Canadian native Jia Wertz exited a 20-year career in the fashion corporate world to dive into the filmmaking industry. With a background in photography and a passion for social issues and bringing a voice to the voiceless, Wertz decided it was time to answer her calling – becoming a storyteller.
“I didn’t want to simply work at a job that was focused on making profits for a corporation without doing any good in the world for other people,” shared Wertz. With the decision to make a career shift, Wertz remembers the moment it all changed for her. “ I was at Adnan Syed’s post-conviction hearing in Baltimore and Amy Berg’s team was there filming the HBO docuseries The Case Against Adnan Syed and a light bulb just went off.”
NYDA alum Jia Wertz
Wertz realized that filmmaking would be something that she could do to reach a large audience and impact social change by speaking on the conflict of the institutional correction systems and the wrongfully accused.
“I have been passionate about wrongful convictions since I was in my twenties,” revealed Wertz. “My interest in this cause began when I read Rubin Carter’s book The Sixteenth Round, and I’d wondered ever since what I could do to help people who have been unjustly imprisoned. There is something about an innocent person being silenced that really shakes me to the core. After hearing Adnan Syed’s story on the Serial podcast, I was really motivated to do something.”
And she did. Wertz took a 6-Week Documentary Filmmaking Workshop at NYFA and went on to direct the true-crime documentary Conviction, now available to watch on Amazon Prime Video. The documentary short follows the wrongfully convicted Jeffrey Deskovic of the rape and murder of a fellow classmate at the young age of sixteen and how he fought the justice system against all odds to prove his innocence. “The film tells his story, in his own words, and sheds light not only on the shortcomings of the justice system but the physical and emotional impacts that wrongful convictions have on the lives of innocent people,” revealed Wertz. “I was inspired to work on this documentary because I thought it would be an effective way to spread awareness about wrongful convictions, and also because Jeff’s story is so inspirational – it’s truly a testament to the human spirit. Jeff now has a non-profit organization that helps other people who are wrongfully convicted, and by sharing his story I am able to support his organization and the work he does.” With a crew of NYFA students and the encouragement of NYFA instructor Kuldeep Sah Gangola, Wertz worked on the documentary during her course. “From the very first day shooting the film while I was attending NYFA, it just felt right – like I was in the right place, doing exactly what I should be doing,” shared Wertz.
Behind the scenes of “Conviction”
“Every part of the process has been a learning experience and extremely enjoyable – from filming with Jeff who is such a great interviewee, to the excitement (and surprise) of being officially selected at eleven film festivals, and now to have the film streaming on Amazon Prime. I would’ve never thought that we could’ve accomplished all of this in a short year after finishing the documentary program at NYFA.”
The documentary is a testament to Wertz’s hard work and dedication on transitioning into her true calling – being a storyteller and advocate for the unheard. “My hope is that the film spreads awareness of a cause that I think often goes unnoticed. Unless it impacts you personally, you may not even think of wrongful convictions as a major issue in our country. A very conservative estimate is that about 2-5% of people incarcerated in the US are wrongfully imprisoned. At this rate, it could mean tens or even hundreds of thousands of people – the numbers are staggering.”
Jeffrey Deskovic and Jia Wertz (“Conviction”)
People are beginning to take notice of Wertz’s Conviction. From the multiple festival laurels Wertz has received to the Emmy Award-winning show The List, people are taking note of Jeffrey’s story and Wertz’s passion to bring his voice to the forefront – and she isn’t done yet. The NYFA alum is currently in post-production of a feature-length version of Conviction and aims to finish and distribute the film this year.
New York Film Academy celebrates Jia Wertz’s work for her applauded first film Conviction and looks forward to seeing what story Wertz will focus on next. Conviction is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
On September 29, 2020, New York Film Academy (NYFA) had the honor of hosting a live video Q&A with writer/director and NYFA Filmmaking alum Antonio Campos to discuss his latest hit movie on Netflix’s The Devil All The Time with NYFA students and alumni. Tova Laiter, Director of the NYFA Q&A-List Series, curated and moderated the event.
Antonio Campos’ other notable feature directing credits include the Sundance sensations Christine, starring Rebecca Hall, and Simon Killer, starring Brady Corbet. His debut feature Afterschool premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Caméra d’Or and Un Certain Regard awards. In television, he directed the pilot of the USA Emmy-nominated series The Sinner and served as an Executive Producer for the first season of the anthology series. He has other credits both in Film and TV as producer.
Tova Laiter (Left) and Antonio Campos (Right) for the NYFA Q&A-List Series
Laiter opened the discussion with the NYFA alum by asking him about how he first got into filmmaking “I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker for a long time and it really started at New York Film Academy,” remembered Campos. He shared a humorous account of how he was too young (13!) to take classes so he posed as a 16 year old so he could take a 6-Week Filmmaking course at NYFA.
