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  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum Jameelah Rose del Prado Lineses Wins Best Cinematography Award

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    Jameelah Rose del Prado Lineses has won several awards for her various film projects since attending New York Film Academy (NYFA), and last October, she added another. At the 8th Annual International Film Festival Manhattan, Lineses earned the Best Cinematography Award for her music video, Atareek.Jameelah Rose Lineses

    The 2018 International Film Festival Manhattan (IFFM 2018) opened on October 17 and ran until October 21, with its awards ceremony held on October 18 at the Philippine Consulate in New York City. Lineses screened Atareek at the Producers Club Theaters, just a few blocks from Times Square. Saudi Vice Consul of the Saudi Arabian Consulate, Mazin AlMouallimi, was in attendance at the event.

    Atareek is “a journey to the colorful streets of Old Balad” that explores “the beautiful history of the city’s rich culture and heritage.” It was the only film representing Saudi Arabia at this year’s festival, and was shot, directed, edited, and produced by Lineses, who was assisted by her mother throughout the shoot.  

    Lineses picked up a lot of the skills necessary for filmmaking, from pre-production through post-production, at the New York Film Academy, which she first attended in June 2011 when she enrolled in the 8-Week Filmmaking workshop. Two months after that, she deepened her studies and attended the 1-Year Filmmaking program at NYFA’s New York City campus.

    Atareek was filmed in 2017 entirely in Jeddah during the Atareek festival and is the third production Lineses has made that features Historic Jeddah. Her previous films, Historic Jeddah and Our Journey to Hijaz, have garnered significant praise from multiple festivals in the last several years. 

    In addition to Atareek, Lineses worked on two other films that were Official Selections at IFFM 2018. She was Associate Producer on Reunion as well as Assistant Director, Editor, cast member, and one of the producers of Mindanao. 

    New York Film Academy congratulates Jameelah Rose del Prado Lineses on her film Atareek and her latest award win!  

    UPDATE (June 21, 2019):

    New York Film Academy is proud to announce that Jameelah Rose del Prado Lineses’s Atareek is now an Official Selection at the 15th Annual Houston Asian American and Pacific Islander Film Festival in Houston, Texas (HAAPIFEST), where it will compete in the music video category. HAAPIFEST runs from June 20 – June 28, 2019, and this is the first time the Houston Asian American and Pacific Islander Film Festival will have a music video category. Atareek will be screened on June 28, which is the closing ceremony and Arts Night of HAAPIFEST. You can find tickets here. The June 28 HAAPIFEST screening will be held at:

    Chinese Community Center
    9800 Town Park Dr.
    Houston, TX 77036

    Congrats again Jameelah!

    Atareek

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    November 30, 2018 • Cinematography, Film Festivals, Filmmaking, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1489

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum Gonzalo Martin Stars in “Life is Strange 2”

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    gonzalo martinNew York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum Gonzalo Martin might agree that “life is strange,” especially since he nabbed the lead role in Square Enix’s highly-anticipated video game, Life is Strange 2. Square Enix is the Japanese developer and publisher of wildly popular games Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, and Dragon Quest, among others. 

    The episodic graphic adventure video game, available on nearly all major platforms (including Xbox One, Playstation 4, PC and macOS), is the sequel to the smash hit and critically-acclaimed Life is Strange, originally released in 2015. That title has sold over 3 million copies to date.

    The newest entry released its first episode in September 2018, with the last of five episodes set to come out in 2019. Life is Strange 2 was developed by Dontnod Entertainment (Vampyr, Twin Mirror) and has already been nominated for several gaming awards and won the Special Jury Prize at the 2018 Ping Awards.

    Life is Strange 2 tells the story of young brothers Sean and Daniel Diaz, who are on the run from the police. The game is a third-person story adventure, with dialogue trees and gaming decisions
    affecting the story and future episodes.

    Gonzalo Martin stars as lead protagonist Sean Diaz, who the player controls throughout the game. Martin is an Acting for Film alum from the New York Film Academy, having attended the AFA program in 2015, and has previously been a part of the Academy’s admissions team. At NYFA’s acting school, Martin was given both practical experience and a hands-on education to develop his skills as an actor, with training from a faculty of experienced actors currently working in the industry.

    Previous acting roles of Martin include BuzzFeed Murder Mystery Stories, and the films I’ll Be Next Door for Christmas and When It Rings.

    The New York Film Academy congratulates Gonzalo Martin on landing the lead role in Square Enix’s Life is Strange 2! 

