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  • The Latest New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary Filmmaking Alumni & Faculty News

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) takes a quick look at some recent achievements of the NYFA Documentary Filmmaking alumni, faculty, and students:

    Alumni:

    Victoria Bergqvist (Fall 2017 1-Year) crewed as a production coordinator on the documentary Stieg Larsson: The Man Who Played With Fire, which is competing at Sundance this year (she did this just prior to coming to NYFA). Now based in Los Angeles after graduating from NYFA’s 1-Year Documentary program, she currently works for George Media creating branded content as a director. Here’s what she had to say about her experience at NYFA and how it serves her in the professional world: 

    “I can honestly say that the 1-year documentary program at NYFA in Los Angeles gave me very well-rounded skills. Although it was an intense program, I learned how to do literally pretty much everything myself. Meaning: writing, producing, directing, filming, editing, and sound mixing. And also how to make completed films during a short amount of time.

    “It turned out that this was exactly what George Media in Venice was looking for. The official job title of the position is ‘Young Director,’ but we are expected to do almost all the things mentioned above ourselves, except we get to work with a DP. The job entails making 12 short videos [in] six months, so having learned to make films under time pressure was incredibly helpful. Also, since the documentary program at NYFA is so hands-on and we make six films [in] one year, it gave me the confidence to keep doing what I had already done at school multiple times in the professional world.”

    Producer Julia Cheng (18) launched production of two feature documentaries in Beijing: The Invisible Shore, a feature doc directed by Qi Zhao, who produced both Last Train Home, The Chinese Mayor, and The City Dream, directed by Weijun Chen who previously directed Please Vote for Me.

    Guy Yang (Fall 2016 MFA) Right after graduating with his MFA in Documentary Filmmaking, Guy Yang was hired by Radio Free Asia, based in Washington D.C. as a broadcaster. The station has also asked him to develop three documentary series that focus on social issues in Eastern Asia. He will work with a team, researching and producing episodes and also filming, editing, mixing and, delivering packages to the station. Yang says, given his experience at NYFA of working on multiple projects quickly, he will continue to produce and direct his own documentary projects as well.

    Ashley Harris (Fall 2015 MFA) is served in the U.S. Navy as a Second Class Petty Officer. She came to NYFA in Fall 2015 and graduated with an MFA in Documentary in September 2017. In November of that same year, she interviewed with and was hired by Participant Media as Assistant to the Senior Vice President, Documentary Film and TV. She said that she loves the work and continues to grow with the company.

    Paul Gallasch’s (‘11) new feature documentary, Love in the Time of Antidepressant, produced with grants from both Screen Australia and the South Australian Film Corporation, premiered to great enthusiasm at the 2018 Adelaide Film Festival. Paul was also a 2018 Points West Fellow at the 2018 Camden Film Festival.

    Dikeos Foudeas (Spring 2015 1-Year) was hired for A/V production at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage, Alaska for the University of Alaska Anchorage. Kay (as we affectionately refer to him) has said “I strongly believe my employment was influenced by the training I received at NYFA.” He also continues to work freelance as a videographer in Anchorage, Alaska.

    Dade Shields (Fall 2014 1-Year) is a native to Southern California and was always interested in outdoor cinematography. In 2018, Shields produced and shot several branded content mini documentaries for TravisMathew (a sportswear clothing line) as part of their Life on Tour series. Shields continues to shoot sports-themed documentary footage and recently partnered with professional skimboarder Blair Conklin to create YouTube channel Skid Kids, which quickly amassed over 2,000 subscribers.

    Rachael Pelzer (Fall 2014 1-Year) is originally from the Midwest and began working as a logger for Herzog & Co right out of graduating NYFA’s Documentary program. She’s been at Herzog for four years and is now their Post Production Coordinator. Her credits include: 1968: The Year that Changed America and The History of Comedy—both series aired on CNN. Rachael continues to credit NYFA for training her in production and this past year revived her 1-year film to develop it into a feature documentary with the help of fellow alum, William Nestlehutt. The two continue production on Rachael’s Hip Hop Ohana.

    Marie Vanderrusten (’16) signed on as editor of Ma Ville, Notre Idéal (My City, Our Ideal), airing daily on France 3. The series focuses on young people inventing new apps and industries to take on problems including climate change, overpopulation, poverty, overconsumption, and pollution.

    Executive producer Yusaku Kanagawa (’15) hired Mariko Ide (’16) as a story consultant on his Creators Program platform at Yahoo Japan.

