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  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Students Attend ‘The Price of Free’ Screening

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    A select group of New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary and Filmmaking students were invited to attend The Price of Free, a feature-length documentary which screened on November 10, 2018 at the Studio City Film Festival. The film depicts Kailash Satyarthi, who left a career as an electrical engineer to start Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement) in an effort to rescue children from slavery. 

    Along with Sanora Bartels, Chair of Documentary NYFA-LA, the selected NYFA students in attendance were from both BFA and MFA programs and included, from Documentary: Lucia Florez, Assemgul Sarsembayeva and Khalila Suprapto; and from Filmmaking: Jose Miguel Perez, Jenny Mochahari, Katherine Russell, and Aastha Verma.

    The Price of Free Screening

    All of the students felt it was an important event and looked forward to attending. Before the screening, Katherine Russell, Spring 2018 BFA Filmmaking student, told NYFA:

    “I’ve always considered myself very socially conscious. I began my first undergraduate career as a political science and sociology double major at Penn State. Throughout my filmmaking career at NYFA and beyond I plan to inject these passions and what I’ve learned into my films. This film piques my interest for these exact reasons.”

    The film did not disappoint; Derek Doneen’s direction is deeply moving. The story opens in a raid on a factory to save several children from slave labor. The camera work and action immediately pulls the audience into the center of the conflict.

    The audience is then taken back to the beginning of Satyarthi’s work, and the history of the struggle is conveyed through masterful animation and several interviews with key supporters of the cause. Some of the most compelling footage is “observational” — using hidden cameras — of the charity workers as they go undercover as “buyers of goods” in an attempt to expose the locations of illegal factories and their captive labor. 

    The work is not for the faint of heart. Throughout, the worthiness of the project is expressed in the experiences of the children who are freed from shackles and able to pursue education.

    The screening was followed by a Q&A session with The Price of Free director, Derek Doneen, and its featured subject, Nobel Prize winner Kailash. Satyarthi was asked how he had the courage to begin and continue the work to free children from slavery, considering the dangers involved. In addition to the very real threat of reprisal from the criminals running the factories, there are police officers who are bribed and, at best, look the other way, and, at worst, savagely beat those who attempt to break the children free.

    Satyarthi replied to the question with a smile and shared a lovely Indian folktale:

    “One day a terrible fire broke out in the jungle – a huge section was suddenly engulfed by a raging wild fire. Frightened, all the animals fled their homes and ran out of the jungle. As they came to the edge of a stream, they stopped to watch the fire and were feeling very discouraged and powerless.

    “They all bemoaned the destruction of their homes, except the hummingbird. The hummingbird swooped into the stream and picked up a few drops of water in its beak and flew into the jungle to put them on the fire. Then it went back to the stream and did it again, and it kept going back, again and again and again. Finally, the tiger grew concerned for the hummingbird’s safety: ‘It is too much, you are too little, your wings will burn, your beak is tiny, it’s only a drop, you can’t put out this fire. What do you think you’re doing!?’

    “The hummingbird, without wasting time or losing a beat, looked back and said, ‘I am doing what I can.'”

    The Price of Free Screening

    After the screening, the students enthusiastically shared their experience and thoughts about moving forward:

    “After watching The Price of Free you will never be the same. You will carefully read the labels in supermarkets. You will evaluate your every purchase and think whether [you] really need another decorative box or a candle. Consumerism at its highest degree of barbarism is the focus of Derek Doneen’s film… Kailash Satyarthi has a mission: the battle for the right of every kid on this planet to have a childhood.”

    —Asem Nurlanova, Fall 2017 MFA Documentary

    “From the opening of the documentary to the last frame, there was not a minute where I felt unmoved or a disconnect by the reality of the harsh hitting stories. The director, Derek Doneen, did an exceptional job bringing the reality to life. As the credits rolled, I saw people right, left, and center tearing up, almost sobbing. 