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    November 28, 2018 • Acting, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1575

  • “One Night in Miami” Stars New York Film Academy (NYFA) Acting Alum Kieron Anthony As Cassius Clay

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    Last October, One Night in Miami premiered as a Miami New Drama production at Miami Beach’s Colony Theatre, starring New York Film Academy (NYFA) Acting Alum Kieron Anthony as legendary fighter Cassius Clay.

    The play was written by Kemp Powers and staged by Miami native Carl Cofield, associate artistic director of the Classical Theatre of Harlem. It imagines the events of February 25, 1964, after Clay had defeated Sonny Liston and won the World Heavyweight Crown. After the fight, Clay was joined at the Hampton House Motel Room by three other famous men of color — Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, and Malcolm X. 

    Kieron Anthony as Cassius Clay

    Leon Thomas III, Esau Pritchett and Jason Delane listen as Kieron Anthony’s Cassius Clay (standing on bed) recounts his victory over Sonny Liston in “One Night in Miami.” Photo by STIAN ROENNING

    While only the surviving member of the foursome, Jim Brown, knows what the men really discussed that night, One Night in Miami postulates what could have been happened when four such prominent personalities are confined in a small room after such an incredible evening. The play, which takes place during Segregation, also incorporates important themes of race and religion in the 1960s.

    Kieron Anthony plays the pivotal role of Cassius Clay, who the day after the night depicted in the play would announce his conversion to the Nation of Islam. He would change his name and be known by for the rest of his life as Muhammad Ali. Of his performance, Christine Dolen wrote in the Miami Herald that Anthony “conveys the young champ’s joyous confidence as he reenacts moments of his life-changing fight for his famous friends. He dials up the rhetoric and swagger when he goes outside to speak with the reporters who finally track him down, but with his friends he’s willing to show he’s still grappling with embracing and declaring his faith.”

    Anthony graduated from New York Film Academy South Beach’s 1-year acting conservatory in 2015. As part of an extremely diverse student body with classmates from around the world, Anthony received an educational experience unique from other acting schools in Florida, focusing on hands-on experience from faculty members currently working in the Miami acting scene.

    Yves Arispe, NYFA South Beach’s Director of Housing and Student Services, called Anthony’s performance “natural, believable, relatable as he delivered on every beat,” and that, “Kieron’s performance makes NYFA South Beach proud!”

    The New York Film Academy congratulates Acting alum Kieron Anthony on his stellar performance as Cassius Clay in One Night in Miami!

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    November 27, 2018 • Academic Programs, Acting, South Beach, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 992

  • Q&A With New York Film Academy (NYFA) Alum Claudio Casale

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    Claudio Casale is a busy filmmaker, but recently he found the time to speak with New York Film Academy (NYFA). It was here that he attended our 8-week Filmmaking workshop in April 2017, where he quickly added an arsenal of skills to his already impressive filmmaking prowess.

    “Claudio was one of those students a teacher is so happy to have in the class,” tells his NYFA directing instructor, Thomas Barnes, continuing, “brilliant, passionate, original, and supportive of his colleagues.” 

    Claudio has been incredibly productive since finishing the Filmmaking workshop, working on all sorts of different projects—short films, feature films, narratives, documentaries. In the summer of 2018, he achieved a career highlight when his documentary My Tyson won the MigArti Best Documentary Award at the Venice International Film Festival.

    Claudio Casale

    Claudio Casale

    Claudio spoke with NYFA about that film and win, as well as filmmaking in general, working in documentary, and what lies ahead for him:

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

    Claudio Casale (CC): I was born and raised in Rome, Italy. I graduated in Business Management, and at 22 I took two years abroad, mainly in India and Southeast Asia, where I started filmmaking constantly. Many shorts later, NYFA was the first proper education I received on filmmaking. I was mostly self-taught and I joined the 8-week program to gain experience on set dynamics and directing actors. 

    NYFA: Can you tell us about your film My Tyson? 

    CC: My Tyson is a 15-minute short doc on Alaoma Tyson, an Italian teenager born in Italy from Nigerian parents. Today, at 18 years old, Tyson is the Italian boxing champion in the youth heavyweight category. Patience, his mother, sews traditional clothes for the Nigerian community in the Roman suburb they live in.

    As Tyson trains for his next match, Patience tells him the story of their family, revealing ancient rituals, financial struggles, and a severe migration experience. 