“For six weeks I was living this other reality and my parents were comfortable with me staying up late to edit,” he joked. “My first short film I did at NYFA called Puberty and I remember this moment where I was so nervous to watch the film with an audience that I stayed in the projection room, and I didn’t know how people were reacting. Afterwards, I saw my father crying because he was so proud and it was validation and support that I could feel, so it’s one of the most important moments for me as a filmmaker.”
Antonio Campos (Left) and Rebecca Hall at ‘Christine’ screening (Photo Credit: Variety)
Campos then rooted himself in the indie film world, solidifying himself with hits like Martha Marcy May Marlene, which he produced, along with Afterschool and Christine, which he directed. “I made Christine and, in a lot of ways, it led me to getting The Sinner. That became a success and changed the perception of me as someone who can make things work beyond the art house. That’s just patience and letting things organically happen.” To the question of what contributed the most to the success of the movie, he attributed it to the fact that he always takes his time with the script, even if everyone else is impatient. That’s why it takes him four years between movies but ultimately, they get the response he intended them to have.
Laiter then asked Campos to share more on the making of his hit film The Devil All The Time, which Campos adapted from the original novel and co-wrote with his brother. “The characters felt familiar, but also specific in how he [the author] was rendering the characters and getting into their heads to go to these places with awful people,” revealed Campos.
Antonio Campos shooting ‘The Devil All The Time’ (Photo Credit: Netflix)
“It’s an interesting movie to have gotten the wide reception it has. It’s a very disruptive film emotionally. When I talk about the movie, it should feel like you are breathless for two and a half hours until you get in the car with Arvin and then you can catch your breath,” explained Campos.
With The Devil All The Time boasting a star-studded cast with the likes of Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Bill Skarsgård, and more, one audience member asked Campos how he selects actors for his projects. “I like actors that take big swings and make strong choices, along with actors with distinct faces,” he replied. “I ask myself, ‘how do I feel when I meet them,’ because I will be spending a lot of time with them.”
Antonio Campos (Left) with Robert Pattinson (Right) on set for ‘The Devil All The Time’ (Photo Credit: Netflix)
Campos also reminded the directors in the audience to “always make your actors feel seen and heard” and reminded the actors in the audience to communicate with other actors on what they need and that a good actor “likes to be around other actors and feed off that energy.”
With a stacked cast of celebrity actors in his own film, Campos shared that, regardless of star power, his film is, ultimately, character-driven and was “calibrated between people who were more well-known with other character actors or people you may have never seen before.” When it came to casting his film, he shared that he “knew that this film was very different for how we were approaching characters,” and it required the balance of both known and unknown performers, all of whom shine in this ensemble film.
In one of the last questions of the night, one student asked for tips on how NYFA students can make the jump from student to a seasoned professional in the industry. Campos had this to share with the audience:
“Everyone’s career is different and times out differently. Always expect that things may take longer than you expect, but keep your network of friends and collaborators close. In my case, it was about being open to getting involved with other filmmakers and their processes to make their movies. Keep making short films before you make your feature. Always try and be working. Short films are such a safe place to make mistakes and learn. Put yourself out there and submit to every film festival and embrace the networking aspect of being a filmmaker. You can be the most talented filmmaker in the world, but if you cannot convey your film into concrete terms, people will not be able to understand your vision.”
Antonio Campos (Left) with the cast of his film ‘Afterschool’ at NYFF (Photo Credit: Godlis)
As for what’s next for Campos, the writer-director reveals that he is adapting a comedy piece, as well as a new drama series starring Hollywood heavyweight Harrison Ford. “It’s called The Staircase, based on the documentary on novelist Michael Peterson,” he shared. “I’ve been working on it in some capacity for ten years and it never quite worked as a feature, so now it is going to be a series and it’s set up with HBO Max.”
Campos closed the conversation by thanking Laiter for the enjoyable discussion and wished NYFA’s next generation of filmmakers the best of luck for their future projects.
New York Film Academy would like to thank director and NYFA alum Antonio Campos for sharing his time and filmmaking experience with NYFA students and alumni, and looks forward to his upcoming projects including The Staircase.
To watch Campos’ recent film, The Devil All The Time, the film is available to stream here on Netflix.
To hear the full conversation, click the video below our watch on our YouTube channel here.