    “Not a lot of people have the power to move the world forward with them, he surely is one of them. It was an honor and an inspiration to be in the same room and having a moving conversation with the humble man himself, Mr. Satyarthi. I highly recommend for everybody to watch The Price of Free and would like to thank Crickett Rumley and NYFA-LA for the opportunity.” 

    —Aastha Verma, Fall 2017 MFA Filmmaking 

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    January 3, 2019 • Community Highlights, Documentary Filmmaking, Film School, Filmmaking • Views: 754

  • New York Film Academy Instructor Edits Record-Breaking “Free Solo” Documentary

    Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailThe Year of the Documentary strikes again with the arrival of National Geographic’s Free Solo. The 2018 documentary, edited by New York Film Academy (NYFA) instructor Bob Eisenhardt, focuses on rock climber Alex Honnold as he attempts to climb El Capitan, the vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park, without ropes, or “free solo.” El Capitan is so dangerous, no one has ever tried before. Honnold is the only person to have ever accomplished the feat.

    Free Solo currently sits at an astounding 99% on Rotten Tomatoes after 66 glowing reviews. Tom Russo of the Boston Globe said of the film, “Go figure that the year’s most outrageously harrowing action movie turns out to be an arthouse doc from National Geographic.” Free Solo beat out An Inconvenient Truth as the highest per-venue average of all time. The documentary is also screening as part of Thom Powers’ Short List at the 2018 DOCNYC film festival, and has been shortlisted by the International Documentary Association (IDA). It was directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi.

    Editor Bob Eisenhardt is an Academy Award nominee, three-time Emmy winner, and recipient of the coveted “Eddie” aka American Cinema Editors Award. He has edited over 60 films, mostly feature and television documentaries, including Everything is Copy (HBO), Jerusalem (IMAX), and another rock climbing documentary, Sundance Audience Award Winner Meru. He teaches Advanced Thesis Editing and is a Master Class instructor at the New York Film Academy’s New York City campus. In 2017, Eisenhardt’s film Scotty Bowers and the Secret History of Hollywood was screened at DOC NYC.

    Free Solo is the latest in an exciting run of releases for NYFA Documentary faculty. This year alone has seen rave reviews for Claudia Raschke’s work on RBG, Kristen Nutile’s work on Heroin(e), and Maxine Trump’s To Kid or Not To Kid, all of whom are instructors at NYFA’s Documentary school. For the past eight years, NYFA has been ranked as one of the nation’s top documentary filmmaking schools, grooming students for the practical challenges, opportunities, and realities that arise when creating documentary films.

    The New York Film Academy congratulates NYFA instructor Bob Eisenhardt on the continued success of Free Solo!Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

    November 8, 2018 • Documentary Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1223

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

    Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailChicago 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.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

  • “Shanghai 1937: Where World War II Began” Previews at New York Film Academy (NYFA)

    Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailThis is a big week for me, and for a group of instructors, here at the New York Film Academy (NYFA). On Wednesday, my latest documentary will make it’s US television premiere. And it could never have been made without the support of NYFA, and my fellow faculty members.

    Distributed by American Public Television, Shanghai 1937: Where World War II Began will debut on WLIW/21 in New York on Wednesday, November 7 at 10pm. The following evening, November 8, the program will air on NJTV at 9pm and will be seen by viewers in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. (A schedule for key US markets can be found below.) Eventually we anticipate 200+ channels airing the program. 

    Following a six-month exclusive “window” for Public Television distribution, the documentary will become available on popular streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and iTunes.

    Shanghai 1937

    Shanghai 1937

    World War II started in 1937? In China?

    Those are the provocative questions behind the new Public Television documentary Shanghai 1937: Where World War II Began. While largely forgotten outside of China, the Battle of Shanghai in 1937 marked the first time the military forces of Imperial Japan came up against effective, ongoing resistance. The first American civilians killed in what would become World War II, as well as the first American serviceman, died in Shanghai during August 1937.

    In Shanghai 1937: Where World War II Began, a group of internationally recognized historians and scholars describe how the events that took place in Shanghai pulled the world inevitably towards war, while at the same time instilling in the Chinese people a true sense of nationhood. The results of that transformation continue to be felt today. In fact, to understand contemporary Chinese attitudes and policies, you have to look to its past.

