New York Film Academy students & alumni had an extraordinary summer, full of online streaming premieres.
Join us in celebrating some of them by watching our Summer 2020 Film Festival Recap below or read more about them by clicking here.
New York Film Academy students & alumni had an extraordinary summer, full of online streaming premieres.
Join us in celebrating some of them by watching our Summer 2020 Film Festival Recap below or read more about them by clicking here.
Now in its 6th year, the Nordic International Film Festival (NIFF) founded by New York Film Academy alumni Linnea Larsdotter and Johan Matton required some creative problem solving to pull of this year’s festival amid the COVID-19 global pandemic. The solution came in the form of a hybrid in-person and online experience where festival goers could attend drive-in screenings at The Brooklyn Army Terminal in New York City as well as view films online.
NIFF has always fostered lofty goals, aiming to nurture a mutual connection between the Nordic region and the international film community while also placing gender-equality and environmental sustainability at the center of their mission. The 2020 festival donated 50% of all online ticket sales to organizations supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
Linnea Larsdotter and Johan Matton spoke about the unique challenges of this year’s festival. “We are extremely pleased to be able to pull off a safe event this year both online and with a drive-in cinema, thanks to the help from A24 and Rooftop Films. It’s been a challenging year for many and we are so impressed that so many incredible filmmakers have submitted and showcased that art and films are more important now than ever.”
New York Film Academy renewed its partenrship with NIFF for the second year in a row awarding a four week scholarship to one of NYFA’s online programs to this year’s Aurora Borealis winner. NYFA President Michael Young expressed his congratulations to NYFA alumni Johan Matton and Linnea Larsdotter. “I’d like to congratulate our alumni Johan and Linnea on putting together another wonderful festival and working so hard to make it safe and accessible to everyone,”
“Index” by Nicolas Kolovos garnered the director the Aurora Borealis award at this year’s festival.NIFF’s Aurora Borealis category is dedicated to up-and-coming filmmakers and Nicolas Kolovos who wrote and directed Index was selected as this yer’s winner. The short film is filmed in a single shot and tells of a family preparing to flee to Europe by boat when their young son’s finger gets stuck in the trailer of the truck transporting them. As time for the boat’s departure nears, the family has a terrifying decision to make.
New York Film Academy congratulates NYFA alumni Johan Matton and Linnea Larsdotter on this year’s successful edition of NIFF as well as Aurora Borealis winner Nicolas Kolovos.
We hear it all the time, “write what you know.” As a journalist, Spanish native Miguel Ángel Parra was all too familiar with that phrase and went from applying it to his work as a journalist to becoming a screenwriter writing stories that reflect pockets of his own life.
After he lost his job in January 2019, Parra realized it was time to make his dreams come true and focus solely on screenwriting. He also credits the many “voices that have been silenced along the way throughout history” to being the driving force behind wanting to make people listen to those stories as a screenwriter.
Enrolling in the 8-Week Screenwriting program at NYFA finally allowed Parra to learn how to improve crafting the structure of his scripts and how to write better dialogue for his characters, crediting instructor Dennis Green as being the driving force behind learning new techniques.
While studying at NYFA, Parra wrote his screenplay for The Pink House, which has since gone on to win screenplay contests in the Madrid International Film Festival (2020), the LGBTQ Toronto Film Festival (2020), the All Genre Screenplay Contest (sponsored by Amazon, 2020), and become a semi-finalist in the Nashville International Film Festival (2020).
“It [The Pink House] is my first feature film script and I wrote it in English! When I came back to Spain, I translated it into Spanish and rewrote it several times,” shared Parra. “During the quarantine, I finished it and translated into English again in order to be able to submit to international competitions.”
The Pink House is a dramedy that, while humorous, is also a story about the abandonment suffered by LGBTI seniors. “The young activists who fought for the LGBT rights in the late 70s in Spain are nowadays men and women in their 70s and 8os and most of them don’t have a home to live in, as they were rejected by their families or have lost their couples,” explained Parra about his award-winning script.
“It is a story that needs to be told. In my country we lived 40 years of dictatorship, with a hard repression on these people, so I felt that I HAD to thank them for their fight somehow because, thanks to them, we have the rights we have right now.”
