eye-opening experience; I saw firsthand the difference that dedication and love, even coming from a single individual, can make in the lives of those facing a global crisis.

    NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your work on Syria’s Tent Cities, or your work in general?

    MH: The biggest thing I learned is that loving something doesn’t make it easy — it just makes it worth fighting for and working towards. When I first started this journey, I had absolutely no idea how hard making documentaries would be! But because I love it, it has definitely been worth every challenge I’ve faced.

    As an emerging artist, you’re definitely going to have times where you doubt yourself and your abilities, sometimes even whether you were meant to be in this field at all. You’re going to have friends in ‘safe’ jobs, with a steady paycheque and very little risk involved. And sometimes it’s going to scare you. Being a documentary filmmaker is hard, it’s challenging, there’s a lot of discipline, work, and time management that goes into it. You have to be able to believe wholeheartedly in yourself and your project and the message that you’re trying to put out there. 

    I’ve been so fortunate to have incredibly supportive parents, family, friends, and teachers in my life who have definitely played a big role in getting me to this point today. But to make it in this field, you have to truly believe in your work and keep pushing to make the story you’re working on heard; working past every festival rejection you receive, every professional failure that comes up along the way, every person who discredits you and doesn’t believe in you, and every one of the many challenges you’re going to face. 

    I want to specifically thank Sanora Bartels, who was actually the Consulting Producer on Syria’s Tent Cities for being an amazing mentor, friend, support system, and just an overall wonderful human being. She’s gone above and beyond her role as Chair of the Documentary MFA Program to make sure that her students succeed and reach their full potential. Most importantly, she believed in us and our abilities even when we didn’t believe in ourselves. Having teachers like that when you’re only just starting out in the field is truly invaluable. Sanora is just one of the many incredible teachers I’ve been lucky to work with at NYFA.

    NYFA: What lies ahead for you now?

    MH: In addition to filmmaking, I’m very passionate about travel and hope to be able to see the world through my work. I’ve been to 25 countries so far and it never ceases to amaze me how many similarities we all have on a basic human level, regardless of differing social and cultural norms. I will continue to travel and make films while I learn more about the world; Syria’s Tent Cities is just the beginning, I have so many other projects planned and some are already in pre- and post-production!

    The New York Film Academy thanks Mira Hamour for the time she took to speak with us, and congratulates her on the well-deserved success of her documentary short Syria’s Tent Cities.

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  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Producing Alum Alex Lebovici Launches Hammerstone Studios

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) Producing Alum Alex Lebovici, along with his partner Steve Ponce, is launching Hammerstone Studios, their new production company that will finance feature films for Hollywood and beyond.

    The two previously worked at Oriah Entertainment. Over the last year, they’ve had a run of very successful projects, including feature film Roman J. Israel, Esq., which earned Denzel Washington an Academy Award for Best Actor, as well the upcoming drama/thriller Red Sea Diving Resort, featuring Chris Evans, Michiel Huisman, Ben Kingsley, Michael Kenneth Williams, Greg Kinnear, and many others. Lebovici and Ponce also executive produced the fan-made adaptation of blockbuster video game Uncharted, starring Nathan Fillion as title character Nathan Drake. Also starring Stephen Lang (Avatar), the fan short went viral and spawned talks of being adapted into an official Hollywood feature.

    Hammerstone StudiosAccording to a press release exclusive with deadline.com, the goal for Lebovici and Ponce is to produce a “diversified slate of films, from commercial, talent-driven titles to specialty films from proven filmmakers.” This includes projects like Come Away, a feature directed by Brenda Chapman (The Prince of Egypt, Brave) and staring Angelina Jolie and David Oyelowo. Hammerstone Studios is also trying to get the long-awaited second sequel to 80s classic Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure off the ground — with original stars Keanu Reeves and Alex Winters on board, Bill & Ted Face the Music is closer than ever to finally coming to theaters.

    Lebovici hails from Ontario, Canada. He enrolled in the 1-Year Producing program at New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus in the fall of 2005. The producing school at NYFA teaches students strong project management skills without requiring a business school background, and allows collaboration opportunities with NYFA filmmaking, acting, screenwriting, and cinematography students (among others) on their ambitious projects throughout the program. 