    Still, at its heart, this is the story of shattered lives and enduring dreams. That story is told in part by Liliane Willens, who at 92 years old is one of the few witnesses to these events still alive. She and her family were members of a community of stateless Russian Jews. Deemed “citizens of nowhere,” they were welcome to live in Shanghai, but could never leave.

    Shanghai’s large expat community controlled the city’s economy, living lives of privilege. War destroyed their world, and set the stage for the China of today. Liliane would eventually be admitted to the United States in 1951, and went on to teach at prestigious American colleges and universities. Today she is a lecturer and author, living in Washington, D.C.

    Production of Shanghai 1937: Where World War II Began spanned three years and three continents. It incorporates little-seen footage located in film libraries around the world, as well as original interviews and scenic footage shot specifically for this documentary. Contributors include two of the leading Chinese experts on this subject: Su Zhiliang, Ph.D. of Shanghai Normal University and Ma Zhendu, Director of the Second Historical Archives of China, as well as Hans van de Ven, Ph.D. of the University of Cambridge in England, American military historian Edward Drea, Ph.D., and Danish historian and author Peter Harmsen.

    Teacher’s Notes written by Syd Golston, a past president of the National Council for the Social Studies, can be downloaded free of charge. Included in these materials are poems written by Chinese American author Wing Tek Lum. The Teacher’s Notes are at Shanghai1937.tv, where additional information about the program is also available along with a trailer.

    I am the Producer/Director of Shanghai 1937: Where World War II Began. Previously I developed and produced programming for PBS, CBS, ABC, HBO and Discovery. I’ve been telling stories about China for more than 25 years. My four-part documentary series tied to the 2008 Summer Olympics, Beyond Beijing, was seen in 43 countries by 250+ million viewers. I became Chair of the Broadcast Journalism school at the New York Film Academy in 2013.

    Co-Producer/Editor Evgenia Vlasova was the anchor and co-producer of an award-winning morning show in her native Russia. Born in the Russian Far East, she is no stranger to China. She too is a faculty member in the Broadcast Journalism department at the New York Film Academy.

    Digital Producer Theresa Loong traces her family heritage back to southern China. She is a multimedia producer and director based in New York.

    Associate Producer Nancy Hanzhang Shen previously worked in admissions and social media at NYFA. She is now a freelance video editor. NYFA audio instructor Dionysius Vlachos was the Supervising Sound Editor, NYFA editing instructor Lexi Phillips was the Colorist, and NYFA acting instructor Lea Tolub Brandenburg narrated key passages. Wenting Wu was the Graphic Designer. (That is her wonderful work that you see in the trailer, and the opening of the program.)

    Last Thursday we had a preview screening at NYFA, with our own version of a red carpet. Only at this event, it was the production personnel who took center stage.

    Shanghai 1937

    L to R: Bill Einreinhofer, Theresa Loong, Nancy Hanzhang Shen, Evgenia Vlasova

     

    Shanghai 1937

    L to R: Nancy Hanzhang Shen, Wenting Wu, Evgenia Vlasova, Bill Einreinhofer, Dee Vlachos

     


    U.S. TOP 50 MARKETS CARRIAGE
    (Partial list, all times are local. Some stations will air the program more than once.)

    New York
    WLIW Wednesday 11/7/18 @ 10p
    WNJB (NJTV) Thursday 11/8/18 @ 9p
    WNJN (NJTV) Thursday 11/8/18 @ 9p

    Los Angeles
    KLCS Tuesday 11/13/18 @ 9p
    KCET Tuesday 11/13/18 @ 8p

    Chicago
    WTTW Sunday 11/11/18 @ 5p

    Philadelphia
    WNJS (NJTV) Thursday 11/8/18 @ 9p
    WNJT (NJTV) Thursday 11/8/18 @ 9p

    San Francisco
    KQED Sunday 11/11/18 @ 7p
    KRCB Sunday 11/18/18 @ 10p

    Seattle
    KCTS Monday 11/12/18 @ 1p (Veterans Day programming)