Parra hopes that audiences, especially the younger generation, will be able understand that the story is about having the rights and freedoms of today “because someone fought for them.” Since Parra has submitted his script to multiple festivals and competitions, he has received incredible notoriety and shared that the positive response is overwhelming.
“Being my first feature film script, it is quite exciting to see that people (and jurys) like it. It’s been an honor to see The Pink House selected at the Nashville Film Festival Screenwriting Competition and reaching the semifinals, or being one of the Best Unproduced Scripts at Madrid International Film Festival, or seeing my script published and sold on Amazon thanks to the All Genre Screenplay Contest. I never imagined something like this would happen. “
As for what’s next for the newly minted screenwriter, Parra’s upcoming short film The Eternal Angels was shot in August and is expected to premiere at the Seville European Film Festival in November. Parra also revealed he recently wrote a play that he hopes will open in January a TV pilot called The Golden Boys, a renewed, gay remix of the popular TV show The Golden Girls, which has already shown interest with a production company.
New York Film Academy would like to thank Screenwriting alum Miguel Ángel Parra for taking the time to share his journey on writing his first feature film script and the importance of telling the stories of those who have been silent for a long time. NYFA looks forward to seeing what is next from Parra and wishes him the best on his upcoming short film The Eternal Angels.
Every writer has heard the expression “write what you know,” and MFA Filmmaking student Fernanda Belmar took that advice to heart in developing her intermediate film Undocumented. Inspired by her mother’s experience coming to the United States alone to work in order to support her family home in Chile, Fernanda said, “I can’t even imagine how hard it was for her to be away from her only daughter and her mother in a country where she didn’t even know the language.”
NYFA’s Director of Film Festivals Crickett Rumley sat down with Fernanda and asked her to talk more about the film ahead of its screening in the New Filmmakers LA In Focus: Latinx and Hispanic Cinema Event this weekend, September 25 and 26, 2020.
Cricket Rumley (CR): This is such a personal story. Can you tell us more about it?
Fernanda Belmar (FB): My mom came here to the U.S. with my grandmother and me when I was four years old. We stayed for a year and a half until my mom decided to send my grandma and me back to Chile since it was getting harder for her to support us all. So, she stayed by herself. At that time, she was allowed to stay here for six months then go to Chile for the other six out of the year. But when I was nine, she took the risk and stayed here longer than she was allowed, and ended up working here for four years straight. She made that decision because she wanted to give me a better future. It was extremely hard being away from her, and I can’t even imagine how hard it was for her to be away from her only daughter and her mother in a country where she didn’t even know the language.
Because of that situation, my mom is not allowed to enter the country again. I don’t know if next year that situation will change, but what I do know is that if something ever happens to me here she wouldn’t have the chance to come here because more than a decade ago she broke the rules to give her family a better life.
CR: And that’s where the idea for the film came from?
FB: Undocumented is about a Latinx family with immigrant parents and two American (U.S. citizen) daughters. They live in California except for their oldest daughter, who is studying in New York. A phone call informs the Gómez family that their daughter has been in an accident, and that’s when as a family they have to put everything on the line. Because as undocumented parents they can’t just take a plane and go since the risks of being detained or even deported are higher.
CR: What was your favorite thing about directing this film?
FB: My favorite thing about directing this film is the emotions I felt during the whole process. After I met Carolina (who played the mom), Michael (the dad), and Victoria (the daughter who lives at home), I knew it would be an incredible project because when we talked about what Undocumented means to me they just understood. They felt the deep struggle of this family. On set they were the Gómez family. I can’t even put into words how I felt when I saw them bringing these characters and this story into life.
CR: What a remarkable experience! Tell us, was the most challenging thing about making Undocumented? What did you learn in the process?
FB: While I was in pre-production on this film, I was also struggling with how to pay for my school tuition. I had to make the decision to take a semester break, and I wasn’t sure if I would make it back. I was hopeful, but I didn’t have anything secure at the time. And even though it was a devastating feeling, I was so excited about telling this story that I just kept going. We had a low budget, and just two days of shooting, so I had endless meetings with the heads of each department to make sure it would go smoothly and that our schedule will work. It was very hard, but what I learned was that as a director I need a crew that believes in the story as much as I do, because we can make everything happen.
CR: Which festivals have you been in so far? What has that experience been like?