When Angolan filmmakers Fradique (a.k.a. Mario Bastos) and Hugo Salvaterra, a NYFA Fulbright student, met in high school, little did they know it would be the beginning of a friendship and collaboration that would continue into adulthood, where they would both be studying at the New York Film Academy, and take them to the prestigiousWe Are One: A Global Film Festival. Created by the Tribeca Film Festival as a fundraiser for organizations addressing the world’s COVID-19 crisis, We Are One includes selections from top festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, Venice, and Rotterdam.
Air Conditioner, Fradique’s first fictional feature as writer and director,will premiere on YouTube on Saturday, June 6, 2020, at 11:45 am Eastern. It will then become available on demand for seven days afterwards. Attending the premiere is free, but donations are welcome.
Crickett Rumley, NYFA’s Director of Film Festivals, caught up with Fradique and Hugo right before the festival and asked them about their experiences.
Fradique on set of ‘Air Conditioner’ (Photo Credit: Cafuxi)
Rumley:Congratulations on this amazing success. Fradique, could you tell us more about Air Conditioner and how it came to be?
Fradique: This is actually a project that I had started writing a couple of years ago while I was developing what was supposed to be my first fiction film, The Kingdom of Casuarinas. Air Conditioner was kind of a side project that eventually ended up becoming my first fiction film, which for me was a big lesson on how in our line of work these things take many years. Sometimes the next one is not the one you thought it would be. The film was written by me and the director of photography, Ery Claver, who is a very talented filmmaker and someone that sees cinema as I do.
Air Conditioner is a magic neo-realistic journey through downtown Luanda, Angola, where we follow Matacedo, a security guard of an old building, while he tries to retrieve his boss’s AC in a city where all the AC’s are falling. This is a film about loss, how we live together as society, and a critique of social classes in a city that is past-present-future. My biggest inspiration for this film was my own life experience growing up and living in many different buildings in downtown Luanda and also the idea that these invisible workers that are the heart and soul of our city should be main characters on the stories we watch on the big screen.
Rumley: What was the most challenging thing about making the film? What did you learn in the process?
Fradique: The film was produced and shot with a very small crew, almost guerrilla-style, so letting go and accepting what surroundings are offering you was my biggest challenge and lesson. Usually in all my projects, I try to be as meticulous as I can regarding the script, storyboard, and shooting plan, but with this film we wanted to work not only with non-actors, but also with the real location where the story takes place, the building. In the end, the film resulted from creative acts derived from a deep structure. It privileges character and location over traditional narrative. The improvisation in this project was not simply a free flow of expression, but a rigorous and disciplined act of playing from a given structure at its core. I believe that this mixture was essential to bring some raw and poetic experiences to the screen while pushing at the same time stronger performances from the cast.
Film poster for ‘Air Conditioner’
Rumley:The film premiered at Rotterdam, which is an amazing place to launch. What was that experience like?
Fradique: Yes, the film had its World Premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in the section of ‘Bright Future Main Program’ in 2020. For me, it was an honor to have the first festival screening at IFFR. It was my second time over there and I love and stand for everything that the festival believes. A lot of filmmakers that inspire me have been at IFFR; it’s a great home for the global south cinema. The feedback after the screenings exceeded my expectations, which were very low because I was very tired after a year of working on the film. We had five screenings and they were all sold out before the festival even started. The audience in Rotterdam are very generous and authentic cinephiles. We had great reviews at The Hollywood Reporter, The Guardian, and other local newspapers. The original soundtrack, which was composed by Aline Frazão for the film, was one of the elements that reviewers and the audiences mention a lot. She did an incredible job, and I believe the music in the film brought to the surface the soul of the main character, Matacedo, as well the city of Luanda.
Rumley:Fradique and Hugo, what are you each looking forward to with the film’s screening at We Are One?
Fradique:How this festival was put together still amazes me. We Are One offers a global audience easy access to great films and conversations about filmmaking. It’s free, yet it’s also open to donations to fight against Covid-19. For me as a filmmaker in the current crisis that was an important criterion to join this initiative because it has bigger concerns than defending a particular festival or film. It shows how important it is to work and act collectively. We are all still learning and trying to figure out what the future of independent cinema and festivals will be, but it’s important to try new formats and be open. I hope at the festival Air Conditioner reaches audiences that probably were not going to watch this film or simply give someone who is at home a small pleasant journey to Luanda, Angola.
Hugo:Personally, I’m mostly proud of the company’s achievement, amazed at the scale and sheer diversity of the festival. After attending many festivals like Tribeca, LA and NY film festivals or even the Venice Biennale, this feels like the most diverse and representative curatorship I’ve seen thus far. It truly represents cinema and independent cinema as a planetary global experience. It also gives me added hope that the usually non-English, non-western filmmaking voices can also be heard on a global scale for a more democratic and inclusive future for all independent filmmakers.