    Miami
    WLRN Monday 11/12/18 @ 8p

    Denver
    KRMA Tuesday 11/20/18 @ 10p

    Orlando
    WEFS Sunday 11/11/18 @ 9p

    Charlotte
    WNSC Sunday 11/11/18 @ 2p

    Nashville
    WNPT Thursday 11/8/18 @ 11p

    Salt Lake City
    KUEN Wednesday 11/14/18 @ 9p

    Kansas City
    KCPT Sunday 11/11/18 @ 2p

    Cincinnati
    WCET Tuesday 12/4/18 @ 8p

    Greenville-Spartanburg
    WNEH Sunday 11/11/18 @ 2p

    Austin
    KLRU Thursday 11/8/18 @ 9p

    Albuquerque
    KENW Friday 11/9/18 @ 9p

    Louisville
    WKMJ Sunday 11/11/18 @10p

    Grand Rapids
    WGVK Sunday 11/11/18 @ 3pFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

    November 6, 2018 • Broadcast Journalism, China, Documentary Filmmaking, Faculty Highlights • Views: 855

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

    Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailThe 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.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

  • Q&A With High School 9-1-1’s Tim Warren and Kelli Joan Bennett


    Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailThe New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus welcomed director Tim Warren and producer Kelli Joan Bennett for a Q&A following a screening of their award-winning, impactful documentary, High School 9-1-1 for summer high school students. NYFA Director of the Q&A Series Tova Laiter moderated the event.

    The doc follows a year in the life of the members of EMS-Post 53, a volunteer student-run ambulance service in the small town of Darien, Connecticut, where Warren himself had volunteered as a senior in high school. 

    Tim Warren is an American film and television producer whose credits include popular reality programs such as Bar Rescue, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and more. Kelli Joan Bennett is an actor and writer, who recently produced and starred in the feature crime-thriller Collusions, alongside Tom Everett Scott. Together, Warren and Bennett formed Boomerang Production Media in 1996, and it was under this banner that High School 9-1-1 was ultimately produced. 

    Laiter started the night off by inquiring after Warren’s motivation for pursuing the film, so many years after he had experienced life at Post 53. “I was sort of thinking,” he explained, “if I die tomorrow, what would I regret not doing? And ultimately, I always thought about doing a documentary on this organization that was so positively impactful on my life. And even though I didn’t go into the medical field, the things that I learned on the ambulance thirty plus years ago, I still use today as a producer and director.”Tim Warren and Kelli Joan Bennett

    Many of these lessons, Warren noted, came in the form of mantras from the organization’s beloved founder, Bud Doble. “One of them was, ‘Be prepared for what you find, but be prepared to change your mind.’ And that applies to not only when you’re on the ambulance, but when you’re in television and film.” Warren went on to paraphrase, “You need to have a plan. You need to have an idea of what you want to do. But you can’t be so married to that plan that you either miss a greater opportunity, or don’t see a problem that’s coming at you.”

    Over the course of several years following their almost year-long stage of principal photography, that lesson would come into play in more ways than one. The first cut of High School 9-1-1 was upwards of six hours, followed soon thereafter by a two-hour cut. After screening the film for an audience, and being told it was still too long, the two of them cut it down by another fifteen minutes. “We submitted the one hundred and four minute cut to the top ten film festivals,” Warren began. “We were [resoundingly] rejected. So we’re now seven, eight years into this process, a mountain of debt, and nobody loves us.” 

    Warren and Bennett returned to their professional lives for a time, until their collective spark was reignited after Bennett ran into the program director for the LA Film Festival. “The program director says, ‘Oh, I remember that film — great film. Too long. But don’t give up on that film.’ And she said that the film needed to be under 90 minutes. So, that reinvigorated us.”

    The pair then cut the film down to 86 minutes and launched a successful festival tour, screening at Heartland, Kansas City, New Haven, and more, as a part of the American Film Showcase program. After nearly ten years put into the project, its success was well-deserved. But documentary film, as Warren later attests, isn’t necessarily about success.

