The 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.”
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, visithere.
Carolina 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.
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.
CS: 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.
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.
NYFA: 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!
Heroin(e), a Netflix-produced documentary edited by New York Film Academy (NYFA) instructor Kristen Nutile, has been nominated for an Emmy. This adds to its rave reviews and other major award nominations, including for the Peabody and, earlier this year, for an Academy Award. Heroin(e)’s producers join NYFA alumni, guest speakers, and other NYFA community members with nominations for the Emmy this year, including Bill Hader and Issa Rae.
One of Netflix’s acclaimed original documentaries, Heroin(e) is directed by Peabody Award-winning documentarian Elaine Mcmillion (Hollow, The Lower 9). The film offers an intimate and harrowing view of the nation’s opioid epidemic through the stories of three women in Huntington, West Virginia — a city now infamous for an overdose rate 10 times the national average.
The nominations for the 39th Annual News and Documentary were announced on July 26 by The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, who also annually distribute the Daytime Emmy Award and Heartland Emmy Award, among other accolades. The News & Documentary Emmy Awards will be presented on Monday, October 1st, 2018, at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall in the Time Warner Complex at Columbus Circle in New York City. The ceremony will be attended by more than 1,000 television and news media industry executives, news and documentary producers, and journalists.
Heroin(e) is nominated for Outstanding Short Documentary, and is one of 112 nominations for streaming juggernaut Netflix, who for the first time this year leads all networks in total noms, beating out HBO (108) and NBC (78).
Heroin(e) was edited by Kristen Nutile, who teaches for the Documentary School at New York Film Academy’s New York campus, a program featured on The Independent Magazine’s list of Top 10 Academic Programs for Documentary Filmmakers. The school boasts both award-winning alumni and faculty.
Nutile is a prolific filmmaker in her own right, having edited two dozen films in addition to directing six of her own. She founded Soft Spoken Films in 2001, and is a recipient of the Albert Maysles Award for Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking.
The New York Film Academy congratulates documentary instructor Kristen Nutile and Heroin(e) on its incredible run of prestigious nominations and wishes them the best of luck at this year’s Emmy Awards!
Interested in studying documentary filmmaking with the New York Film Academy? You can find more information here!
After graduating from New York Film Academy Filmmaking conservatory in New York City at the age of 19, Ravjot Mehek Singh hit the ground running. First, she started with large-scale roles directing Bollywood music videos. Soon after, she was assistant director on The Voice India, an opportunity that opened the door for her to write and direct three of her own TV shows for Dish Network by age 21.
Singh’s first documentary is I Stand With Jessy, a powerful and intimate portrait of an South Asian immigrant woman in the U.S. fighting breast cancer, in poverty. The film premiered on Dish Network last year in March before going on to win at Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival in New Delhi, India, as well as winning the Impact Doc Awards Film Festival in 2017.
Here, Singh shares her best advice about telling a story that matters, through filmmaking.
NYFA: First can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what brought you to New York Film Academy?
RMS: I am an Indian American film and TV director, with strong roots in both Bollywood and Hollywood. I have directed a handful of films and TV talk shows for channels on Dish Network, such as Jus Punjabi and Jus 24×7, and have directed many Bollywood music videos.
I came to study at NYFA directly after high school, after learning how hands-on the approach was and how students would be learning practical skills from day one.
NYFA: Why filmmaking? What inspires you about this medium?
RMS: In high school, I was always interested in pursuing work that would impact society on a large scale. As a teenager, I would spend many days out of the week vlogging on Youtube, self-teaching editing tricks, and creating improv characters for my comedy sketches. My love for video came together with my goals of positively influencing people on a mass scale, and led me to NYFA.
What inspires me most about filmmaking is how you can truly allow the audience to see, hear, and feel the struggle of others. The best way to create love and understanding in our world is by walking in each other’s shoes. Many people choose not to step into each other’s [points of view] on a day-to-day basis, which is where film and television come in to assist people in seeing someone else’s perspective.