FB: I’ve been in the First-Time Filmmaker Sessions, Life Screenings International Short Film Festival, Lift-Off Film Festival, and I also got selected in the South Texas International Film Festival. The experience has been great. I have had the chance to talk about my film with the audience at some of these festivals. Knowing that people that I don’t know get to see this story makes everything so much worth it.
CR: I hear this from filmmakers all the time – that seeing your film, talking about your film with complete strangers, is so inspiring and invigorating. So what are you looking forward to with your screening with NFMLA?
FB: Wow! I am so excited about this festival. Last year NYFA invited me to this event, and I remember I was so in awe with the whole event, the films, the industry panels, the Q&A with the directors. I remember at some point during the event I told myself: “One day I’ll be part of this festival…” And now I’m actually going to be part of this! I just can’t believe it. I think what I’m most excited about is for the amount of people that are going to see Undocumented, and I wonder how they will react with this story. I’m excited about the entire festival and the opportunities they give us as filmmakers to engage with important people from the industry and the chance to talk about our films.
CR: It’s going to be an amazing experience! Let’s back up a little. What were you doing before you came to NYFA?
FB: I got my undergraduate degree in Digital Audiovisual Communication in July 2018 in Chile. That’s where I found my passion in film after making multiple short films. In my last semester of school, I started my internship at MG Consulting, an important communication company in Chile. After three months as an intern, they hired me full time. While working with them I learned a lot about animation and graphic design. I got the opportunity to make videos for important clients like Sony Music Chile, MG motor, Reebok, and Mobike.
CR: Then you came to study at NYFA. What has that been like?
FB: I’ve learned so many things here at NYFA, it’s insane! The amount of experience I have gotten so far has made me grow tremendously as a filmmaker and as a person as well. NYFA has given me plenty of tools and opportunities to make films and fail and learn and keep making films.
What is good about NYFA is that everyone in the class has to make a project, so that means we don’t just get to direct, but also we get the chance to be part of the crew of someone else’s project. That’s how we get experience in our field, that’s how we know what we like about filmmaking and what we don’t. That experience is what shapes us to be great filmmakers.
CR: Do you have any special shout-outs to faculty or staff who really helped or inspired you?
FB: Shout-out to Kim Ogletree for making me like producing someway, somehow. Shout-out to Nick Sivakumaran who was my first directing instructor and taught me so much more than just directing. To Kevin Richey the best cinematography instructor I’ve had. To Gil McDonald for teaching me the wheel to structure my scripts — now I can’t live without it. To Graham Tallman, a fantastic directing instructor. And shout-out to Missy (Dominguez, LA’s Director of Student Life) for always supporting me.
CR: Several NYFA students were part of your crew. What was it like to work with them?
FB: The best about my crew was the diversity that was in it. This crew had NYFA students from all over the world: India, Kazakhstan, Russia, Italy, Ecuador, Peru, Puerto Rico, Yemen and so many more. Having on the same set people from so many different places and cultures made the set incredibly rich.
CR: These are trying times in the world today. Art matters more than ever. Do you want to share your personal views about the importance of film in the lives of humans living right now?
FB: Films don’t just entertain us, they also help us understand the world, and they give us the opportunity to see much more than what we are used to from where we are from. Films have the power to open our minds, to make us feel and relate to something we didn’t know we could. Films and the arts in generals are so powerful, and I believe that the arts are what can make us humans be better.
CR: Beautifully said! Lastly, tell us when your film screening is and where we can get tickets. Is there anything else we should know about the screening?
FB: The film is for two days: Friday the 25th and Saturday the 26th. You can get the tickets here in this link. There are two kinds of passes:
Since it is a virtual screening, after you get your tickets you’ll receive an email to watch the respective films at any time you want between Friday and Saturday.
I can’t wait to see you all there!
The New York Film Academy is a proud Academic Delegation Partner of New Filmmakers LA and will be taking a group of students to the festival this weekend to enjoy the panels, the discussions, the networking, and the films. Fernanda, we’ll see you there!
“I think that film has the responsibility of promoting change and helping the advancement of society,” says Fall 2017 MFA Filmmaking alum Aastha Verma, and she is certainly doing that with her short thesis film The Last Rights. The story follows a young Indian woman who returns to her hometown of Varanasi, India, and challenges her society’s patriarchal traditions in order to give her deceased grandmother her last rites. Verma explained,“My goal in making this film was to shed light on how women are treated in tradition-driven India as well as how Indians who left to work abroad are perceived by their friends and families back home.”
Beautifully photographed and filled with stunning imagery, The Last Rights premieres at the Topaz Film Festival in Dallas, Texas, where it will be available on demand September 8-13, 2020. Crickett Rumley, NYFA’s Director of Film Festivals, spoke with Aastha about her path to making this film.
Crickett Rumley (CR): Congratulations on such a compelling story, Aastha. Tell us about yourself. What were you doing before you came to NYFA?
Aastha Verma (AV): Before coming to NYFA, I got my bachelor degree in International Business Management. What got me into filmmaking was a number of factors, one of which was that I felt that there was a perspective that was missing of sorts. I did not see any of the films in theatre tackle subjects that I was passionate about. Plus, I used to do photography as a hobby, so at some point I started to wonder what kind of stories would I be able to tell with more than one frame? A combination of both of these factors led me to Los Angeles.
CR: What was your favorite thing about directing this film?
AV: Quite frankly, all of it, the experience as a whole. More specifically, this was my first time directing actors in a professional function. Instead of the regular set you’d have for a thesis film, it was a city in India, with a completely different filmmaking culture which made the whole thing quite thrilling. I had never tackled a project of this scale beforehand, so it was quite a challenge. But this very same challenge motivated me to live up to it.
The production phase was very much a collaborative process with my cast and crew as everybody believed in the project which made it, all in all, a very wholesome experience. I was very grateful for my cast and crew.
CR: What was the most challenging thing about making the film? What did you learn in the process?
AV: The most challenging part of it all was when, during pre-production we took the team to the Shamshan Ghat, the funerary riverbed where the rites are performed. It’s the location where the final scene of the film takes place.
The local priest’s brother essentially snuck us in, acting as a chaperone, as my team and I looked around and took notes about how the location looked. We had originally brought cameras to film the location so we could then study it at home, but they had been confiscated. The reason for such secrecy is that women aren’t allowed to be at the Shamshan Ghat. The production designer and I were the only women there, and all the men there that day (who were not part of the crew) looked at us as if our presence was heresy.
So the challenge was figuring out how to portray an act that I had never been able to even witness firsthand. The very reason we were there was to see how exactly the rites are done, beyond what is simply written in books. There was an irony to it all: I was making a film about this very inequality, yet I wasn’t even allowed to be at the Ghat physically without a chaperone.
Eventually we recreated the scene on a private property bordering another part of the river.
CR: What are you looking forward to with your screening with the Topaz Film Festival?
AV: I’m really excited to meet new people all in the same industry as me. Those conversations will definitely be fun. In fact, there’s an entire panel dedicated to helping the filmmakers meet and interact with each other, and I’m glad to be a part of it.
CR: How do you think your education at NYFA and the work you did here prepared you for a career in filmmaking? Do you have any special shout-outs to faculty or staff who really helped or inspired you?
AV: Well, the way NYFA works is that they expose you to extreme shooting conditions so when we’re actually on set, professionally, we’re mentally prepared for the ropes. I think that’s an efficient way of allowing us to learn the ropes. Plus, the fact that it’s such an international school allowed me to be paired with many filmmakers from different countries and walks of life which helped me find my individuality as an artist.
Special shout-out to Nick Sivakumaran, as well as Scott Hartmann, Kim Ogletree, David Newman, Igor Torgeson and Crickett Rumley for their help with this film, as well as everybody else who taught my course in NYFA!
CR: Since you graduated, you’ve been really busy with music videos. Can you tell us about that?
AV: It was definitely a breakthrough in my career, a level-up of sorts. It was a wonderful experience to be a part of the team and working with a crew composed of both NYFA alumni and other professionals. Diljit Dosanjh is one of India’s most popular up-and-coming singers, so receiving an invitation to work as a producer on all the music videos from his latest album was amazing. The pandemic didn’t stop us head-banging to the tunes on the set!
CR: These are trying times in the world today. Art matters more than ever. Do you want to share any words, your personal views about the importance of film in the lives of humans living right now?
AV: The biggest lesson I am taking away from these times, specifically, is about compassion and patience. Staying at home due to COVID-19 is almost a sort of purgatory, like when your parents put you in a corner. It allows you to reflect on who you are, what your art is.
It also enables compassion, allows you to appreciate those who are there for you, and be there for others, when the chips are down. These are all lessons that movies have taught us throughout history, but that I only found myself truly appreciating in these trying times.
CR: What time is your film screening and where can we get tickets? Is there anything else we should know about the screening?
AV: I’m glad you asked! Up until the 13th, The Last Rights is screening all day, at any time. You can get the tickets here. Please go check it out!
If you want to know more about the process of making this film, I will also be speaking at the ‘Meet the Filmmakers’ panel on Sunday the 13th from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. PT. Click here to get your ticket.
Finally, the film is in the running for Topaz’s Audience Award! If you like the film, please don’t forget to vote for it. To vote, it’s easy: once you’re logged in on the virtual catalog (or at the content library, watch.eventive.org/me), all you need to do is go the screening page, select The Last Rights from the sidebar, and a ballot will appear below the “cover image” in the center of the screen.
In a classic case of “write what you know,” recent alum Nick Venuti, from the Fall 2018 AFA Filmmaking class, drew from his past when developing ideas for his thesis film, Buffalo Scientists. “Thinking about what it would be like if two of my childhood friends attempted some big crazy thing and picturing how it would play out” was his inspiration. “They always had big imaginations and typically don’t think things through,” Venuti said, ”so I thought it would make an entertaining movie. From there, I just started thinking, how could I turn it up a notch? What if the clerk (main character) was our favorite high school math teacher, Mr. Hughes?”
The result is Buffalo Scientists, a quirky dark comedy, that had its world premiere at the Dances with Films festival in Los Angeles on August 28, 2020. Director of NYFA’s Film Festival Department, Crickett Rumley, caught up with Nick to talk about the film right after his first screening and before his second with the well-known indie festival.
Crickett Rumley (CR): Congratulations on getting into Dances With Films! Tell us a little bit more about your film.
Nick Venuti (NV): Buffalo Scientists is a comedy about an ex-history teacher named Bill Peterson. Bill works at a convenience store in Sacramento run by his egotistical manager, Carl. After Carl leaves for the night, 2 masked men, Jeremy and Alan, enter to rob the store. During the robbery they recognize Bill as their former high school history teacher. After reminiscing about the past, Bill decides to join the boys on an adventure into the night.
CR: And what a bizarre adventure it is. It must have been so much fun to direct. What was your favorite thing about directing it?
NV: It was the first film that I felt like I was really the director. I had such an amazing team with me on set that for the first time ever I didn’t feel like I had to micromanage every aspect of production. I could focus solely on directing. I got to spend so much more time with the actors than I ever have. I love doing almost everything on set, but it was so cool to experience being just the director for once.
CR: Did you experience any challenges in making the film?
NV: I think the most challenging part for me, and for a lot of people is the final 5% of post-production; when the energy and excitement of being on set and seeing the first cut is over. It is hard to work in that final stretch where you have already seen the film 50+ times and you still need to watch it two or three times a day just to clean up all the small glitches and hiccups. You start to fall out of love with the film a little bit after seeing it so many times. After crossing the finish line, all the fun comes back with festivals and showing people for the first time, but the hardest part is definitely locking the film.
CR: I agree. I think all artists get tired of their work at some point, and that’s when you have to dig in even deeper. What was your biggest takeaway from making the film?
NV: I learned how awesome it is to have a producer helping. I could not have done it to this scale if I didn’t have my producer (and NYFA Alumni) Andrew Reyna. I handled all the paperwork and logistics for my previous films, so I didn’t realize how much a great producer frees you up to focus on the creative aspects until this project.
CR: Let’s back up a little. How and when did you decide to go into film?
NV: I am from Binghamton, a city in upstate New York. I started looking into film when I had a stop motion project in high school. I loved directing and writing the project so much that I took some film courses at my local community college. My teacher saw I was really passionate about the subject, so he recruited me to drive down to the Everglades to work on a project for the school. I had to live in a tent for two weeks as we had to shoot a documentary for a local news station. At this point I still barely knew how to turn on a camera, but I loved every second of it. When I got back, I started looking for film schools. I knew I wanted to try and make a career in film, so I began looking for a school that could help me do just that. I discovered the New York Film Academy, went to New York to check it out and knew it was the place for me. I went to the New York City campus for the first year and liked it so much I decided to do my second year at the LA campus.