    “The thing with documentary that I always say is… you have to be really passionate about the subject matter.  And you have to go in pretty much knowing that it’s not your ticket to riches… If you’re thinking about doing a documentary, you have this feeling that, ‘I have to tell this story, and I’m going to tell this story — really — at any cost.’” 

    High School 9-1-1 is currently on a world-wide tour, screening at high schools and within communities, with the ultimate intention of “empowering young people through responsibility.” For behind the scenes, screening information, and more, visit here.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

    August 9, 2018 • Documentary Filmmaking, Guest Speakers • Views: 2037

  • Q&A With New York Film Academy Documentary Alum Carolina Sosa

    Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailCarolina Sosa graduated in 2017 from the New York Film Academy (NYFA) Los Angeles campus with a Master of Fine Arts in Documentary. Since then she’s been hard at work on Trumphobia, a feature-length film that originally started as her thesis documentary.

    Carolina is one of many notable alumni and faculty to hail from the NYFA Documentary School, including instructor Kristen Nutile, who edited the Oscar-, Peabody-, and Emmy-nominated Heroin(e) on Netflix, and RBG’s director of photography and NYFA Documentary professor Claudia Raschke. Ranked as a top documentary filmmaking school for the past eight years, holding a coveted spot on The Independent Magazine’s list of the Top 10 Academic Programs for Documentary Filmmakers, the New York Film Academy’s documentary program aims to prepare students for the practical challenges, opportunities, and realities that arise when creating documentary films. Carolina Sosa

    Only 27, Carolina has already amassed several awards and honors for her work in documentary filmmaking. She received the award for Best Film at the Los Angeles Television, Script, and Film Festival and the Award of Excellence from the Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards for her documentary short Exit the shelter. She was also invited by CinemaFest 2014 to adapt movies for the blind and deaf after directing Okurelo Cine in 2013.

    It was no surprise, then, when NYFA alum Carolina Sosa recently received a $10,000 grant from the Rogovy Foundation, an organization that works “to build a more enlightened and harmonious planet,” and supplies grants to documentaries and other “highly targeted projects which will have a measurable impact.”

    Recently, Carolina spoke with the New York Film Academy about her film Trumphobia, her time at NYFA, and other projects she is currently working on:

     

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

    Carolina Sosa (CS): I’m from Uruguay, I’m 27 years old, and I got a Fulbright scholarship to study a master’s degree in documentary filmmaking, and NYFA was the school that gave me the highest tuition award from all the schools that I have applied; also the program was located in Los Angeles.

    NYFA: Why have you decided to focus on documentary filmmaking?

    CS: I like to use art as a tool for change. I believe that reality is often more fascinating than fiction, and I want to dedicate my life to tell true stories that inspire, promote justice, and can make a difference in this world. And also, because I love to travel and share my view with others.

    NYFA: Can you tell us about your film Trumphobia?

    Carolina SosaCS: Trumphobia: what both sides fear (tentative title) is a feature documentary about the political division in the United States and how Donald J. Trump’s rhetoric increased that division with the help of the mainstream media. On one side, he gave strength and safety to his supporters and, on the other side, he imposed fear and anger on his opponents, which led to major confrontations, protests, and counter-protests across the country. Trumphobia analyzes the reasons for the political division, provides a moving description of Trump’s supporters along with the people who are most affected by Trump’s policies, and proposes empathy and compassion for all as a possible solution to the turmoil. The documentary has the participation of the Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, New York Senator Michael Gianaris, Berkeley professor of cognitive science and linguistics George Lakoff, Ph.D., professor of psychology and social behavior Peter H. Ditto, six hate crime victims and witnesses from both sides, representatives of major organizations, many of Trump’s supporters and opponents, and includes footage from more than thirteen debates, marches, and protests across six states.

    NYFA: What inspired you to make Trumphobia?