    The New York Film Academy congratulates producing alum Alex Lebovici on his incredible success in Hollywood and looks forward to the future films of Hammerstone Studios! 

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    October 25, 2018 • Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 25

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA Cinematography Alum Jude Abadi Wins Best Student Cinematography Award

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    This summer, New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA Cinematography alum Jude Abadi added a very important accolade to her resume when she won the Best Student Cinematography Award at the European Cinematography Awards. The award was for her work as director of photography on the short film The End of the World.

    The European Cinematography Awards are a film competition for filmmakers worldwide. According to their mission statement, the ECA supports “new and student filmmakers, who are just beginning their careers with a supportive and enthusiastic audience for their creative efforts,” as well as gives filmmakers “access to film industry professionals who can offer guidance and other forms of career assistance.”

    Best Student Cinematography Award

    Of the award, Abadi told NYFA that she was “ecstatic.” Abadi enrolled in the MFA program at NYFA’s cinematography school in Fall 2016, an accelerated, conservatory-based graduate program designed to instruct gifted and hardworking prospective directors of photography in a hands-on, professional environment. The cinematography school is chaired by Tony Richmond, A.S.C., B.S.C., who has shot many well-known films including Sympathy for the Devil, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Legally Blonde.

    “Jude did a great job shooting this film, and putting it together,” said Mike Williamson, a NYFA instructor and one of Abadi’s thesis advisors, who worked with her as she shot the film. He continued, “It can be difficult to maintain a consistent look when you’re shooting a long scene in a practical location, but her work over several shooting days matches very nicely. Her team made a strong film, and this award is well-deserved.”

    The End of the World was filmed in Los Angeles and tells the story of a married couple taken hostage by a crazed stranger, and their attempts to defuse their captor and his inane ramblings. It was written by Nabil Chowdhary and directed by NYFA alum Joshua M.G. Thomas. The film co-stars Buffy Milner, another NYFA alum who has recently written, directed, and acted in the film Type.

    The New York Film Academy congratulates Jude Abadi on her prestigious award and wishes her the best of luck as her career continues forward!

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    October 22, 2018 • #WomenOfNYFA, Cinematography, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 23

  • Q&A with New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum Sabrina Percario

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    Sabrina Percario has been very busy since graduating from New York Film Academy’s MFA program in Acting for Film. She has worked in multiple positions in film productions and has produced and acted in numerous multi-award-winning films, with several more on the horizon.

    Sabrina Percario

    Sabrina Percario

    Her journey to becoming a prolific and decorated actress and producer had an unconventional start. Born in Brazil, Percario originally worked for nearly a decade in medicine before gradually becoming immersed more and more in the world of drama. Her deep passion for the art and craft of filmmaking matches both her talent and her incredible work ethic.

    The New York Film Academy recently spoke with Sabrina Percario about the many hats she wears in the film industry, as well as what keeps her motivated and moving forward:

    New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what brought you to New York Film Academy?

    Sabrina Percario (SP): I was born in São Paulo, Brazil, and I have dual Brazilian and Italian citizenship. In college, I majored in biomedicine and for almost 10 years I worked in the field of Chinese traditional medicine. 

    I used to lead a lot of workshops in this field in front of large audiences of around 200 people — yet I was very shy. I decided I needed to do something to improve my effectiveness as a speaker. So in 2009 I went to an acting school called the Celia Helena Acting School. I immediately fell in love with acting. Acting is very fulfilling to me because I was always fascinated with human behavior. When you study a character, you put yourself in the place of that person. When you step into another person’s shoes, you suddenly understand why someone would act in a particular way. You stop judging people and, in the process, you learn more about yourself.

    I.C.E. CREAM at LAIFFA wins Best Producer - Sabrina Percario

    I.C.E. CREAM at LAIFFA wins Best Producer

    From 2011 until 2014 I worked as a drama teacher for children ranging in age from six to sixteen. Working with kids was one of my most satisfying life experiences. I learned to be more flexible and open to changes, more willing to let others lead the narrative, and more honest with myself about my feelings. During that period in my life I worked two jobs: I was an acupuncturist as well as a drama teacher.