Filming ‘Air Conditioner’ (Photo Credit: Cafuxi)
Rumley:Let’s backtrack for a minute to the beginnings of your collaboration. How did you meet and start working together? Was it attending NYFA, or back at home?
Fradique: I met Hugo while I was still in high school here in Angola. Afterwards we went to study abroad. He went to Europe, and I went to the US in 2004 where I did NYFA’s 1-Year Filmmaking program and also a BFA at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. Once I got back to Angola in 2010, I started a production company called Geração 80, with Jorge Cohen and Tchiloia Lara. Hugo was one of the first artists to come on board at Geração 80. Our production company will celebrate 10 years this year.
Hugo:I met Fradique in the cocoon of our high school here in Luanda, Angola, in our youth. If my memory doesn’t fail me, I think I formed a kinship with him when I was still in university in Lisbon making music on the side. He showed some interest in shooting a video for a small EP I had made in my bedroom, something I never expected, and it meant a lot at the time. Our connection really took off when I joined Geração 80. I did my first job for the company while I was living in London in the end of 2011 then joined in early 2012, way before NYFA. I was still an aspiring filmmaker, writing film reviews and working mostly with photography. A memorable day is when I first made it into his bedroom, shortly after arriving from London. Large sections of his DVD film collection mirrored mine. That’s when I realized that more than a friend, I had found a brother through our shared passion for film.
Rumley:Hugo, what was your position on ‘Air Conditioner?’
Hugo: I was fresh from returning to Angola post-NYFA and figuring out how to promote my film “1999” here in Luanda. In an independent production company, a lot of sacrifices have to be made in order to make things happen. So I was focused on the commercial end of the company making sure that my colleagues could enjoy the freedom and necessary focus to produce and shoot the film.
On set of ‘Air Conditioner’ (Photo Credit: Cafuxi)
Rumley:Your production company sounds really interesting. Can you describe it, how you work, what you do, how you started it?
Fradique:We will celebrate a decade next month. We started only with three people, and today we are a group of eighteen professionals working in the audiovisual industry in Angola. At the beginning the goal was to just make cinema, but soon we realized that we had to do other work to survive. In Angola there’s no film funds or initiatives, so being able to put together a production company that does not only cinema, but commercial and corporate work gave us the resources to be able to build a great team and acquire top equipment to make us more independent. Over the last ten years, we produced one feature fiction film, four feature-length documentaries, six short films and worked on a couple of international co-productions. When it comes to producing our films, we work very much like a collective. Everyone works on each other’s projects, and we only finish a film when it reaches an audience. We don’t make films to be put into drawers, we believe independent/author cinema should meet bigger audiences as well. We are tired of seeing our film theaters only with Hollywood films. We want not only more Angolan cinema in our theaters, but also African cinema.
Hugo:For me the real beauty of being part of this collective is also that, all of us, despite our differences, are committed to the power of movies, storytelling and all its magical elements. Our aim is to make movies, not products, which is increasingly more difficult in a time where everything is commodified either through likes or commerce. Making movies for us is not a job, it’s a way of living. We are in essence not in the movie business, but in the business of making movies. It’s our passion and desire to make films that informs the process and the how and that to me is special.
Rumley:How do you think your education at NYFA and the work you did here prepared you for a career in filmmaking?
Fradique:NYFA gave me the foundation of what it means to be an independent filmmaker. Learning how to work collectively on other classmates’ projects and at the same time experience different positions on the set was fundamental for me to be able not only to fully understand the craft and the importance of every person on set, but also l to later on have the resources to open up a production company in my home country. On top of all that, I did my one year program almost entirely on film. We only did one main digital project with a MINI DV, no REDs at the time. Everything else was in 16mm, and each gave me more confidence as a director in the beginning of my career.
Hugo:I was already in my early 30s when I made it into NYFA, so I almost missed the window to becoming a filmmaker. I’m very grateful for the two years spent there, particularly in New York, where I was able to find the confidence and tools not only to learn what filmmaking is, but also find my artistic voice. Los Angeles was different but essential in learning a more formal, business-oriented way of producing films. There, I focused more on how to write a feature within a more conventional three-act structure and developed technically on set, playing with the vocabulary of film in a way that made me a much stronger filmmaker.
Filming ‘Air Conditioner’ (Photo Credit: Cafuxi)
Rumley:Do you have any special shout-outs to faculty or staff who really helped or inspired you?
Fradique:I have great memories of teachers like Tassos Rigopoulos and Claude Kerven. Together with my fellow classmates, they represent the best first lessons I had about filmmaking.
