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  • New York Film Academy Awards MultiChoice Talent Factory Academy Students With 8-Week Program Scholarship

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    MultiChoice Talent Factory (MTF), a New York Film Academy (NYFA) partner, recently announced the graduation of 60 students from the Lusaka, Nairobi, and Lagos MTF Academy hubs. 

    Through their partnership with NYFA, MTF Academy students have the opportunity to graduate with not only an MTF graduate qualification but also walk away with accreditation from NYFA as well. 

    MultiChoice Talent Factory (MTF) graduates

    Originally a 12-month course, MTF students experience an extended period of study to 18 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing for students to complete an intensive 3-week online NYFA course on the production of micro-documentaries, PSAs, and music videos and also worked with the United Nations on the global #PledgeToPause campaign, exposing the young creatives to global networks.  

    Having received both their MTF and NYFA qualifications, MTF graduates are made even more sought-after candidates as they re-enter their respective local film and TV sectors as highly qualified industry professionals. 

    Africa’s creative industries are custodians of the continent’s cultural heritage, and as Africa’s most-loved storyteller, MultiChoice has always put to use its burning desire to develop and invest in African talent through initiatives such as MTF. And like the previous cohort, the skills gained by the Class of 2020 once again shone through during their course.

    In addition, NYFA also awarded an 8-week scholarship, which goes to the top-performing graduate per region, to the below MTF graduates:

    • Abisola Aboaba (Nigeria)
    • Daisy Masembe (Uganda) 
    • Maira Tauacale (Mozambique).

    MTF Academy graduate and NYFA scholarship recipient Abisola Aboaba

    “This is a proud moment for everyone involved in ensuring that the students became graduates. It’s also been fulfilling to see just how in-tune this next generation of African storytellers are with the importance of being multi-skilled and intuitive creatives,” shared Yolisa Phahle, CEO of General Entertainment and Connected Services, MultiChoice Group. “All this would not have been possible without the collaboration and commitment of our fantastic partners.”

    New York Film Academy congratulations to the class of 2021, who are now alumni of the exceptional MTF Academy program, a proud partner of NYFA.

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    April 15, 2021 • Entertainment News, Film School, Filmmaking, International Diversity • Views: 1749

  • The Art of Impact with James Lecesne

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    James Lecesne is an Academy award winning filmmaker, teacher, and philanthropist. It’s been an exciting time for James with a Tony nomination for The Best Man and soon after that receiving the role of Dick Jensen opposite James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury. However, we especially commend James on the release of his book The Letter Q, a passion project conceived to inspire the youth of America and to raise proceeds for The Trevor Project which he had founded in 1998. We had a chance to speak with James about his inspiration for the book and his teaching at the New York Film Academy. He also shared key insights into the craft of storytelling and how the industry landscape has changed for LGBTQ artists. Don’t forget to get connected with Mr. Lecesne on Twitter and learn about his impact in the arts.

    What was the inspiration for The Letter Q? You’ve already contributed so much to LGBTQ youth, and this book seems to be a continuation of your work with the Trevor Project. 

    Two years ago Dan Savage launched the phenomenally successful It Gets Better Project as a way of spreading the word to young LGBT and Questioning young people that the Trevor Project is there for them 24/7. As the only nationwide suicide prevention and crisis intervention helpline for LGBTQ youth, our organization receives over 30,000 calls a year. Not all of them are rescue calls, but each call establishes a life-to-life connection with a young person who is asking important questions. We provide an ear to listen and the encouragement to be who you are. The idea for the The Letter Q came from Sarah Moon, my co-editor. When she was a teenager, she was lucky enough to be surrounded by adults who shared their stories and their wisdom with her – sometimes in the form of letters, and as she says, “It didn’t seem quite fair to me that I should have been the only teenager to get wonderful letters to carry around.” Soon after coming up with the idea, Sarah approached me about not only writing a letter to my younger self, but also donating a portion of the royalties from the sale of the book to the Trevor Project. Together we compiled a wish-list of authors and began to write to them, ask them, stalk them. The book seemed to fit so perfectly with my own desire around that time to provide young people with tools to help them get through their difficult years. We had been exploring ways to help young people “make it better” right now. And the minute Sarah proposed the idea for the book, I knew we were on our way.