    In November of 2013, I decided to enroll in NYFA so I could study my craft and improve my knowledge about acting for film.

    From 2014 to 2016 I worked on NYFA’s MFA program in Acting for Film. My thesis film Julia won several awards, including Best Leading Actress at the United International Film Festival (UIFF). Julia is a tribute to my mother, who died four years ago. I used the film to talk about grief and express my gratitude to my mom. She taught me to pursue my dreams — and that’s exactly what I am doing.

    NYFA: Your IMDB page is filled with all sorts of roles — actress, producer, writer, composer, to name just a few — do you feel it is important to learn as many trades in the film industry as possible?

    SP: Yes, it is very important. Everyone should learn as much as they can about the business, especially in the beginning of your career, so you have a holistic view of how a film is made. 

    It was important for me to wear many different hats on set. Having done these jobs, I have so much respect for all the departments. I know how physical and challenging the grips and electrical (G&E) department can be, and how essential they are in contributing to the director of photography’s view. 

    As an actress, I’m much more consistent and self-aware about continuity. That happened only after I was a script supervisor and had to take note of how full the wine glass was or its exact position on the table for every take. I learned similar things as a production designer and when I worked in the wardrobe department. All of this knowledge is tremendously helpful to my performance when I’m in front of the camera.

    For a year I explored all the different jobs on film sets and I realized I had to choose which department I liked the most and wanted to work with. I decided to be an actress and producer.

    As a producer I’m able to produce my own projects and cast myself in them. This gives me a certain amount of control over my career as an actress. I can also create my own voice with stories I think will inspire people. Being a producer has enabled me to meet a lot of people in different departments in the industry. The breadth of my extended network has helped me enormously as a producer when I’m casting my crew.

    As an actress, I want to be in a feature film. To that end I’m writing a feature film (In Search Of) inspired by my life. I want to say to all my international friends that it doesn’t matter where you are located as long as you keep doing what you love. I’m writing in collaboration with other screenwriters, both here in Los Angeles and internationally.

    Sabrina Percario in "Tell"

    Sabrina Percario in “Tell”

    I recommend trying out different departments if you still don’t know what you want to be. Become familiar with the universe behind the camera and then choose a route. Once you decide where you fit in, people will begin to associate your name with that specific department.

    NYFA: Is there something you haven’t done on a film yet that you’d like to try?

    SP: I would love to direct a film one day, but right now I want to have more experience producing one.

    NYFA: You’ve won a litany of awards for your work already. Your projects Tell, I.C.E. CREAM and Breaking are the latest to gain recognition. Can you talk a little about these projects and your roles in them?

    SP: My recent projects that I produced are still in the film festival circuit. My latest films are Breaking and I.C.E. CREAM. Breaking is a fable — it’s the inspiring story of a porcelain doll who overcomes her fears and breaks out of her snow globe. Our purpose was to bring awareness about those who have suffered from sexual harassment. So far, we have won three festivals, two finalists, seven semi-finalists, and seven official selections.

    I.C.E. CREAM is another project I had the honor of producing. This film portrays the life of an immigrant family in this new Trump era. Our purpose was to bring awareness about the collateral lives affected by the immigration policies in place. So far, we have won nine awards. 

    My overall purpose in my films is to touch people’s hearts, inspire them, and spread a good, positive message through the characters I play and the films I produce.

    Tell is a film in which I played the lead actress. Its logline reads: Expecting a visit from his ex, a once-famous alcoholic writer decides to play a game of shoot the apple, until the truth of tragedy unveils the outcome of his intentions. For that film I won three awards as best leading actress.

    "Breaking" produced by Sabrina Percario. Actress/ writer/Executive Producer: Alessandra Hajaj - Sabrina Percario

    “Breaking” produced by Sabrina Percario. Actress/ writer/Executive Producer: Alessandra Hajaj

    NYFA: Which of your many projects was the easiest for you to work on and why? Which was the most difficult?