NYFA: Do you have any favorite NYFA moments from your time studying with us?
RMS: I have so many wonderful memories with my teachers, such as Professor William Tyler Smith, Professor Nicola Raggi, and Professor Tasos Panagiotopoulos. Each of them taught me incredibly valuable lessons that come into use every day in the industry.
Some of my favorite moments are from the summertime, when all the students were new and figuring out how to use traditional film cameras. It was a unique bonding experience between students from all over the world, and an important lesson on rehearsing until you get the shot right on the first few tries.
NYFA: Can you tell us about your journey in working with Jus TV? What drew you to the mission of Punjabi programming?
RMS: After graduating from NYFA, I immediately began working overseas in the Indian film industry. I worked on TV shows such as The Voice India, which helped transition me to the more stable, routine lifestyle of television. Jus TV is a major Asian TV channel that is based in New York City, so coming back to the U.S. to work in a channel that crossed Hollywood and Bollywood concepts was the perfect fit! I wanted to use my skills and dual cultural upbringing to create progressive television programming for Asian children and young adults who grew up in America. We are constantly getting two separate streams of content, one side being totally American and the other side being totally Asian. My goal was to create a blend of both types of media to better appeal to our cross-cultural upbringing.
NYFA: How did your project I Stand With Jessy come about?
RMS: Jessy is actually my aunt. I did not expect to create a feature documentary on the topic, I had originally planned the project to be 10 minutes long and only focusing on Jessy herself. However, as the project continued to build up, Jus TV gave me the opportunity to merge my personal project with their company and create a full-length feature (the first feature film to come from their channel).
The more investigation I did to fully understand laws for breast cancer detection and treatment for low-income women, the more flaws I found in our healthcare system in the U.S. I discovered that a huge number of women are left without proper care or any consideration of how time-sensitive treatment options are for breast cancer.
I started developing the film to focus more on how we can take a stand to change these deadly rules and regulations in the healthcare industry.
NYFA: What were some of the challenges you faced in creating this feature documentary, and how did you overcome them?
RMS: One of the biggest challenges for this documentary was allowing Jessy to feel comfortable enough to speak out about a topic that most Asians choose not to openly discuss. There is a huge stigma in nearly all Asian countries about women’s bodies and how illness is perceived. Jessy, like most Asian women, was anxious about how the community would react to her being so open about her breast cancer and the issues that come with chemotherapy.
Ultimately Jessy and I worked together to create a list of questions that would ease her into speaking about certain harsh topics. In the end, Jessy had become so comfortable while filming that she even allowed me to follow her around throughout her day and film all of it!
Another unique challenge was reaching members of the government to comment on the issues of our healthcare system. Though many attempts were made to contact government officials, none of them responded to give their input on issues regarding women’s health.
There is still fear and negativity attached to openly assigning opinions on women’s health and the poor setup of the healthcare system in the United States.
NYFA: What is your advice to NYFA students interested in producing a feature documentary?
RMS: My best advice would be to think of a topic that has the depth to be turned into a film of one hour or longer. The topic should be something unique or quirky enough that the audience would be willing to sit and watch a nonfiction piece over the many fictional TV shows and films out there.
Ultimately, you don’t need much to create a beautiful documentar, besides yourself, a camera, and a subject you’re passionate about. That is part of what makes the documentary genre so accessible for new filmmakers.
NYFA: Congratulations on all your film festival success! What is next for I Stand With Jessy?
RMS: I Stand With Jessy has an adjacent petition for the government to lower the age of breast cancer screenings and include screening options that go beyond the basic mammogram. It can be found and supported at change.org/p/i-stand-with-jessy. As of now, 1,702 people have signed it.
I hope to continue the petition and reach out to members of congress to discuss a reasonable goal for healthcare in the United States.
Luckily the film has gained major publicity for winning India’s biggest film festival, the Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival, and last year it gained American publicity thanks to winning the Impact Doc Awards Film Festival. These two festivals have helped spark public interest in bettering the healthcare system in the U.S. for immigrants.