    Has your teaching at NYFA helped inspire your work in some way? Reading the bio on your website, teaching plays a strong role in your career. What are the most important lessons you impart to your students who aspire to make it in film and theatre industries? Have students ever surprised you with their insights in the art and craft of telling stories?

    Teaching is a way to not only give back some of what I’ve learned, but also a way for me to continue learning about story. Storytelling, in any form, is hard work; it requires honesty, courage, craft and above all determination. But it can also be a mysterious and mystical experience, a means to enlarge and enlighten not only the storyteller, but the audience as well. For each of us, it happens differently, the idea comes in the form of a hunch, a worry, an inkling a fear, or sometimes as a fully formed brainstorm; but however it happens it always arises out of something that we happen to believe. We might not be able to articulate what it is exactly, but something in us knows, something in us feels for a truth that we need to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt.

    James as featured in the New Yorker.

    Stories are the blueprints of our passions told in code, the urge of something within our selves that is itching for resolve, the reliable and readable map of our beliefs. Leif Finkel, a professor of bioengineering at UPenn, once wrote: “Our cortex makes up stories about the world and softly hums them to us to keep us from getting scared at night.” I’m no professor of bioengineering, but I heartily agree. Of course, a good story does more than that. Stories hum not only for ourselves, but for our audience as well; their song transforms the muddled and often conflicted experiences of living in this troubled world into something valuable and enduring for us all; they are the means by which we can pass our wisdom along to future generations. The results are always surprising, or at least they should be.

    What are your thoughts on representation in the media regarding the struggles that independent filmmakers face as sexual minorities? How do you see the industry landscape for LGBTQ artists? Has it changed at all since you started as a young artist compared to the present day?

    When I was a teenager, the world was a very different place. I grew up without ever hearing the word homosexual spoken, I didn’t know a single gay person, there were no role models to whom I could look for encouragement or guidance. One of the great accomplishments of the LGBTQ community is this idea that we are not just here for ourselves. We have a responsibility to pass along our history and our pride to the next generation. Young people who are struggling and coming up in the world should not have to figure this out by themselves. Of course, there is still a ways to go in terms of achieving equality. Look to places like Uganda, South Africa, Russia, and Iran. Or right here at home to see what happens to certain people when they express themselves fully. But as Kate Millet, the revolutionary feminist recently pointed out —- gays and lesbians have achieved so much in a matter of mere decades, while women have been struggling for centuries to change things. To hear the President of the United States declare that the love of gays and lesbians is equal to that of their fellow (heterosexual) citizens, is certainly proof to me that the world is changing. More change is possible — and needed.  And I believe that by encouraging people to tell their stories, teaching them how to do it in the most exciting and engaging way, it will make for a better world.

    James with Daniel Radcliffe for The Trevor Project.

    To learn more about the Documentary Filmmaking program at the New York Film Academy, click here.

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    June 11, 2012 • Community Highlights, Documentary Filmmaking • Views: 5568

  • Five Viral Videos That Changed the World

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    Andrea Swift is the department chair of Documentary Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy’s New York City campus. She has written, directed, and produced many projects, having been awarded the Scriptapalooza TV Award, Silver at the Chicago International Film Festival, a DGA award, and many others. Her PBS Documentary “In the Life” was nominated for an Emmy three times.

    Has a viral video ever really changed the world? Even a little bit? How?

    As the latest crew of NYFA Docsters begin their first cyber film, I am once again updating my list of must-see viral videos for them to consider. It’s always a tricky list to compile, and even trickier to narrow down. YouTube’s greatest hits make a good starting point. In at least one key respect, they clearly “worked.” Hundreds of millions of people have watched and shared Charlie Bit My Finger and The Evolution of Dance. There’s something to learn there, and something to learn from Waka, Waka (This Time for Africa) and other uber viral music videos.

    Perhaps virally successful corporate advertisements have even more to teach. Somehow the makers of The Force, for example, got well over 50 million of us to willingly watch a Volkswagen commercial without the pay off of “real programming” around it. And then they got us to “share” it with to our friends. That’s an even higher bar to clear. Yet they did it.