    My Tyson premiered at the 75th Venice International Film Festival where it won the MigrArti Best Documentary Award. 

    NYFA: What inspired you to make My Tyson? 

    CC: Migration is an issue worldwide, from the US all the way to Australia. In Europe, Italy is the first port of arrival for the majority of migrants and asylum seekers from Africa and Maghreb. As many filmmakers of my generation, I felt the need to take a stand on this issue, by offering to the audience a perspective that might get lost in the news cycle. Observation and research was key, as I had to find the story – and therefore my inspiration – on the field: I spent five months with Alaoma Tyson and his family before shooting a single frame. 

    NYFA: How did you get your film involved with MigrArti? 

    CC: MigrArti is a yearly call made by the Minister of Culture in Italy (MiBAC). The production working with me on My Tyson had to submit a detailed dossier for our project. MigrArti can be very competitive, and I was honoured that our project was among the selected ones. Watching our short doc premiere during the 75th Venice International Film Festival was really emotional, and I feel grateful that the Jury awarded My Tyson as MigrArti Best Documentary. 

    NYFA: What are your plans for My Tyson after Venice? 

    CC: We are sending out My Tyson to festivals, as that’s a great way to receive professional feedback and connect with fellow filmmakers. I would be delighted to personally attend international festivals as well, so to see by myself how different audiences relate to the story.

    On the other hand, in Italy we are planning screenings solely for migrants, thanks to the cooperation of NGOs such as ARCI Solidarietà Onlus. Bringing cinema to places where it usually hasn’t belonged, like migration centres and public schools, is a duty as well as a chance to test the impact our little film may have on people we can’t reach with a traditional theatrical run. 

    Then, at the end of the festival distribution, at least in Italy we are working to have a selected theatrical distribution, likely paired with a feature documentary. 

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

    CC: In September, I was in Sicily to direct a narrative short film in 35mm, Inshallah, about to enter post-production. Also, I have a feature documentary in creative and financial development, in which I will invest most of my time this year. It’s a project I am very attached to and I can’t wait to get myself on set to shoot it. 

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

    CC: Among the lessons I received at NYFA, two came particularly handy in this project. First, as director you have got to leave the camera to the operator! As many native-digital filmmakers, I also grew very attached to the camera body (I was my own operator on my first shorts). It wasn’t necessarily easy to delegate that, as it is an act of trust toward the operator, especially on a documentary where things happen out of script and must be captured instinctively. 

    But at NYFA, I learned to do just that: trusting the crew I work with and delegating everything that may distract me from the scene. In some projects I would still be my own operator of course, but thanks to NYFA I could recognize that My Tyson wasn’t one of those cases. 

    Second: directing actors! I find the method taught at NYFA to be extremely effective. Honestly, that module alone was worth the whole course for me. With time, I changed it a little to adapt it to documentaries, where you don’t direct actors but subjects, so the relationship is more subtle and the non-actors’ spontaneity is the first priority and must always be protected. I believe that directing actors and non-actors is what ultimately makes a director great, and that’s something hard to learn without seeing some experts at work, either by joining a school or by being on set as 1st or 2nd AD. 

    NYFA: Do you prefer working in narrative or documentary filmmaking? 

    CC: When I started shooting, I had only narrative filmmaking in mind, and frankly I still look forward to direct a feature narrative one day. Documentary happened by chance, yet for the moment I found my little niche here. 

    As for today, I certainly prefer working on documentary filmmaking for a variety of reasons: first, it’s cheaper, so development and pre-production are generally quicker compared with narrative. Second, you can easily practice rhythm and pace with a running time of 52 minutes or longer, a key area of learning for any aspiring director. Last but not least, documentary today is wide open to visual experimentation, an ideal condition for me. 

    NYFA: What differences or similarities do you find between narrative and documentary filmmaking? My Tyson

    CC: Comparing short films only, in my opinion the key advantage of documentary filmmaking is the level of experimentation it allows. I honestly find narrative short films too rigid sometime, as nowadays the pressure to deliver the highest possible production value risks to overpass the focus aspiring directors should be putting into the storytelling. 

    After all, short films are the only tool we have to discover who we really are as visual storytellers. The similarities between narrative and documentary filmmaking are more than one could tend to believe: year after year, more documentaries are shot with a real cinematic language in mind. And I believe that’s one of the reason behind today’s boom of documentaries: many narrative storytellers are getting into documentary, shaping it with their own tools. 