    SP: Breaking was an easy project to produce because it was shot entirely in one location and the crew and cast had an amazing professionalism and respect for each other. Everything went smoothly. Julia was very challenging for me because I was doing the film as a tribute to my Mom, who died four years ago. When I made the film I was still grieving, and it was very hard for me at that time to accept the loss. I was playing myself in the film, so I channeled all my pain and feelings through the character. It was therapeutic to write, produce, and act in that film, and it helped me to accept loss. It gave me the opportunity to express my love in a poetic way.

    NYFA: What other projects are you working on?

    SP: I’m currently working on Mojave Shadows, in which I play the lead. Its logline reads: A woman named Susan hikes in the middle of the Mojave Desert while coming to terms with guilt about the death of her son. One night she is attacked by a rattlesnake, and in the harrowing process, finds herself. 

    I’m also producing another project called El Fred. Its logline reads: A not-so-imaginary childhood friend returns as an unusual vigilante to protect a struggling single mother and her bullied son. And in December I’ll produce my first documentary, about self-healing and self-knowledge.

    NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that has applied directly to your career?

    SP: I’m very grateful to NYFA. Thanks to a very hands-on program, I was able to learn how a film works from script to final editing. I also learned that producing a film is a group effort, and each department is essential in creating a coherent film. There are no small roles. I learned that it’s very important to respect your co-workers.

    NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA?

    SP: Be professional. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a class assignment or a student project, you will graduate with your friends and they will be in the film industry with you. Instead of just making a connection, work on building relationships. Be responsible and reliable. Most importantly, ask yourself every day why you’re doing what you are doing. Remember what it’s all about: this is your passion. It’s important to have a goal, a purpose. Pursue your dreams. Don’t let anyone say no to you. Believe in yourself and trust your instinct.

    I just want to say that I’m very grateful for NYFA. In less than a year I was already working in the film industry. That would not have been possible without the kindness and expertise of the wonderful and talented people at NYFA.

    The New York Film Academy thanks Sabrina Percario for her generous time and looks forward to following her continuing success! 

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    October 16, 2018 • #WomenOfNYFA, Acting, Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1599

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Broadcast Journalism Update – October 12, 2018

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    Last week, we featured the new class of New York Film Academy (NYFA) Broadcast Journalism students learning the fine points of video editing. This week, it is camera class. Graduates will recognize Classroom #505, where many of our students first learned how to shoot with a Canon C300 camera. And as the pictures show, at first it was a lot of fun.

    Broadcast Journalism Update


    But out in the field, shooting your first story (30-second Voiceover) is always challenging. However, things seemed to work out pretty well in the end. (How many of you shot on Stone Street for that project?) I don’t remember the “lion” ever being interviewed before. And with a reflector to even out the light!

    Broadcast Journalism Update

    Broadcast Journalism Update

    The big news last week was New York Film Academy grad Sergei Ivonin winning a Primetime News & Documentary Emmy Award. (That is the highest honor in American television.) Sergei was a member of one of the first NYFA Broadcast Journalism classes, and after graduation he went to work at NBC News. For many years he was an MMJ (multimedia journalist) for the magazine show Dateline NBC. That meant lots of travel. He also played an important role in NBC’s coverage of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. In fact, his Russian language skills made him irreplaceable.That meant he didn’t get very much sleep, as stories had to be generated around the clock for various NBC programs.   

    Sergei is now a producer on the Today show, working on the 9am hour with Megyn Kelly. But it was as a field producer on the Dateline NBC team that he won his Emmy, for a segment in which former U.S. President Barack Obama was interviewed.

    Congratulations, Sergei!sergei ivonin

    Also last week, 2011 Broadcast Journalism graduate Alana Blaylock was profiled in Forbes magazine. Alana used the skills she gained at NYFA as the basis for her development as an innovative content creator. She also has some insightful things to say about the arc of her career, as well as the creative process. Underlying it all is a belief in hard work, adapting to the demands of a project while retaining your integrity, and the enduring value of curiosity and an open mind…

    Alana Blaylock

    Finally, Summer Workshop graduate Varvara Makarevich is still working in Russian language television… Only here in the United States! She is working with Voice of America (VOA), which is a U.S. government-funded broadcast service that distributes journalistically balanced programing in a variety of languages around the world. I know it sounds like a contradiction — a government agency providing unbiased programming — but it’s true. A long-time friend and former colleague in Tokyo is now head of the VOA White House bureau. I think he has one of the toughest jobs in the world. (But that’s just my opinion…)

    Great work, Varvara!