    However, the real Holy Grail for us social documentary types is the movie that changes the world – at least a little bit. Not an easy feat. If it was, everyone would do it. Still, I propose that there are several viral videos, mostly micro-docs that have managed to pull it off.

    5.)  Crush on Obama: This one’s been on the cultural radar for four years now. In their combined incarnations, Obama Girl videos have scored over 120 million views.  And while it seems silly, many in the mainstream media have identified Crush on Obama as a key influencer in the 2008 elections, and beyond. Perhaps the greatest take-away for aspiring viral game-changers is its success as a “meme.”[1]  In fact, in 2010 Newsweek named the video the #3 biggest meme of the decade.

    Elaborating, The New York Times wrote, “That video probably had more to do with shaping Obama’s complicated public image — young and exciting but maybe a bit shallow — than any Internet appeal devised by the candidate’s own aides.”

    I have to admit it’s especially warm in my mind because its director is upstairs teaching a Viral Video class for the Doc students right now. On the other hand, he’s there because it was already warm in my mind.

    4.)  Susan Boyle – Britain’s Got Talent: This micro-doc pulled from a television show, tells a great, authentic story that makes the cyber world laugh, cry and share again and again. For the viral doc-maker, I´d say the major take-away here is story. As the old adage goes, “a great story, well told” is pure gold in any medium. And a great, well-told, cyber-sized, underdog fable hits our biological “share” button like one of those little rubber reflex hammers.

    Granted the first chapter of this particular viral video-making story is luck.  Well-produced luck, I would argue, but still, luck. Even so, her performance would have been a tree that fell in the woods had the producers not met that lucky occurrence with the skill to recognize it, shoot the story beats as they happened, and then carefully recreate them so their audience could experience the moment as if we were in the room the moment it’s going down. Even with all that, however, it would have been a tree that only fell on British TV if someone hadn’t excised the exact arc of that perfect cyber-sized story, uploaded it and set it free to spread itself through our socially networked cyber psyche.

    But what game did it change? It certainly didn’t help elect a president. Someone who’d been marginalized was laughed at and then became an international star. Her game certainly changed, but more to our point, the whole pop culture game changed with it – just a little bit. That story shamed us for the initial pejorative response we probably shared, at least a little. And it opened our hearts and minds to the possibility that a woman who is not young and not so physically attractive could still be worth listening to, could even have a place in the modern Pop Pantheon. It´s hard to measure the exact impact of that change, but by integrating Susan Boyle into our pop iconography, our collective-self image grew just a little more complex, and ever so slightly less scornful.

    Susan Boyle's viral video

     

    3.)  Playing for change, “Stand by Me: This little documentary is my all time favorite viral share. “But that’s a music video,” you say? It is. It’s also a micro documentary.  I only argue this about the original Playing for Change video, Stand By Me. The others really are just music videos. Good music videos, but still, just music videos. “Stand by Me,” on the other hand, tells the story of the making of itself, and consequently the story of the project and its meaning. That’s what lifts it out of the realm of simple music videos and into the arena of viral micro-documentary.

    More importantly for this list, I argue that in rhythmic, gentle ways that are difficult to quantify, that musical documentary changes the world by changing us.  It tells a story that moves us – both emotionally and physically – which helps it work its simple meme deeper and deeper into our consciousness: all our divergent, wonderful cultures can play together and when they do, our global jam session can become transcendent.  We aren’t “others.” We make magnificent music together.

    And being a story with a great beat, and a meme we can sing along with, Stand by Me can reinforce that change, and inspire its propagation, over and over again.

    2.)  KONY 2012: Scoring over 100 million views in less than a month and spawning spin-offs and backlash videos which have generated almost as many views themselves, it is easily the viral video story of the year. Like Zietgeist before it, KONY 2012 demonstrates the incredible power of the web to spread ideas and create movements, along with its absolute lack of controls for testing a video’s validity or veracity before allowing its entry into this burgeoning engine of our collective consciousness. On the other hand, it also demonstrates the new, highly democratic forum that, if stimulated, creates a remarkable after-the-fact control for both the validity and veracity of the memes we launch into cyber space.