Hugo:Brad Sample’s capacity to analyze, deconstruct and mentor, Ben Cohen’s humor, intellect and love of film history, Rae Shaw’s production acumen stand out. Sanora Bartels, Greg Marcks, and Robert Taylor for teaching me the science of script writing. There are others I’m sure, but those stand out.
Rumley: What advice do you have for recent graduates making their way in to the professional world?
Fradique: As it became easier to have the resources to make films, also it seems more difficult with so many options to follow or trying to keep up with all the trends and gadgets. My advice would be don’t get stuck on the gear, to spend more time and make meaningful connections and partnerships with the people you work with. Watch a lot of films and think collectively, that’s the root of filmmaking. Surround yourself with people that are different from you but have the same passions, values towards art and don’t forget the best stories are found at home, wherever that might be.
Hugo:Filmmaking is a mansion with many rooms and it’s very easy to get lost wandering in it, figure out what your strengths are and sink into what and who you are. By that I mean, what do you bring to a story, a set, a crew, a production company? What are you making films for? If you’re able to answer that, regardless of success or failure, you will find the nourishment you need to carry on.
Cast and Crew of ‘Air Conditioner’ including NYFA Alumni Fradique and Hugo Salvaterra (Photo Credit: Cafuxi)
Rumley:These are trying times in the world today, and art matters more than ever. Do you want to share any words about the importance of film in the lives of humans living right now? The role of Angolan film in world cinema?
Fradique:The world we have today is the result of the same and single story being told for centuries. We need more diversity behind the cameras and in what see on the screen. We need to remember that culture, art, is not mere entertainment or something to disconnect us from our daily life online. Be aware not only of your country’s borders, but your social and society borders as well. Cinema is more than a mirror; it is art and memory with all the senses, feelings and its lapses. Let’s take care of our memories.
Hugo: At its core, film is still the only art form that explores what it means to be human. It’s not the imitation of life, it is the imagination of everything life could be. In a time when the very existence of organized human life is at stake, we have to make sure, now more than ever, that the films we’re making get to the core of that exploration. There is a war raging that isn’t new, one that is fought between commerce and the full potential of film as an art form. It’s an age-old battle, where there will always be those who will try to define films as a monolith, by creating markets and monopolies where the overarching definition and structure of a film is the same and where its success is only measured by if it won anything in a festival or how much money it made vs. the whole history of the art form, where the writers, directors and producers made a film because they wanted to birth something that was urgent, as a way of life, as means of catharsis, beyond conventions of class or structure. Filmmakers have made the history, inside big studios or the smallest of spaces, with the biggest crews and the most skeletal ones, by understanding and studying film history and the art form. Angola is a young country and is showing potential to create both types of films, both profit-driven ones and ones that channel and respect the history of film as an art form. We champion the latter.
Rumley:Anything else that you would like to say to the NYFA community?
Fradique: Be safe and be informed. If you have the chance, watch Air Conditioner at We Are One: A Global Film Festival starting June 6th.
Rumley: Congratulations! We wish you the best with your We Are One screening and in all your endeavors. Keep making art; keep telling your stories. They matter.
New York Film Academy would like to thank Fradique and Hugo Salvaterra for taking the time to speak about their new film, Air Conditioner, and congratulates them on the premiere of their film at the We Are One Film Festival.
UPDATE June 19, 2020: Fresh off their screening with the We Are One Global Film Festival, Fradique and members of his crew and production company, Geração 80, will join Crickett Rumley, NYFA’s Director of Film Festivals, for a discussion of their film Air Conditioner on June 25, 2020. To register, click here.
New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Natalia Bougadellis’ public service announcement (PSA), “You Can Still Smile,” finished second in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s #NewYorkTough competition. Bougadellis, who attended NYFA’s Teen Filmmaking program in Los Angeles and an intensive 6-Week Filmmaking workshop in New York, worked on the PSA under her female-run production company Blue Slate Films.
Bougadellis is a director and cinematographer, who hails from Athens, Greece. Her critically acclaimed film, The Owls, (available on Amazon), has played in eleven countries and over thirty film festivals, winning the prestigious Zoe Award at LifeArt Festival, “Best Student Film” at Miami Independent Film Festival, and “Best Student Filmmaker” at America’s Rainbow Film Festival Presented by HBO.
Natalia Bougadellis behind the camera during filming
Bougadellis is also the Executive Director of The Great Griffon, a non-profit organization founded to bring awareness and support to LGBTQ+ characters in mainstream entertainment. Bougadellis also co-founded her own production company, Blue Slate Films, with female filmmaker Emory Parker, in 2017 and continues to produce cutting edge projects for high-profile brands like Nike, McDonald’s, Calvin Klein, and Pepsi, to name a few.