    NYFA Alumni Yusaku Kanagawa & Mariko Ide
    NYFA Alumni Yusaku Kanagawa & Mariko Ide

    Peabody Award-winning production companyTransform Films staffed Nancy Dionne (‘18) as Associate Producer. Her semester one film, All I See Is the Future, will also premiere this month at Winter Film Awards International Film Festival, screening on Feb 19 and Feb 20.

    In a unique trifecta, NYFA Docs grads became chief filmmakers for three of the foremost arts institutions, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Alex Guns (‘10), Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater (JR Cronheim (’12), and New York City Ballet (Laura Snow ’11).

    Santiago Machado (’18) began a gig with the United Nations Department of Public Information (UN DPI) for the television section of the News and Content Branch, News and Media Division.

    Francesca Pagani (’11) shot, produced, and/or associate produced several new VICE pieces including: Fighting in Drag with LGBTQ Wrestlers,Inside the FBI’s Hunt for “Black Political Extremists, Fighting the Use of Electric Shocks on People with Disabilities, and Inside the Gambling Scandal That Rocked The NBA. Her photos were also featured on the front cover of Politiken as part of a profile of gun violence survivor Jaqueline and her family who arrived in Tijuana with 3,200 others from the migrant “caravan.”

    Colorist, Susi Dollnig (’12) has been invited to present a seminar at this year’s Berlinale (Berlin International Film Festival).

    Many 6-week Workshop grads also made their way into the limelight in 2018:

    David Diaz won the Southern Exposure Film Fellowship, for If They Build It, What Will Come, which he premiered at Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival.

    Hannah Currie was awarded Best Director at Under Wire Film Festival, for We Are All Here which is now also an Official Selection for both DOCfeed 2019 Film Festival and Glasgow Short Film Festival.

    Krisztina Danka’s Final Film, Violet and the Wildman, will make its North American premiere February 16 at the Cinema Verde Environmental Film Festival after winning the Golden Fox Award for the Best Educational Film in Kolkata, India.  

    Edwige Pezzulli Stępniewska and Maria Giulia Mancuso Prizzitano‘s final film project for NYFA, Embodiment, is now an official selection of Corvallis Queer Film Festival, the Prisma Independent Film Awards and Ivelisecinefestival.

    Faculty:

    Academy Award nominations were recently announced for Free Solo, edited by Bob Eisenhardt and RBGwhosedirector of photography is instructor Claudia Raschke.

    Director/instructor, Maxine Trump, premiered her new film, To Kid or Not to Kid at DOC NYC, published The Documentary Filmmaker’s Roadmapfor Focal Press, delivered a pilot for an ITVS series, and started production on The Tongass Legacy in Alaska.

    Editor/instructor, João Queiroga, also Chair of Post-Production, directed Our Skin, which screened at IDFA, Hot Docs, BFI, and DocLisboa, and was nominated for the Iris Prize and received the Lili Award. He produced the feature film I Can Only Be Mary Lane premiering at Doc’n Roll Film Festival in the UK, and is in production on both Digging For Life and Behind the Sun

    Producer/instructor Tracie Holder’s film Grit, directed by Academy Award-winner Cynthia Wade, premiered at Hot Docs and will air on PBS/POV later this year. A film she is currently producing, The Quiet Zone, received Sundance, NYS Council for the Arts, and IFP/HBO funding, while A Place of Absence, the other film she’s producing, was awarded a prestigious grant Tribeca Gucci grant.

    Producer/instructor Dorottya Mathe finished post-production of Impossible Monsters a psychological thriller starring Santino Fontana that will be premiering at Cinequest on March 9, line produced the recreation segment of the documentary A Cops and Robbers Story that will be released in 2020, finished and produced The Independents, a modern folk ’n roll comedy that will soon be screened across the US after a successful festival run, and began production of The Tongass Legacy directed by fellow instructor, Maxine Trump.

    Chair of Documentary Filmmaking Andrea Swift taught a special workshop facilitating some of the kids from Newtown, CT in making micro-docs as well as a different micro-docs workshop for over 400 Fulbrightersat their annual conference.

    Students:

    And finally, Dunya’s Day, associate produced by NYFA Documentary student, Aya Hamdan, won Sundance Film Festival’s Short Film Jury Award for International Fiction this January.

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

    FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailThe 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!Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

    November 8, 2018 • Documentary Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 2254

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

    FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailChicago 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.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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

    FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailThe 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.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail