On August 22, 2018, the New York Film Academy and GreenLight Women hosted a screening of the film The Girls in the Band, followed by a Q&A with director and producer Judy Chaikin, and moderated by GreenLight Women chair Marion Rosenberg.
Chaikin started in front of the camera but found that she was more interested in the exciting challenges behind the camera and set her sights on directing. Since then, she has worked consistently in film, television, and theater, winning several awards including two Cine Golden Eagles, a Billboard Best New Music Video Director nomination, nine Best Film Festival awards, and an Emmy nomination for the PBS documentary Legacy of the Hollywood Blacklist.
Her current film, the feature length documentary The Girls in the Band, is about the unknown history of women jazz instrumentalists from the early 1900s to the present day. The film took top prizes at five film festivals including the prestigious Palm Springs Film Festival.
Rosenberg opened up the Q&A by asking Chaikin about why she chose the topic of women in jazz: “I came from a family of musicians; my mother was a songwriter, my brothers are … both professional musicians, my sister and I both were trained musically … she played flute, I played piano and trumpet and so music has been a very integral part of my life.”
Chaikin shared that when she was 13 years old, she was in her junior high dance band as a trumpet player and experienced gender discrimination like the musicians in her documentary. She added, “I absolutely adored it, but the boys … didn’t want a girl in their band, and I was discouraged … so I gave it up.” Chaikin later regretted this so much that she jumped at the chance to produce a documentary about other women who experienced the same thing.
Rosenberg asked Chaikin how she typically decides on the subject matter of her projects. Chaikin replied, “When you make a documentary, you gotta know going in that you’re committing yourself to a real long process. It’s gonna be years of your life, and if there isn’t something that’s in the documentary that is so personal to you — that has such meaning for you — it’s gonna be really hard to stay with it.” She continued, “It’s [also] very important to me to know that the subject matter I’m covering has deep roots in our society.”
The New York Film Academy thanks Judy Chaikin for discussing her compelling documentary and for sharing her advice for film school students.
Oprah Winfrey at the 75th Golden Globe Awards. (Paul Drinkwater/NBC)
This year’s Golden Globe Awards was clearly different from years past, and not because it was the 75th anniversary ceremony. Nearly all women in attendance, and many of the men, wore all black in a sign of solidarity for the Time’s Up initiative — a response to the gender inequality and sexual harassment prevalent in both the film industry and society as a whole.
A very public groundswell of support for the movement started after initial reports of sexual harassment came out against megaproducer Harvey Weinstein last year. Since then, more and more women and victims of sexual assault are coming forward and being heard after decades of an institutional culture that allowed sexual assault and discrimination to flourish. In addition to accusations against numerous prominent figures in the media, politics, and elsewhere, additional gender inequalities are also being placed front and center — including a sizable gender wage gap and the disproportionately small number of women represented both in Hollywood and political positions of power.
Tarana Burke and Michelle Williams
After #MeToo made clear just how many women are affected by these injustices, Time’s Up was started to take specific actions to work towards finally reversing this trend. Along with the call for women to wear black on the Golden Globes red carpet, Time’s Up is advocating for laws that will punish businesses tolerating harassment, working to balance gender parity in the industry, and starting a legal defense fund to support lower-income women seeking justice for sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.
The Red Carpet at this year’s Golden Globes (Getty)
Wearing black wasn’t a fashion statement. It quickly became apparent to everyone watching the televised Golden Globes on Jan. 7 that the conversation and tone of the night would be dominated by a cause too important to be sidelined, even in the height of Hollywood’s yearly awards season. Several individual moments stuck out from the night that revealed just how deeply both gender inequality and the urgency to correct it run in the entertainment industry’s most powerful circles. Some of these moments include:
Talk show host and this year’s emcee Seth Meyers delivered a straightforward opening monologue in support of Time’s Up and the women of Hollywood, while also acknowledging that as a straight white man, his voice wasn’t the most important in the room.
While live during an E! Network red carpet interview, “Will & Grace” star Debra Messing pointed out that E! was also guilty of a significant wage gap between men and women.
When presenting the Best Director award, Natalie Portman made sure to add in the short but poignant adjective “all-male” before listing this year’s nominees. This is especially noteworthy considering Greta Gerwig — who wasn’t nominated — directed the evening’s Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy) award winner, “Lady Bird.” (Gerwig was nominated for Best Screenplay, however, and the film picked up two acting nominations and a Best Actress win for Saoirse Ronan.)