NYFA: Would you say your time at NYFA was at all useful in preparing for the work you are doing now?
RMS: The wonderful hands-on approach at NYFA helped eliminate the wasted time of theories and repetitive classwork with no relevance to film. Thanks to NYFA’s one-year program in filmmaking, I was able to find work immediately, with the right connections in the film industry. I have not yet been on any set where my skills have not been at par with serious film professionals and former students with degrees in film.
I am thankful to NYFA for creating this brilliant, expedited opportunity to learn the true essence of film. After that, it is up to each individual student to continue learning and filling in any blanks for themselves.
NYFA: What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
RMS: This year, I am directing my first horror film in Boston with Mtown Films. Along with that, I am working on directing multiple Bollywood music videos, which has become a fun niche of mine in the past few years. The music videos will be shot all across the United States and India, and will be releasing later this year. I am also looking forward to developing more medical documentaries that expose the truth about the negative impacts of our healthcare system.
Sundance gave Documentary Cinematography Instructor Claudia Raschke some serious love, lauding her work as director of photography of the acclaimed, RBG, featuring her on the celebrated “Women Who Shoot” panel. You’ll find Claudia-centric articles include American Cinematographer, Filmmaker, Indiewire, etc.
Schechter scored these key reviews despite the lack of a release date, a publicist, or even a production company. A good, old-fashioned bidding war immediately broke out and it looks like Journeyman Pictures has won worldwide rights with a promise of theatrical release. A Sniper’s War has since gone on to win multiple festivals including Best Foreign Documentary at the Academy Award Qualifying, Arizona Film Festival. (With the new eligibility rules, the Arizona win almost certainly qualifies the film for the Oscar race. The Academy will confirm their new list of qualifying festivals later this spring, so we’ll know for sure then.)
Documentary Producing Instructor Dorottya Mathe also premiered her feature, The Independents, at SBFF. The Hollywood Reporter likes it too, especially, “the way in which it subverts all the clichés of the star-is-born story,” and pronounces it, “an extremely engaging film.” Graduate Erica Wong (’14) assisted Dorottya on the production, and fellow NYFA Instructor Piero Basso served as DP. Documentary Instructor Jessica Wolfson’s feature, Hot Grease followed its Discovery premiere with VOD roll out on Discovery Go.
Furlough, the second 2018 fiction film from NYFA Documentary Instructor Dorottya Mathe (Production Supervisor) opened in theaters. The female-driven comedy starred Academy Award winners Melissa Leo, Whoopi Goldberg and Anna Paquin.
Mariko Ide (’16) edited her first piece for Google.
Kristen Nutile editedWeed The People (directed by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein), which premiered at SXSW — where Indiewire and Interview magazine both pronounced it a “must-see” film. And even People magazine gave it a write-up.
The Stolen River, directed by Krisztina Danka (6-Week ’17), won Best Environmental Film at the Calcutta International Film Festival. That was after taking Best in Show at Cinema Verde International Environmental Film Festival, as well as awards at Independent Shorts Awards, Impact DOCS Award, LiFFT Filmotsav and others.
The Second quarter of 2018 is off to a great start as well. More on that shortly.
One spoiler, though…
Two documentaries nominated for Peabody Awards this year have NYFA Documentary School bloodlines: Heroin(e), edited by prof, Kristen Nutile and Newtown, Associate Produced/Associate Post Produced by Laura Snow (’13).
New York Film Academy alum Louis Mole has been promoted to Head of Development US at production company October Films, along with colleague Matt Dewar, who’s been made Head of Development UK.
Mole enrolled in NYFA’s 1-Year Documentary Program, chaired by Andrea Swift, in September 2011 at our New York City campus. In the program, Mole learned to conceive, pitch, produce, direct, and edit various types of documentary shorts, as well as gain experience as cinematographer, sound recordist and assistant camera.