Her PSA, “You Can Still Smile,” finished second in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s #NewYorkTough competition, acquiring almost 48,000 votes and over 200,000 views. Though Bougadellis’ PSA did not come in first place, Gov. Cuomo announced in a briefing that New York state will still air the PSA.
New Yorkers from the PSA “You Can Still Smile” (Courtesy of Blue Slate Films)
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit NYC, Blue Slate Films (Bougadellis’ production company) was gearing up to shoot their very first feature film, Whirlpool. “As a small business, we were really affected by this,” says Bougadellis.
When Bougadellis and her production partner [Parker] saw Gov. Cuomo’s #NewYorkTough competition, they knew they had to get involved. “We saw the PSA competition as an invaluable opportunity to showcase our talents and stay creative throughout this time, while also spreading a message crucial to ending this pandemic.”
Bougadellis explained that they [Bougadellis and Parker] wanted to use this opportunity to tell true stories about real New Yorkers. She recounted that their vision was to show raw emotion for each individual portrayed in the PSA. “Our eyes can tell amazing stories, so we focused on faces and eyes to show how powerful human connection can be.”
For Bougadellis, the journey of filming this video around NYC and Long Island was heartfelt and sincere. “We had no script for this video,” she says. “All answers were spontaneous and came from the heart. Emory [Parker] then worked on editing the piece and bringing it all together.”
Still from PSA “You Can Still Smile” (Courtesy of Blue Slate Films)
Beyond the stories of the individuals featured in the PSA, Bougadellis hopes that those who watch the video understand that wearing a mask isn’t just about protecting oneself. “Wearing a mask means respecting your fellow New Yorkers and caring about them, as well,” she remarks. “The sooner we can all cooperate to control this situation, the sooner our city will be able to return to normal.”
During these times of social distancing and self-quarantine, in addition to their PSA, Blue Slate Films has also launched a digital series, The Slate, featuring artists, experts, and entrepreneurs that seek to make a difference in their respective industries.
New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Natalia Bougadellis on her inspiring achievement, which highlights a crucial global message for all, and encourages everyone to check out the PSA and to keep an eye out for Blue Slate Films’ forthcoming film Whirlpool.
To watch the full “You Can Still Smile” PSA, click here or watch the full video above.
New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Francesca Mazzoleni’s documentary feature length film, Puntasacra wins the ‘Sesterce d’or la Mobilière’ (Best Feature Film) at the 2020 Visions du Réel competition, held virtually from April 17 to May 2.
‘Puntasacra’ (Directed by Francesca Mazzoleni, courtesy of True Colours)
Mazzoleni atteneded the 4-Week Music Video Workshop at NYFA’s New York City campus in 2017. In addition to Puntasacra, Mazzoleni has directed feature film Succede and short films 1989, L’etoile de Mer, Lo so che mi senti, Nowhere, and Il Premio.
Puntasacra, her latest feature, is a documentary that tells the story of the inhabitants of Idroscalo di Ostia, a coastal outer district of Rome and the last portion of habitable land at the mouth of the Tiber, Punta Sacra. With half of the community’s houses destroyed by a fire in 2010, the documentary navigates the daily lives of the coast village’s inhabitants and naturally portrays the conversations between neighbors surrounding communism, familial secrets, and community altercations.
The film was one of 14 feature-length documentaries that were selected for main competition in the prestigious Swiss festival, Visions du Réel, in Nyon (this year online). After winning the Sesterce d’or la Mobilière with a cash prize of CHF 20,000 (£16,657), top Italian sales distributor, True Colours, acquired sales rights for the film.
Mazzoleni, who could not be there in person to accept her award since the ceremony was held online, made her own award from the items in her home and thanked her ten-person team, with whom she “shared a very complicated and wonderful adventure”. She also thanked the community of Idroscalo di Ostia who gave her the confidence to make her film. She closed her Instagram acceptance speech by telling her followers, “our journey begins today, be patient, the cinemas will reopen.”
Francesca Mazzoleni behind the scenes of her film ‘Succede’
New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Francesca Mazzoleni on the success of her latest documentary film and her recent win at Visions du Réel, and encourages everyone to check out Puntasacra when it becomes available in theaters or online.
The New York Film Academy recently hosted an Industry Speaker session with the Executive Director of SAGindie, Darrien Gipson. Students and Faculty from all NYFA campuses attended as Gipson addressed the state of the industry during Covid-19. With all sectors of the industry focused on returning to work, it was a prescient discussion moderated by NYFA Producing Chair Neal Weisman.