    CS: The documentary started as part of my master’s thesis. I was looking for a subject matter right when Trump got elected, and I thought that making a documentary about a current topic that affected millions of people was worth my long work. Especially because I wanted to portray both sides of the story — his supporters and opponents — and I wasn’t seeing much about the right side on the media, so I wanted to be one of the first ones to make a documentary that actually tried to be objective when it comes to politics. The good thing is that most of the crew was international, so we all had an outsider perspective that allowed us to listen without immediately judging. And the one thing that got my attention the most was the articles about hate crimes related to the election and the violent confrontations between people, so it’s not about Trump’s policies — it’s about critical thinking and how moral values determine our worldview. I believe we are all biased, and we need to be more empathetic with others to overcome our differences.

    NYFA: How did you find out about the Rogovy Foundation grant?

    CS: Thanks to NYFA, I became a member of the International Documentary Association and, through their website, I searched for all the grants that I could apply and that’s how we heard about the Rogovy Foundation. We have applied for more than ten different grants, it’s a long and tedious job to prepare all the documents and materials for each grant, but it was worth it because we got their Miller / Packan Film Fund for the postproduction of our film, and they have been very supportive. Moreover, the IDA accepted our project and they became our fiscal sponsor, so that’s also good news.

    NYFA: That’s great news! What are your plans for Trumphobia?

    CS: For the thesis, I made the first 20 minutes of the film and, since September 2017 when I graduated, I have been working on the 90-minute version. It took me a lot of time because I started working as an editor right after school, and so I have been very busy. But I have never given up, even without money or with a full-time team, I truly believe in the message of the movie and I’m very proud of the result so far, thus we are still working on it. We shot the movie during a year almost and there is always a new thing with Trump, so it takes a lot of work to edit many hours of footage and do constant research, but we are almost there. We are planning to have a final cut that we can send to the Sundance Film Festival in September, and then really finish the movie in October. After that, we will send it to more festivals and try to find online distribution immediately.

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

    CS: For the 1-year project of the school, GuangLi Zhu and I made a short documentary about the killing of pets in animal shelters, called Exit the shelter, and I have been promoting that short as well. We received the award of Best Film at the Los Angeles Television, Script and Film Festival and an Award of Excellence at the Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards, and we are still waiting to see other festivals’ results. GuangLi was one of my classmates and he is back in China now, but I have partnered with the LA Animal Services and other shelters, so we recently did a screening of the short and a fundraising event to help the pets in two different shelters. Meanwhile, I work as an editor, producer, and cinematographer at Dame Dash Studios; right now I’m editing a documentary about a trip to China for them, but I’m also working as a camerawoman for Harrison Engle (former president of IDA) for one of his documentaries. And every once in a while, I work freelance on other small projects. I’m a workaholic, I work eight hours (or more) at my job every day, then I get home and I work four hours on Trumphobia, and on the weekends it’s all about Trumphobia.

     

    NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your work on Trumphobia, or your work in general?

    CS: The documentary department at NYFA was very helpful with my project Trumphobia. Since the topic was so urgent, they allowed me to borrow the equipment in November 2016, while all my other classmates shot their thesis in June 2017. I pitched the project when Trump got elected and I asked them if I could travel across the U.S. in the winter holidays so I can shoot what I needed, and with almost no bureaucracy involved they said yes, so I’m always thankful for that. They gave me the freedom to do what I wanted and the resources that I needed when I asked for it, because I shot through the whole year several times and they never said no. I can imagine that this could have been very different in other schools. NYFA gave me the tools that I needed to feel prepared to shoot across the country with little resources.

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

    CS: My advice to new students is to think big, work hard, go to all the events, conferences, and workshops that you can (even the ones that are not related to your degree); go out, meet people, build your network, and apply to as many grants, scholarships, and festivals that you can — you never know who you are going to meet, what you are going to receive, and what you are going to learn.

    The New York Film Academy congratulates Carolina Sosa on her recent grant and looks forward to the completion and distribution of Trumphobia and Carolina’s continued career!

    Interested in learning documentary filmmaking? Check out more information on New York Film Academy’s programs here!Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

    August 2, 2018 • #WomenOfNYFA, Documentary Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1933