Of his time at NYFA, Mole said in 2013: “You come out of the program with the fundamental expertise of every single aspect of making a film – which is so unique.”
Mole put the education to good use, heading to Singapore after graduation and writing three episodes for the docuseries Asian Swindlers. He then joined October Films in 2014 within their London development team, and later came back to the Big Apple when he transferred to the New York office of October Films.
October Films is an award-winning, fast-growing production company based in the US and UK that focuses on independent content from a variety of genres — including documentaries, dramas, and entertainment and reality programs.
Some of their recent projects include Eight Days That Made Rome, Dangerous Borders, Annie: Out of the Ashes, Motorheads, and From Russia To Iran: Crossing The Wild Frontier. October Films also has series in production for the BBC, Investigation Discovery, Lifetime, the Science Channel, and Channel 4.
Before his promotion to Head of Development, Mole worked on multiple projects for October Films, including Mygrations for the National Geographic Channel, Trailblazers for Discover Channel, and a seven-part series for Lifetime.
Louis Mole has also paid it forward to newer students at the New York Film Academy, speaking with them as a guest lecturer, and offering his solid expertise.
The New York Film Academy congratulates Louis Mole on his well-earned success, and looks forward to seeing where his career heads next!
New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Jameelah Rose del Prado Lineses knows first-hand how much hard work goes into making a film—which makes her Honorable Mention at 2017’s International Film Festival Manhattan all the more rewarding. In October, after screening her documentary “The Lifestyles of Expats in Jeddah,” Jameelah was the proud recipient of the IFFM’s Film Festival Director Louie Award Honorable Mention.
This isn’t Jameelah’s first award, either. Her previous documentaries, “Historic Jeddah” and “Our Journey to Hijaz” have also garnered significant praise from multiple festivals in the last several years.
2017’s International Film Festival Manhattan
A recurring theme in her work is the challenge women face while living in Saudi Arabia. The uphill battle women face, especially in filmmaking, has helped focus her vision and strengthen her voice.
Jameelah first attended the New York Film Academy’s 8-Week Filmmaking Workshop in June 2011, before enrolling two months later in the 1-Year Filmmaking program at the New York City campus. There, Jameelah was given hands-on training with state-of-the-art film equipment and taught the skills necessary for pre-production through post-production.
This intensive education prepared Jameelah for a career in filmmaking.“My instructors at NYFA ensured their students after graduation are already well-rounded and equipped to work in any film department,” stated Jameelah.
Even after making several documentaries and garnering numerous honors, Jameelah still applies the training she received at NYFA. “I made sure that I took down notes for every class,” said Jameelah, adding, “I still have all my notes until now, and I review it at times when I need a refresher.”
The New York Film Academy congratulates Jameelah on her Honorable Mention for “The Lifestyles of Expats in Jeddah,” and looks forward to the important stories she will tell in the future!
Jameelah also recently celebrated the world premier of her short film “Reunion,” for which she is the associate producer, at the Anthology Film Archives. “Reunion” is an official selection for the NewFilmmakers New York film festival.
“I Heart Jenny” at the New York Film Academy’s New York City Theatre
“I Heart Jenny,” a heart-wrenching and beautiful documentary by producer and director Blake Babbitt, had a special screening this December at the New York Film Academy’s recently opened New York City Theatre. The film follows Babbitt’s close friend Jenny Rie Vanderlinden as she struggled with and eventually succumbed to a rare form of ovarian cancer. More importantly, the documentary focuses on the powerful positive spirit Jenny embodied, inspiring her friends, family, and eventually total strangers with her optimism and zestful love of life.
In a piece written about Jenny, the Huffington Post wrote, “Jenny doesn’t seem terrified of this thing that is so far beyond us, this thing that none of us can now see… Instead, she’s investing her unconquerable energy in living the spectacular life she’s always lived—skiing, canyoneering, rafting, traveling and raising four amazing children—with a bit more urgency.”