Gipson spoke of the various protocols that are being proposed once production resumes. While a certain degree of uncertainty prevails, and as the industry awaits government guidelines, a consensus around various parameters is formulating. They include reduced crew sizes, staggered work hours, “pods” of crew alternating on set, various departments working timed shifts, longer days sanctioned by the unions, strict enforcement of social distancing, personal and set/equipment sanitizing regimes, monitoring for symptoms, and isolating actors.
NYFA Producing Chair Weisman with SAGindie’s Darrien Gipson
On a positive note, various “silver linings” are beginning to emerge from the current environment. Smaller productions with lower budgets, like student films and web series, are going to find it easier to handle the logistics and flexibility required to move forward. There will be a great hunger for projects as a result of the freeze on production in effect since March.
The smaller productions that can proceed at a quicker pace than the larger, more cumbersome projects will be better positioned for distribution. Gipson cited that a smaller number of “starry” submissions to festivals like Sundance will enhance the chances of less high profile films obtaining top-tier festival launches. Streaming platforms and other distribution entities will be seeking more product than ever. These observations connected with the NYFA audience as the conversation made it more apparent that there has rarely been a better time for emerging producers, filmmakers, writers, and actors to create content for a voracious audience.
The New York Film Academy has a long standing relationship with SAGindie, and thanks Executive Director Darrien Robbins for her insight and generosity. SAGindie is an invaluable resource for the NYFA community, as they not only assist in navigating the various paths forward working with the Screen Actors Guild, SAGindie will also offer guidance on a host of matters from financing to festival strategies, and more. SAGindie welcomes NYFA students who would like to reach out and learn more.
For more information on SAGindie and how to contact them click here.
“Lasting Silence,” a new short film by New York Film Academy alumnus Farhan Abbas, is an Official Selection at the 9th Annual Lahore International Children’s Film Festival. Abbas graduated from NYFA’s Evening Digital Filmmaking Workshop in September 2011 while in Abu Dhabi.
The LICFF was founded in 2008 and has continued annually, presenting the best of local and international films by, for, and about the children of Pakistan. It is the largest children’s film festival in Pakistan, and showcases its selections across the country from October throughout December.
Additionally, the LICFF promotes children as filmmakers, training them in the art of filmmaking and giving them an outlet to exhibit their work. According to their threefold mission statement, this furthers their goal to nurture and inspire local filmmakers to produce more content specifically for children in Pakistan.
“Lasting Silence,” a nine-minute short directed by Abbas, who also worked on its screenplay with writer Mubashir Ali Zaidi, will screen across Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city, starting October 30.
New York Film Academy extends our warmest congratulations to Farhan and to the great work being done by the LICFF!
New York Film Academy students gathered in the school’s own Los Angeles theater this week for a screening of the Academy Award Winner for Best Picture Birdman followed by a Q&A with Douglas Crise, the Oscar nominated editor of the film. Crise received an Oscar nomination for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Babel in 2007. He has since cut John August’s The Nines, starring Ryan Reynolds and Melissa McCarthy; David Schimmer’s Trust, starring Clive Owen; and Nicholas Jarecki’s Arbitrage, starring Richard Gere which has received much critical acclaim. His collaboration with filmmaker Harmony Korine on Spring Breakers—which stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens—has been talked about as revolutionary. Doug just received a BAFTA nomination for is work on Inarritu’s Birdman starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis. The discussion was moderated by producer Tova Laiter and NYFA LA’s Dean of Students Eric Conner.
It is often said that the best editors make their cuts “invisible” to the audience, stitching shots together in just the right so that the audience can lose themselves in the story and not focus on the filmmaking craft. Douglas Crise achieved this in a very literal way with Birdman—the vast majority of which appears to be all one shot, but in reality is composed with many, many edits. These cuts are nearly impossible to see at all, even with the trained eyed. So how many cuts were there in Birdman? This has been a topic of hot debate, and while the number of cuts have been kept secret but the team, the special effects department had spilled the beans and said it was 100, which Douglas didn’t deny. This is compared to the 30 definite edits planned before the shooting of Birdman.
To cut together the best film possible, Crise had to dig deep down and use every trick in the book, and even invent many himself to make the impossible possible. For instance, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu would like Michael Keaton’s performance at the beginning of one long shot and Edward Norton’s performance at the end of it. Douglass would have to dig deep to think of solutions such as rotoscoping Michael Keaton out of the first shot and laying him onto the background where Edward Norton appears in the next shot until Keaton walked offscreen and the second shot took over completely. Douglas Crise enjoyed working with Inarritu because the demanding director always pushed him to do his best work, and to achieve levels he originally thought impossible.