CR: Do you think your education at NYFA and the work you did here prepared you for a career in filmmaking?
NV: I think NYFA does an amazing job at throwing you straight into the deep end and just having you try to see what you can do. I believe just two months in we already had four films under our belts. This made it so easy to experiment and try things that I would never have done otherwise. We just constantly had to make new films and got to see what worked and what didn’t. It was tough making a new film every week but it was essential in helping me to build my own style and voice.
CR: Do you have any special shout-outs to faculty or staff who helped or inspired you?
NV: There were so many teachers that helped and inspired me: Lea Brandenburg, Ben Cohen, Brad Sample, Joe Burke, Crickett Rumley, and Richard D’Angelo all impacted me more than they could ever know. There are many more but those in particular stood out.
CR: Thanks for the shout-out! Much appreciated. So, this is your first film festival with Buffalo Scientists, and Dances with Films is such a great place to get started. What has it been like to work with them?
NV: Dances with Films has been absolutely amazing. The festival has to be online this year due to COVID-19, but they are working as hard as they can to get it as close to the real thing as possible. They have virtual lounges and panels, and everything is live. It all helps it to still feel special even though we can’t experience being in Los Angeles and in the theater. Dances with Films has gone above and beyond with this as an online festival.
CR: What were you looking forward to about your screening?
NV: Before the virus, I was really looking forward to finally sharing the film with everyone in The Chinese Theater on the big screen and getting to meet the other amazing filmmakers in our block. Unfortunately, the whole festival went online, so that dampened the excitement a little, but it still was a pretty cool feeling knowing that lots of people from all over the world were watching.
CR: You moved back to New York after finishing your degree at the LA campus. What are you up to these days?
NV: I’ve been keeping busy since getting out of school. I have directed a few local commercials, was DP for a feature film in January, shot a couple music videos for local artists, and I have been getting consistent editing work on the side. Currently, SUNY Broome hired me to direct and shoot virtual field trips for the college and I have been working on scripts for future projects. I am also waiting to see how Buffalo Scientists does in festivals and if there is any interest in a feature version of the film.
CR: Back to Dances With Films, when is your next screening and where can we get tickets?
NV: We have another screening on Saturday September 5 at 11:15 pm PDT. You can get tickets for the Midnight Shorts block here.
CR: Is there anything else we should know about the screening?
NV: Although our film is a comedy, I want to mention that we are placed in the comedy/horror section of the festival, so some of the films in our shorts block can be very dark and violent.
CR: Definitely one for the late night crowd! Congratulations again, Nick. Enjoy that next screening.
Nick Venuti’s film, Buffalo Scientists, will screen a second time on Saturday, September 5, 2020 at 11:15 p.m. PT. For tickets and more information, click here.
New York Film Academy’s (NYFA) own Phyllis Tam, who recently graduated with her MFA in Filmmaking from NYFA’s Los Angeles campus, has been named a finalist in the 47th Annual Student Academy Awards for her narrative short film Fragile Moon.
Tam’s short film will compete in the Narrative (Domestic Schools) category in the Student Academy Awards.
“I could not be more excited that Fragile Moon made it to the semifinals for the Student Academy Awards,” shares NYFA’s Director of Film Festivals, Crickett Rumley. “Phyllis worked so diligently to perfect every single detail of her film — down to the placement of subtitles — that it’s no wonder her dedication paid off. It is such a timely story about the impact that immigrating to the U.S and pursuing the American dream has on families. The themes of memory, loss, and the healing power of art resonate long after the film is over.”
“We are proud to see Phyllis Tam’s creativity and hard work pay off with her film Fragile Moon as she continues to advance in this prestigious competition for student filmmakers worldwide,” says NYFA President Michael Young. “Like Phyllis’ honorary achievement with the Student Academy Awards, we are excited to see NYFA students go on to achieve their dreams with their outstanding work.”