    You can find more information on classes offered at the New York Film Academy Broadcast Journalism School here.

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    October 12, 2018 • Broadcast Journalism, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 450

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Broadcast Journalism Update: October 2, 2018

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    Last week was the first week for the new class of students attending the New York Film Academy (NYFA) Broadcast Journalism school. On their third day of classes they were introduced to nonlinear video editing software. Yes, it was time to meet Avid Media Composer 8. And the first reactions were… positive. The credit goes to our fabulous Editing instructor Christine Schottanes, and equally stellar TA (and NYFA grad) Catherine Kobayashi, for making complicated software understandable.

    Broadcast Journalism Update

    The class has students from Zambia, New York City, Ukraine, Connecticut, England, China, Louisiana, Spain, and Brazil.

    Broadcast Journalism Update

    When I posted this on Facebook, I heard from NYFA grad Laura Isern. She was chosen from among more than a thousand applicants for a prestigious journalism training program run by Brazilian media giant Globo.

    She wrote: “I’m using Avid in my internship a lot. Classes were really helpful.”

    And speaking (again) of Catherine Kobayashi, the two of us were part of a Virtual Open House last Wednesday. It was great to get questions from people everywhere, including some folks for whom it was the middle of the night. (Now that’s dedication…) If you were one of the participants, thanks for spending time with us. And if you have any additional questions, we’d be happy to answer them…
    Broadcast Journalism Update

    So the Broadcast Journalism camera classes Celina Liv Danielsen took as a student at NYFA came in handy last week. That’s her in the picture below, shooting (and producing) a story at the United Nations for Denmark TV 2.

    Broadcast Journalism Update
    And here is some of what she wrote to me…

    “…my new job title is journalist and producer for our US correspondent who is based in Washington DC. Together we are going to cover all US news for the people of Denmark. My job is to find all stories that we are going to produce for our newscast. I’m calling and finding all the sources, writing the manuscripts and articles, I’m the photographer when we are covering events where we are not making stories for our newscast but only covering it live. If my boss is on vacation or is doing other things then I’m reporting live to Danish national television. So I’m pretty busy and have a lot on my plate but it is so much fun. Since I got here I have only been in my apartment four times.  

    The first week was very hectic. I reported live from John McCain’s memorial in DC, then the Danish photographer and I flew to Boston to meet my boss (the US correspondent) to do a story there, then on to Toronto Film Festival and then San Francisco to cover the world’s first try to send out a machine in the ocean that can pick up all the plastic. Three days later we were in North Carolina covering the hurricane and this week was all about the UN. Next up is the midterm elections where we move out in “Trump land” to do many stories and then on election night a lot of live reporting. 

    I’m living in another city and get to travel all over America – it is so perfect. And I work with a very famous journalist from Denmark over here so people back home are starting to know my name in a bigger scale then before. Feel very lucky and blessed. But it took a lot of hard work

    WOW!

    Viviane Faver was a member of my very first class of 1-year Broadcast Journalism students in Fall 2013, after I had arrived at NYFA just a little more than a year earlier. Well I am still in New York, and so is Viviane. Last week she was doing what we in the business call a “cross-platform” story. It will appear in a Brazilian newspaper, a magazine, and on a website. Here is how she summed up the experience on Facebook:

    “I just had the pleasure of interviewing the CEO of @Climategroup, Helen Clarkson. ‘As countries step up to drive down emissions it’s important not to leave others behind. We need to ensure a fair and just transition to a clean economy that benefits us all.’”