“I Heart Jenny” started documenting Jenny’s journey over a year after her diagnosis, and followed her right up until her untimely end, a death she refused to allow to shadow her life. Babbitt was inspired to make the documentary after seeing the “I Heart Jenny” stickers their mutual friends began posting frequently as badges of support.
“I Heart Jenny”
The initial idea of the documentary came to Babbitt during a pitch session that was part of his curriculum while attending the New York Film Academy’s Evening Producing workshop. From there, he started a years long journey, utilizing the skills, resources, and colleagues he met while at NYFA. “I had never made a film before,” said Babbitt, “but I was able to use the resources at NYFA to get my feet underneath me. At NYFA I was surrounded by people who really knew what they were doing. I felt supported by NYFA the entire way.”
Shooting the film took two years, and was in post-production for another three—a long, laborious process that is not uncommon for documentaries, especially works of passion and as personal as “I Heart Jenny.” During this time, Babbitt not only applied the skills he learned at NYFA, but also used the connections made there to help his film see the light of day. In addition to being a distinguished alumnus, Babbitt is also currently the school’s Associate Director of Recruitment. With this notable position, he is able to guide incoming students as they look to grow as artists and filmmakers in their own right.
Producer & Director Blake Babbitt
As a result of the relationships formed at the New York Film Academy, Babbitt was able to recruit a strong, talented crew for “I Heart Jenny”—many alumni and staff from the school—including:
Kathleen Harris – DP/Producer
Brad Gallant – Lead Editor/Producer
Zena Wood – Associate Producer
Mike Diaz – Editor/Story Producer
Chris Hayes – Editor
Mike Walls – Camera Operator
Shani Patel – Sound recordist/2nd Camera Operator
Lexi Phillips – Colorist
It was only fitting then that “I Heart Jenny” had its initial preview at the New York Film Academy. Babbitt continued, “It was an honor to be able to host my first screening in our stunning new screening room.”
Andrea Swift, New York Film Academy’s Chair of Documentary Filmmaking, was in attendance, and was very impressed with Babbitt’s debut film. “It takes extraordinary passion, commitment, and talent to make a film like this.” She added, “This film can do real good in the world.”
The specific cancer that took Jenny’s life was related to the BRCA gene, a sequence of DNA that has become more and more noted in recent years for its ominous relationship to many types of cancer. While making “I Heart Jenny,” Babbitt linked up with Jonathan and Mindy Gray, founders of the Basser Center for BRCA at the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine. The Basser Center is the first of its kind to focus specifically on BRCA-related cancers, and Babbitt has tied his film to their worthy cause, helping to raise donations for further research (click here if you’d like to support the Basser Center as well.)
While it’s been a long, winding road for Babbitt and “I Heart Jenny,” their journey is far from over. Babbitt’s goal is to get the documentary into the Telluride Film Festival, based in Colorado where Babbitt is from and where he first met Jenny. According to Babbitt, “If it gets in, she wants me to bring a cardboard cutout of her—LOL!”
In addition to submitting the film to as many festivals as possible, Babbitt is also hoping to get distribution, hoping the more people who see the film, the more they will take home its poignant message and look to support the fight against BRCA-related cancers. Babbitt continued, “We’ve had so many supporters along the way, and anytime I felt dejected or lost in the process, I would just think about our supporters and Jenny. I knew I couldn’t let her or them down.”
Supporters of the film can follow updates on Facebook as well as on Twitter. You can also follow Babbitt’s filmmaking exploits on Instagram.
The New York Film Academy is proud of Blake Babbitt and “I Heart Jenny,” and wishes him the best of luck as he continues the legacy of Jenny Rie Vanderlinden and her powerful story.
Lucia Barata wanted to support the Dancing Wheels Company & School, an organization dedicated to teaching and showcasing dancers both with and without disabilities. Lucia decided to put the filmmaking skills she had learned over the years toward this goal to bring more exposure to Dancing Wheels and help them find more support and sponsors. Her efforts are paying off as her documentary, “Dancing Wheels,” is quickly collecting both awards and acclaim, including Best Film at the International Student, Newcomer, and Woman Movie Awards (ISENMA) 2017.