Natalie Portman and Ron Howard
Many women invited social activists as their guests to the ceremony, including #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, eschewing the typical tradition of bringing a significant other or relative — which has sparked its own controversy:
these black & brown activists being used on this red carpet as conversation starters is so jarring. why couldnt they just invite them, let them bring their families, give them the chance to speak?
In addition to wearing black, many of the attendees and presenters displayed Time’s Up pins in support of the movement.
The HBO drama “Big Little Lies” dominated the television categories with a cast of mostly women playing complex female characters with nuanced storylines — something that shouldn’t be all that rare, but sadly is.
Entertainment icon and living legend Oprah Winfrey was presented with the Cecil B. DeMille Award — the Globes’ version of a Lifetime Achievement Award — becoming the first woman of color to receive the honor. Winfrey’s acceptance speech roused the room and was a powerful moment in a night of powerful moments, sparking a flurry of trending hashtags and fan speculation about a 2020 presidential run. Winfrey was clearly aware of her platform and influence and focused many of her words on speaking truth to power, the vital importance of a free press, and the significant role diverse role models play for children growing up in a world dominated by faces that do not resemble their own. As an example, she used her own personal experience seeing Sidney Poitier win the Academy Award for “Lillies of the Field.”
These are just some specific instances of a much broader mood and drive dominating the culture right now. As an institution that prepares students for careers in Hollywood and the entertainment industry, the New York Film Academy is especially receptive to Time’s Up and the #MeToo movement. Many of the Golden Globes viewers — and even some nominees, like Issa Rae — were students, alumni, and faculty members.
In 2013, the New York Film Academy researched gender inequality in the film industry and presented its data with an infographic that plainly showed just how serious the problem is. In the intervening years since that infographic was first published, gender inequality has not improved in the film industry. In 2017, Forbes released their annual list of highest-paid actors and actresses. The top 14 were all men, with Emma Stone ranked as the highest-paid actress at #15. A 2016 study found that women — roughly half the population — comprised only 28.7% of all speaking roles in films. Additionally, only 18% of films represented a balanced cast (half the speaking characters being female).
The New York Film Academy prides itself on its diverse body of students, encouraging artists from any number of backgrounds to collaborate and bring together their distinct, personal visions in order to create even stronger, more meaningful stories. Indeed, in 2017 more than half of NYFA’s students were women — a hopeful sign of the industry’s future.
It goes without saying that there is still a lot of work to be done, and a lot of changes that need to be made to both the entertainment industry and the contemporary culture it inhabits. As Oprah Winfrey said in her acceptance speech, telling stories and speaking truth to power is one important way to help bring about these changes. The New York Film Academy encourages those who were previously afraid to use their voice to tell their stories, and to be loud as possible — the time is now.
“Big Little Lies” at the Golden Globes (Photo by @Ramona_Rosales)
With the 14th Annual Dubai International Film Festival coming to a close this December, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia profiled six pioneering female filmmakers from the Middle East, including New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Khadijah Kudsi. The in-depth piece about the six directors not only celebrates their hard work and achievements, but highlights the cultural shift taking place in the 21st Century Middle East, and subsequent progress women have made in playing a larger role in society—including the arts.
NYFA alum Khadijah Kudsi grew up in Saudi Arabia and was always artistic and interested in storytelling. She told Harper’s Bazaar, “I went to New York Film Academy in Abu Dhabi in 2014. I only meant to go for four weeks, but that turned into eight, which led into a year and then into a whole career. I did a diploma in filmmaking and then I started working on short films and writing.”
After graduating from the Academy, Kudsi quickly found work for a Chinese television channel. As her career has progressed, Kudsi likes to focus on stories from Abu Dhabi and the Middle East, including one film that’s premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and another currently in production focusing on Dana Al Ali—the first Emirati woman to climb Mt. Everest.
Kudsi continued, “I think it’s important to have ties to this region and highlight positive stories coming out of it. But it’s not always easy—the funding is hard. As is finding the right producer and managing your time being a mother and a working woman.”
Festivals in the Middle East have grown in importance as more and more voices from the region are making themselves heard. The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) first launched in 2004 with 76 films and 13,000 attendees. During its initial six-day run, acting legend Omar Sharif was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award. The festival has steadily grown since then, with over 60,000 admissions to its 2016 event. This year marked the 14th Annual Dubai International Film Festival and presented Lifetime Achievement Awards to Irrfan Khan and Sir Patrick Stewart.
As the region modernizes and women are being given more and more freedom, their roles in society are becoming more prominent as well. For Middle Eastern women working in the arts, that uphill struggle feels all the more real, considering the industry has been historically unequal not just in the region but around the world. Kudsi told Harper’s Bazaar, “I have four children, whereas most of the crew you work with on set are single or have no kids. They don’t understand when you say you need to wrap by a certain time because I need to go see my kids.”