    That’s Viviane on the right, in the picture below…
    Broadcast Journalism Update

    Thanks to LinkedIn, each morning I get to see the latest edition of GeekWire, hosted by NYFA grad Starla Sampaco. (Not “Sanpan,” as the autocorrect on my email keeps changing it to.) Last week she was reporting on how the cofounders of Instagram were leaving the company. But with all the talk about “fake news,” I have some questions, Starla… That’s a whole lot of blue sky behind you. I thought it rained in Washington State every day…

    Broadcast Journalism Update

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    October 2, 2018 • Broadcast Journalism, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 434

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum Ilaria Polsonetti Nominated for News & Documentary Emmy

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary school alum Ilaria Polsonetti’s film has been nominated for multiple awards at the 39th Annual News & Documentary Emmys. Made for VICE News Tonight on HBO, “Libya: Intercepting Migrants” is nominated for Outstanding Editor News and for Outstanding Continuing Coverage of a News Story. Winners are announced on the first of October in New York City.

    Ilaria Polsonetti

    Ilaria Polsonetti

    Polsonetti graduated from NYFA’s 1-Year Documentary program in 2011. She is also a graduate of the 3-Month Screenwriting program, which she finished in 2013. Over the course of her career, the editor has melded her knowledge gleaned at NYFA with her M.S. in Sociology (London School of Economics). After graduating, she worked for Market Road Films, Singer Street Films, and as a freelance editor.

    A screenshot from "Dirty Oil in Nigeria"

    A screenshot from “Dirty Oil”

    Since 2015, Polsonetti has worked for VICE in Brooklyn. With the expansive and ever-growing global media brand, she has had the chance to work on urgent and political topics such as Libya’s migrant crisis and Venezuela’s anti-government protests. VICE’s increasingly diverse and critically-acclaimed documentary series’ have been an ideal place for the multicultural filmmaker to hone her skills. In 2017 alone, Polsonetti worked on “German Hotelier turns Hotel into a Migrant Center,” “Dirty Oil,” and “The Politics of Terror” in addition to the aforementioned Libya piece. Along with her work for VICE, Polsonetti has worked on “The Notorious Mr. Bout” and “First to Fall.” She was also recently editor on VICE’s Raised in the System” starring Michael K. Williams (aka Omar on “The Wire”).

    Documentary Chair Andrea Swift says of Polsonetti’s work,”These nominations don’t surprise me in the least. Ilaria has always been an insightful and diligent editor who demonstrated a unique sensitivity to the human experience. She developed a strong sense of story that is equally evident in this piece.”

    The New York Film Academy congratulates Ilaria Polsonetti on her recent success and looks forward to seeing what she works on next! You can watch VICE on HBO’s documentary on migrants in the Mediterranean below:

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  • Soap Hub Celebrates New York Film Academy (NYFA) Acting for Film Alum Chad Duell

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) Acting for Film alum Chad Duell has been a soap opera mainstay for some time now and has amassed quite a few fans, but it’s still nice to be spotlighted once in a while. That’s what happened earlier this month when major soap opera publication Soap Hub wished Duell a happy birthday and invited its readers to do the same.

    Duell is best known for his work on popular soap opera General Hospital as prominent character Michael Corinthos. General Hospital is the longest-running American soap opera in production, and second longest-running worldwide, having premiered way back in 1963. It is also the longest-running entertainment show in ABC history, and, with 13 total wins, holds the record for most Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Drama Series.

    Duell is also an Emmy-winner, having won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor for his work on General Hospital. Before his critically-acclaimed work on the show, Duell also had recurring roles on the hit Disney show sitcoms Wizards of Waverly Place and The Suite Life on Deck.Chad Duell

    Duell, who just turned 31, was born in Chicago and raised in Scottsdale, Arizona. He’d been passionate about acting from a young age, and attended theatre class in high school while also playing football. 

    In 2007, he took the 1-Year Acting for Film program at New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus. The acting school teaches students the craft of acting with a professional, working faculty and with hands-on experience that allowed Duell to act in front of a camera within the first week of his classes. Located in the heart of Hollywood, where students could shoot their projects on the famed Universal Studios backlot, Duell achieved his dream of making it to LA. 

    The New York Film Academy wishes Chad Duell a happy birthday and congratulates him on his continued success as an award-winning television star!

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    September 27, 2018 • Acting, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 370