Crise discussed his contrasting, yet equally fulfilling experience, editing Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. Whereas Birdman required working within strict limitations, Douglas was called upon to nearly rewrite Spring Breakers in the editing room. He moved things around out of chronological order, laid dialogue and sound over scenes from the footage of other scenes, and worked from a rough outline instead of a detailed script. Harmony’s approach to Crise was more relaxed, as the two discovered the story together from the footage. Having worked so well with two iconic directors whose working styles are at different ends of the spectrum Douglas has exhibited how creatively flexible he is.
Douglas Crise gave NYFA students a unique and important insight into the post production process. We sincerely thank Mr. Crise for taking the time to visit us and look forward to seeing his next critically acclaimed editorial work.
Last month, New York Film Academy MFA Filmmaking graduate Spyros Kopanitsas was awarded the Best Producing Award at The Madrid International Film Festival for his year one short film, Level 2. Shortly after, he was awarded with the Best Director Award at the Downtown Film Festival in Los Angeles for his thesis film, (Z).
Level 2 was his year one film during his two year MFA degree and only his second attempt at writing and directing a dialogue based short story. The film is set in a futuristic world where people are plugged into a networking platform video game called “The Place.” In this world, a humble boy asks out a rather high-status girl, but when he doesn’t have access to her level, he has to try and hack his way into the virtual bar they are supposed to meet at.
His thesis film, (Z) is again set in the not so distant future where individual’s uncontrollable behaviors can be formatted by extreme and invasive measures by a German corporation, called (Z) Corp. In the film, we follow Nico, a raver junkie who wakes up one morning in his apartment only to realize it won’t be an ordinary one.
Spyros came to us from Athens, Greece, and decided to go for his Master’s degree at NYFA Los Angeles after attending our 8-week filmmaking program in New York City. “I enjoyed the full hands-on practical approach to film and decided to do a two year MFA degree in the Los Angeles,” says Spyros. “The training at NYFA was very valuable in terms of producing and directing, especially in directing, which is the field that intrigues me the most.”
He currently has a few projects in development, adding, “My goal as a filmmaker is to participate in productions that will entertain the eye and tickle the brain.”
Behind the scenes of Level 2. Far left, former students Ioanna Sourmeli (make-up) and in the middle, Edrei Hutson (UPM).
Wednesday night, the New York Film Academy hosted a full house at Warner Bros for the screening of World War Z with Director Marc Forster brought to us by Producer Tova Laiter. His work includes smart character-driven films (Monster’s Ball, Stranger Than Fiction) as well as stylish studio blockbusters (Quantum of Solace, World War Z) and he has been nominated for an Oscar several times. His film Finding Neverland is beloved by many and received 7 Oscar nods. He also made The Kite Runner, Machine Gun Preacher and several other films. His actors also do well under his guidance. For example, his third film, Monster’s Ball, earned Halle Berry an Oscar.
Marc grew up in Davos, a winter resort in Eastern Switzerland. He decided at the age of 14 or 15 that he wanted to become a filmmaker, though his doctor father and family thought he would “come to his senses” and go into academics eventually. Good thing for Marc, he never did come to his senses.
NYFA student, Krishna, asked Marc what was the most important part of the filmmaking process. He said it all mattered, but that pre-production is very vital. He added that, “there are different challenges for different projects, it depends on who the key people are involved. I make films in a very Swiss manner, very prepared…and pre-production is the most important.”
Marc never puts the meticulous work involved in directing a film to rest. He admits that he has a vision, which caters to every detail including color, wardrobe, haircuts and lighting. “You are only as good as your last film,” says Forster. Though, he added, “I’m not a guy who just goes out and shoots.”
He also told the audience to try and have thick skin as, “not everyone is going to love your work, you just have to get used to it.”
Another student, Pablo, asked Marc about the degree of collaboration he gets into with actors. Marc said, “I love actors and it’s all about collaboration. You have to start at the beginning and really discuss the character.” Actors work differently. He has been lucky and has great relationships with many successful actors. He added that sometimes you simply have to, “do takes until you are both happy.”
Asked by a filmmaking student what’s the best way to get started in today´s filmmaking world, Marc suggested one of the following:
1. Make a commercial reel
2. Make documentaries
3. Try to make a small feature and get it into Sundance or Cannes
And for all of them: Know what is personal and important for you. Do something original and interesting.
Marc noted the importance of maintaining his cool on set. “Once on set, there is nothing you can do except stay focused.” He told a story of getting a bad toothache while shooting on an aircraft carrier, only to be driven to a barn after wrap for a procedure, then to get up at 4 am and resume shooting. Stay focused.
On staying true to yourself and your vision, Marc said, “I don’t like branding myself…I do what I am passionate about. I try to continually challenge myself and I like making films that are dealing with the human condition.”