    On the other hand, generally speaking, narrative filmmaking may allow for a wider freedom of expression, especially if you get to write and direct your own script. In conclusion, I would suggest students to be open to both forms, as for different reasons they are equally important in the early stage of a filmmaker’s career. 

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

    CC: If you are a total newbie on filmmaking, be ready to run and absorb everything you’re told. Raise your hand and ask your classmates for help, as at the end of the day, it’s all about the teamwork. 

    While If you have some filmmaking experience already, as I did, be ready to put everything you know aside. Don’t let your previous knowledge block you from learning further. Be open and receptive, and you will take something new and essential with you every day. 

    NYFA: Anything we missed you’d like to speak on? 

    CC: No questions about the Deli down in Battery Park? I must admit, sometimes I miss that sushi! 🙂 

    The New York Film Academy thanks Claudio Casale for his time and thoughtful answers, and looks forward to seeing what inspiring films he comes out with next. We sincerely hope he comes back to New York for a visit sometime and has some sushi from the Deli downstairs! 

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    November 26, 2018 • Filmmaking, International Diversity, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 925

  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Broadcast Journalism Alumni Cover California Wildfires 

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    As anyone who follows American media knows, stories about President Donald Trump and his administration have monopolized the news for months. But this week, an even bigger story dominated the headlines. Two massive California wildfires, one in the mountains of Northern California and the second in coastal Southern California, have devastated communities and resulted (as of today) in the deaths of more than 50 people. An additional 100+ people are missing.

    News coverage of these tragedies has served an important public service function. And two New York Film Academy (NYFA) Broadcast Journalism school graduates are on the scene, documenting the fires and their aftermath.

    NYFA alum Celina Liv Danielsen, along with photographer Thomas Hass, are there working for the Danish television network DK2. Earlier this week, they visited what remained of a small Northern California town ironically called Paradise. It wasn’t an easy assignment, one which takes an emotional as well as physical toll…

    Broadcast Journalism Update Celina Liv Danielsen

    Celina Liv Danielsen

    Karen Hua is also a NYFA graduate. She is reporter with the NBC TV station in the Southern California city of Bakersfield. While not threatened by fire — at least not yet — area residents have experienced the side effects of these blazes for months. Karen wrote earlier this week:

    “The fires in Southern California are relatively close to us in Bakersfield. We’re a 2-hour drive from the Ventura/Malibu area, and we’ve been covering them extensively…

    “Ultimately I’m okay, and everyone in Bakersfield is safe — there aren’t too many trees in our city to spread flames. However, we’ve seen toxic air quality and heat as a result of the fires around the state this year. This summer was terrible with the Carr, Medicino, and Ferguson Fires. There were days when the entire city was advised to stay indoors. But we are fortunate we are all safe.”

    Broadcast Journalism Update Karen Hua

    Karen Hua

    There are many ways to cover the same story. A digital producer/editor, working at ABC News headquarters in New York, created a powerful story for the ABC late night news program Nightline. The story, distributed over multiple platforms, captured the sheer terror of what is taking place…

    Broadcast Journalism Update

    Public Television took a somewhat different approach. Friend and former colleague Miles O’Brian was in California shooting material for an upcoming episode of the popular Nova science series. While his focus was on previous wildfires, he and his team found themselves in the middle of a new “mega-fire,” an event so large that it literally creates its own weather. Miles was interviewed  on the PBS NewsHour, for which I once produced.

    Broadcast Journalism Update

    As commentator Richard Reinhold noted earlier this year in TVNewsCheck, increasingly local TV news reporters are becoming “first responders,” often arriving on the scene of major events at the same time (or even before) police, fire, and emergency medical teams. 

    That’s why it is so important that we get the story right. People will act on the information we give them. We have to make sure it is accurate.

    Broadcast Journalism Update

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    November 16, 2018 • Broadcast Journalism, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 1137

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

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

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

    View this post on Instagram

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

    A post shared by Kendall Ciesemier (@kendallciesemier) on

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

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

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

    Ciesemier tweeted her emotional reaction to the release:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    November 7, 2018 • Guest Speakers, Screenwriting, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 858

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

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

    These honors include:Mira Hamour

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    NYFA: What lies ahead for you now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    October 25, 2018 • Producing, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 726

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

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

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

    Best Student Cinematography Award

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

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

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

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

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    October 22, 2018 • #WomenOfNYFA, Cinematography, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 314