Finalists for the Student Academy Awards were announced on August 13, 2020, with the ceremony confirmed for Thursday, October 15, 2020.
The winners of the Student Academy Awards will be eligible to compete for the 2020 Oscars in the following categories: Animated Short Film, Live Action Short Film, or Documentary Short Subject category. Previous Student Academy Award winners have gone on to win 11 Oscars, and receive 63 Oscar nominations, among them include: Cary Fukunaga, Spike Lee, Trey Parker, and Robert Zemeckis.
Native New Yorker and New York Film Academy (NYFA) 1-Year Filmmaking Conservatory student Kai Kaldro has always immersed himself in multiple film genres for inspiration, including noir and neo-noir, which influenced his latest film and NewFilmmakers NY Festival pick, Sinner’s Lullaby.
Kai Kaldro was born to two musicians in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and is the youngest of four children. He grew up with a fascination for making movies and, in addition to filmmaking, is a passionate freelance editor, specializing in reels, promo clips, trailers, and music videos. Kaldro’s creative style for his projects place a heavy emphasis on mysterious atmospheres, special FX, high contrast photography, action, and rock music.
Kaldro’s latest film, Sinner’s Lullaby, was recently selected to be part of the NewFilmmakers NY Festival, which was the first film circuit Kaldro says he has ever applied for. “It was admittedly nerve-racking awaiting a response. The mentality I had about entering Sinner’s Lullaby into festivals was that I just hoped it’d make it into at least one, so now I feel like a pressure has been lifted, and I’m more at ease awaiting to hear back from the others,” he shares.
“I think that’s a feeling that is prevalent in many avenues of the film business, whether it’s actors waiting in great suspense to hear back from auditions, filmmakers checking their email to hear back about their script from producers, or waiting to read reviews from critics. So, my process felt very much educational in terms of getting me ready for the future in the industry, and I’m grateful for that experience.”
Kaldro’s short film, Sinner’s Lullaby, is a black & white, romantic neo-noir short film produced on a budget of $200. The mobster film centers around a young private detective from Brooklyn named Charlotte Meridian and her lounge singer girlfriend Barbara Ann Bergman, as they discover the true nature of their romance when confronted with a menacing face from the past.
The film’s pre-production took eight weeks, principal photography was shot over the course of three days. and post-production took close to a month to cut. “I wanted Sinner’s Lullaby to look and feel very stylized and over-the-top in it’s presentation and atmosphere. I think as academic and cerebral as many make noir out to be, for how it explores the amoral side of the human psyche, there’s an inherent element of fun mysterious camp to it all, and I really wanted to embrace that.,” reveals Kaldro.”
While there is a mystery that unravels throughout the first act, Sinner’s Lullaby is, first and foremost, a love story. “It’s about how the ones who we love the most are the ones who, deep down, we actually know the least.” Kaldro, who is working on a feature-length script for Sinner’s Lullaby, hopes to bring the full length feature to life some day as a more realized concept.
His biggest inspirations for his film were Jacques Tourneur’s Out of The Past (1947) and Bound (1996) by The Wachowskis. “I’m a big fan of classic black & white and technicolor films, and the idea of a same-sex couple, but in a black & white period-esque setting, with very benign, playful, and old-fashioned sort of dialogue/acting akin to Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Becall, Ginger Rogers, or Fred Astaire has always interested me.”
“The original Motion Picture Production Code had restrictions in place to present the couples on screen in classic films as almost fairy-tale like, and I think there’s a very charming innocence to a lot of those on screen duos that I really adore, but The MPPC also prevented homosexuality from appearing on film,” tells Kaldro. “I’ve always felt, historically, gay and lesbian characters were robbed of having that kind of treatment and on screen chemistry, so that’s what we set out to achieve with my characters in this film (Charlotte and Barbara).”
“Miranda Rizzolo (Charlotte) and Elvira Levin (Barbara), a NYFA alum, really understood the classical, romantic dynamic. While filming, they really knocked me dead with their performances and chemistry on screen together and both actresses were fantastic to work with.”
While Kaldro continues his studies at NYFA, he reveals he has an upcoming sci-fi short on the horizon called Dissolved Girl, which follows a young, misunderstood computer hacker and an undercover robot cop during a time of heated cultural tension between humans and machines in a futuristic NYC. “The cast, crew, script, and locations have been secured, we’re just waiting on things to substantiate here in the city from COVID-19, so that we can return to work safely.”