Since 1980, Dancing Wheels has dedicated itself to providing “a unifying expression of movement for all,” exhibiting dance as an essential illustration of the human spirit, including from people of all abilities. Since adding a school to its company in 1990, Dancing Wheels has become one of the foremost arts and disabilities organizations in the country.
By using the medium of film to showcase both the incredible dancing of the company’s members, as well as the passion and heart behind these beautiful physical movements, Lucia Barata was able to bring Dancing Wheels’s mission statement to a larger audience, including those outside the United States.
The International Student, Newcomer, and Woman Movie Awards are held in Indonesia and were founded in 2015, collaborating with the Film Festivals Alliance. Creating a platform and opportunities for both Indonesian and International filmmakers, the festival accepts narrative and documentary submissions from film students, newcomers (non-student, professional, recreational, or amateur filmmakers) and female filmmakers from around the world.
Out of a selection of 350 films, “Dancing Wheels,” was nominated for Best Film alongside three other films. Despite the competition, the documentary was an audience favorite and took home the big prize. The award ceremony was held in Bali and attended by an illustrious crowd, including Indonesian royals. Barata accepted the Best Film award from His Majesty the King of Bonea Selayar, H. Andi Mahyuddin.
While ISENMA presented “Dancing Wheels” with its first Best Film award, the documentary has already picked up several other accolades, including the Diamond Award in Short Documentary and Platinum Award for Editor of the Year at the Directors Awards, the Medal of the Year and Platinum Award for Director of the Year from the Filmmakers of the Year Film Festival, and the Royal High Achievement Award from Royal World Prize & Records.
“This film is the one I’m very proud of,” remarked Barata, adding, “there are no boundaries to dance.” Barata was born in Brazil and already had an impressive education in art and architecture before enrolling at the New York Film Academy in 2012. Taking the 1-Year Filmmaking program in New York City, Barata learned the skills necessary to telling a story—fictional or nonfictional—through a visual medium.
The New York Film Academy congratulates alumna Lucia Barata on “Dancing Wheels” and its awards, and looks forward to seeing what further accolades her career will bring!
Poised as the training ground for the next generation of leaders in this field, the New York Film Academy’s Documentary School was featured in the Fall 2017 edition of Documentary magazine, the biggest international documentary magazine and a publication of the prestigious International Documentary Association (IDA).
In a wide-ranging conversation about NYFA’s Documentary Filmmaking Conservatory, NYFA Los Angeles Chair of Documentary Sanora Bartels and NYFA New York Chair of Documentary Andrea Swift gave a wide-ranging interview to Documentary magazine’s Tom Gianakopoulos, in the Doc University section. Gianakopoulos also teaches screenwriting at the New York Film Academy Los Angeles’ youth programs.
Sonora Bartels told Documentary readers that NYFA’s hands-on learning style sets it apart: “Students at both campuses hit the ground running, and that first semester is a doozy. Right off the bat you have camera classes; you have directing classes; you have sound and producing classes—all of the practical instruction.”
Andrea Swift agreed: “We are very story-focused and, as mentioned earlier, our structure comes from the guiding principle that you learn how to make films by actually making films. The beating heart of that is telling a story.”
The Documentary interview also spotlighted NYFA’s inclusion in the Hollywood Reporter’s list of the Top 25 American film schools, as well as major alumni successes including Raphael Neihausen’s Academy Award-nominated “Joe’s Violin” and Muhammed Hamdy’s Oscar-winning “The Square.”
The New York Film Academy Documentary programs have embraced a global worldview since their inception. “If you do documentaries because you want to learn about the world, come to NYFA,” Sanora Bartels told Documentary. “You will learn about the world around you right here in the classroom, where you will figure out how to work with other cultures very quickly.”