The New York Film Academy strives to give filmmakers and artists of all kinds a voice, and prides itself on its diverse student body. By learning and working hands-on together, students find their differences are a strength—learning and sharing experiences not just from the school but from one another. If you’re interested in filmmaking or the visual arts, you can find more information about NYFA’s programs here.
NYFA has committed itself to giving aspiring storytellers in the Middle East an education they can build their careers on. The New York Film Academy is thrilled to see Khadijah Kudsi recognized for her inspiring work and career, and looks forward to the stories she will tell in the years to come. “I love the rawness in the stories here,” professed Kudsi, “and we have so much to talk about.”
A few years back, New York Film Academy Instructor Cheryl Bedford was asked to be a part of the documentary Dark Girls, directed and produced by Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry. Even with deferred pay, Cheryl immediately jumped on board as Line Producer and her decision couldn’t have been more right. The bracing new documentary was recently nominated for an NAACP Image Award. “The material spoke to me,” said Bedford. “Dark Girls is about ‘colorism’ and how it affects women. Basically, the darker you are, the less attractive you are perceived to be.”
Skin bleaching products are a billion dollar business worldwide. Dark skinned women in Africa are using these products and doing horrible damage to their skin. In China, Japan, Thailand, Korea, etc., you can’t buy a moisturizer without a skin bleaching component in the product. “As a dark skin black woman, who has been called pretty — ‘even though I was dark skinned’ — I felt that the project had to be part of my filmmaking legacy,” added Bedford.
When Dark Girls premiered on OWN in June 2013, the film was the number one trending topic on twitter for three hours worldwide. “I am so proud of this project and the entire Dark Girls team. As a filmmaker, when you have a passion project, you hope and dream of this kind of success. I feel quite lucky and blessed that people feel connected to this movie.”
The New York Film Academy recently discovered a wonderful film festival, exclusively for our talented female students, called The Girls Impact the World Film Festival. The film festival and scholarship program is open to high school and undergraduate students to submit 3-5 minute short films and focuses on a variety of international women’s issues.
Winners will receive a monetary prize, film distribution channels via SIC, Connecther and Creative Visions networks, as well as an internship opportunity at Creative Visions in Los Angeles. An official screening and red carpet will take place at the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, MA on February 22, 2014.
Not only that, confirmed judges include Ian Somerhalder, Christy Turlington Burns (founder of Every Mother Counts), Jeff Skoll (founder of Participant Media, responsible for films such as An Inconvenient Truth, Syriana, North Country, etc), Jean Oelwang (CEO of Virgin Unite), and Zainab Salbi (Founder of Women for Women International).
Submission deadline is December 31, 2013.
For more information and details about The Girls Impact the World Film Festival, visit HERE.
Here is something for the female filmmakers at the New York Film Academy. The 3rd Annual Brooklyn Girl Film Festival, which runs from March 27-29, 2014, is now open for submissions. Brooklyn Girl Film Festival’s mission is to showcase the work of women filmmakers from around the world, and bring these artists together for networking in a fun, informative and supportive environment. In a seemingly male dominated industry, the BGFF Films are sought in which a woman plays a key role as a director, writer, or lead animator. Features, documentaries, shorts, music videos, experimental and animated works are all considered. All genres are welcome as well.
Official Selections will be in competition for an Audience Choice Award in two different categories, feature film and short film.
Deadlines For All Submissions:
Regular Deadline: December 7, 2013
Late Deadline: January 4, 2014
Extended Deadline: January 11, 2014
A three-day annual event that takes place in March, BGFF features screenings that include filmmaker Q&A, workshops, an opening night reception, special events and an awards ceremony. BGFF attendees include local filmmakers as well as those from around the country and the world. Programs and events are designed not only for filmmakers, but anyone interested in the moving image.
What Filmmakers Are Saying About the Brooklyn Girl Film Festival:
“Brooklyn Girl Film Festival is a fantastic festival. They communicate with and care about the filmmakers and provide a warm place to showcase work by women filmmakers. We had a wonderful time at the Festival!” – Amanda Melby – director of “Kerry and Angie”
“I was really blown away by the films that screened at Brooklyn Girl Film Festival. These are film Makers that have big careers ahead of them, many very established already and really very cool people doing very important work. April, The festival director and the festival team made the whole experience enjoyable as a filmmaker and an audience member. The talent here was pretty amazing! The Brooklyn Girl festival has the pulse of upcoming film makers from all over the world!!!” – Megan Corry, Director “The Smell of Sand”