Kaldro encourages students and filmmakers alike to “stick to their guns and make the films they’re most interested in seeing” and shares, “you can always see the uncompromising spirit within a lot of student/low budget films, when those involved are making the kind of content they hold a lot of reverence for, whether it’s the story, the aesthetic, or both.”
New York Film Academy would like to congratulate Filmmaking student Kai Kaldro on his outstanding achievement of having Sinner’s Lullaby selected for the NewFilmmakers NY Festival and looks forward to following Kaldro’s filmmaking career.
UPDATE 8/17/20: Kaldro’s film was selected as a semi-finalist in the Rainbow Cinema Awards LGBT Film Festival.
UPDATE 8/25/20: Kaldro’s film was selected for the Venice Shorts Film Festival,
With many festivals being cancelled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, New York Film Academy South Beach instructor Eduardo “Eddy” Santa-Maria decided to engage South Beach students to create their own films from home and have a place to have them shares and voted on for NYFA’s first-ever Made at Home Festival, presented by NYFA South Beach. The Festival’s winners included MFA Acting for Film student Yulia Korotkova (Student Choice Award), and One Year Filmmaking Conservatory student McKenzie Mortensen (Staff & Faculty Choice Award).
“I constantly see students stop each other in the halls and ask ‘hey how’s that film going,’ and I’ve seen those same students leave that conversation inspired and ready to make a film of their own. That infectious creativity seemed to have died down as we move to remote learning,” shared Santa-Maria. “So, in order to get that vibe back, the itch to create, I figured the Festival would give them a challenge where their creativity would be put to the test and, hopefully, inject that sense of creativity that NYFA is famous for.”
Students who participated in the Film Festival were given one month to develop, write, shoot, and edit a 5-minute film completely shot from their own home. With the Coronavirus pandemic shutting down many areas all over the country, students were encouraged to use what they had at home, from camera equipment (mobile phones, DSLR) to casting their film with only themselves or who they lived with.
McKenzie Mortensen, who won the Staff & Faculty Choice Award for her short film Quarantined, was inspired to make her film due to her own personal experiences of being alone during the pandemic. The Burley, Idaho native’s short film is a horror-comedy about a girl who becomes so bored and lonely that she makes friends with an evil villain, who crawls out of her television. In addition to the full film below, Mortensen has also shared her Quarantined storyboard available here.
“I hope the audience was able to relate to my short emotionally since my film subject was very current,” says Mortensen. “I also hope they were able to let out a laugh, chuckle or giggle.” Mortensen will graduate from the One Year Filmmaking Conservatory from NYFA’s South Beach campus in September and plans to pursue a career in film editing. In addition to her short film Quarantined and Doritos Super Bowl competition entry, Mortensen also created a short stop motion film, which can be viewed here.
Winner of the Student Choice Award, Yulia Korotkova, was inspired to create her short film Waters after playing around with different shots and angles taken on her cellphone. After attempting to create a shot of someone being pulled out from under the bed, she was inspired to create a thriller about soul-collecting water that could be condensed for the Festival’s parameters. “The original script was a ten minute film and we [Korotkova and her husband] feel proud of having created this film only using an iPhone without any professional equipment,” she explains.
Korotkova, who was born in Russia and grew up in Venezuela, moved to Miami 11 years ago and is currently studying acting at NYFA South Beach. Waters, she explains, is her first-ever film. “I was hoping to entertain and, at the same time, show how there is no need for expensive equipment and large expensive production in order to tell a story.”
While the film is not yet posted publicly, Korotkova has released a teaser trailer and encourages readers to check out some of the behind the scenes information for her film.
Santa-Maria shares he hopes students can realize they don’t need huge sets, expensive cameras, or a large crew to tell a heartfelt story. “As cheesy as it sounds, I wanted our students to realize that no matter where they are in life, no one can take away their ability to tell captivating stories.”
New York Film Academy would like to congratulate NYFA South Beach students McKenzie Mortensen and Yulia Korotkova for winning the top prizes for the South Beach Made at Home Festival and encourages everyone to watch each student’s available footage to get their own creative inspiration.