    That video’s career also demonstrates the power of simplicity in this realm, as well as our potentially ruthless response to being initially taken by a video what we then start to feel is a gross oversimplification, propaganda or self-promotion. Personally, I found the later pre-arrest video of Jason Russell almost as heartbreaking the original video. Yet I have to confess to feeling a teeny, tiny wave of schadenfreude as well. But why?

    There was an almost classical Greek symmetry to this flash tragedy playing out before our cyber eyes. Here a well-meaning hero sets out to save the world. But his hubris taints his self-told tale with just enough reckless oversimplification and self-aggrandizement that its instant mega-success breeds a near immediate aftershock of denunciation. And the laceration of that backlash wounds him so intensely that it sends our hero out onto the street, naked and beating the ground, seemingly driven mad by the extremity of his near simultaneous fame and mass rejection.

    It’s a cautionary tale for would be viral world-savers. However, read carefully, the story of the KONY 2012 video, can also light the way for making cyber media that matters. I rate it an unparalleled success, though perhaps not in the exact form its maker intended. April 20th will not find me graffiti-ing in favor of increased military support for a regime that now kills people for being gay; nor wheat-pasting in support of American military adventurism in Africa.

    But it did get us talking about KONY and the Jacobs of the world.  It did get young America interested in the mass kidnapping, rape and forced soldiering of children in central Africa. It did create an atmosphere that led the ratings-driven American media to devote the kind of airtime to the human toll of central African turmoil that it usually reserves for freeze-frames of Lindsey Lohan’s underwear, or purported lack thereof.

    So regardless of how many people hit the streets on April 20th, it’s already changed the world – a little bit. It could arguably have changed it more and more lastingly, and caused significantly less pain to its maker, if he had been a little more careful with his facts and little less certain that he knows best for Africa. But the equivalent of one in three Americans listened to Russell’s idea for a full 30 minutes, shared it, and spent an hour or two considering it, arguing about it, telling other people. And as a culture, we decided, at least, that what happens to children in Uganda, matters to us.

    1.) It Gets Better: You may remember that in 2010, American news reported four gay teen suicides in rapid succession. Each boy had clearly acted in response to relentless bullying. Trying to form a response, the nation could only seem to mutter inchoate disapproval.

    Meanwhile two men, Dan and Terry, decided that they had to reach out the hundreds (maybe thousands) of other teens who were experiencing similar fates. The men sat on their couch, in front of their home video camera, making a low quality, YouTube message-in-a-bottle for those kids. In it, they just shared the stories of their own terrible, humiliating experiences being bullied as teenagers, and about the thriving lives they have built since. With their stories, they offered the simple hope that “it gets better.”

    Well, the rest is history, that video tore around the internet spawning countless replications and morphing from a simple, unassuming offer of hope into a national rallying cry for reform. Hollywood, the Secretary of State, even the President stood up to be counted in their own, It Gets Better videos. And reform we did. State after state and school district after school district has changed its laws and policies. Anti-gay bullying is no longer simply swept under the rug of the collective cultural consciousness, with a “kids will be kids” wave of the hand. Like any other form of violence, it is now a crime.

    This one changed the world, in obvious ways – both political and cultural.

    And the big take away? For me, there are a few. One is that the law of unintended consequences is turbo-charged in cyber space. Set an idea free in the wilds of that vast neural network and there’s no telling what it will do. But the nature of your initial offering is crucial. It may replicate and morph and go places you never could have guessed but all of that will be defined by the essential nature of your meme. In this case, the voice of that selfless, authentic, first person “true” story carried throughout the entire movement it spawned and moved people to truly change themselves, and thus to change their policies.

    So what do you think? Have I convinced you that viral video can change the world – a little bit? Which videos would be on Your Top 5 list?


    [1] When Richard Dawkins coined the word meme in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, he wanted a word like gene that conveyed the way in which ideas and behaviour spread within society by non-genetic means. Since then the word has been picked up to describe a piece of information spread by email or via blogs and social networking sites. A meme can be almost anything—a joke, a video clip, a cartoon, a news story—and can also evolve as it spreads, with users editing the content or adding comments. Common collocates in the Oxford English Corpus are spread, pass, and transmit: as with the Internet sense of viral, meme uses the metaphor of disease and infection.

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    April 2, 2012 • Documentary Filmmaking • Views: 3012