Acclaimed photographer Amy Arbus visited the New York Film Academy’s Battery Park campus to speak to Photography school students. Arbus’ work has been featured in many periodicals such as Rolling Stone, Village Voice, and New York Magazine, and is featured in many collections including The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Morgan Library, and the New York Public Library. Amy’s family has been renowned for their photography — she is the daughter of legendary photographer Diane Arbus, and is also the sister of famed Doon Arbus.
Amy Arbus at NYFA
Her 80s street style column for Village Voice On the Street is considered one of her seminal works. “Photographers‘ first stuff is what sticks,” Arbus told NYFA students. She captured celebrities on the streets of New York City, including a young Madonna just before the release of her debut album. Her column also included British punk rockers, The Clash, in their prime.
Of her project, Ladies of the Night, Arbus said, “I broke every rule that I was ever taught.” These photos were taken in secret, from afar, without comprising
the subjects’ anonymity. Throughout the lecture, Arbus repeatedly referenced the romanticism of those photographs. Her influences also include Film Noir and Modernist Art.
During a master class with Richard Avedon in 1992, Arbus resolved some of her emotions surrounding her mother’s death (Diane Arbus died by suicide in her bath when Amy was 17). Her TubsPictures is a series of nude self-portraits taken in a bathtub and were featured by Avedon in his article on Amy Arbus in Aperture’s Photographers on Photographers issue 151.
One specific piece of Avedon’s advice that still motivates her to this day was a fitting message to the students in attendance: “You’ve got to contribute something to the medium… you have to do something unique.”
Arbus is in the midst of her new series Outsiders, seen below, via her Instagram.
New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary school alum Ilaria Polsonetti’s film has been nominated for multiple awards at the 39th Annual News & Documentary Emmys. Made for VICE News Tonight on HBO, “Libya: Intercepting Migrants” is nominated for Outstanding Editor News and for Outstanding Continuing Coverage of a News Story. Winners are announced on the first of October in New York City.
Polsonetti graduated from NYFA’s 1-Year Documentary program in 2011. She is also a graduate of the 3-Month Screenwriting program, which she finished in 2013. Over the course of her career, the editor has melded her knowledge gleaned at NYFA with her M.S. in Sociology (London School of Economics). After graduating, she worked for Market Road Films, Singer Street Films, and as a freelance editor.
A screenshot from “Dirty Oil”
Since 2015, Polsonetti has worked for VICE in Brooklyn. With the expansive and ever-growing global media brand, she has had the chance to work on urgent and political topics such as Libya’s migrant crisis and Venezuela’s anti-government protests. VICE’s increasingly diverse and critically-acclaimed documentary series’ have been an ideal place for the multicultural filmmaker to hone her skills. In 2017 alone, Polsonetti worked on “German Hotelier turns Hotel into a Migrant Center,” “Dirty Oil,” and “The Politics of Terror” in addition to the aforementioned Libya piece. Along with her work for VICE, Polsonetti has worked on “The Notorious Mr. Bout” and “First to Fall.” She was also recently editor on VICE’s Raised in the System” starring Michael K. Williams (aka Omar on “The Wire”).
Documentary Chair Andrea Swift says of Polsonetti’s work,”These nominations don’t surprise me in the least. Ilaria has always been an insightful and diligent editor who demonstrated a unique sensitivity to the human experience. She developed a strong sense of story that is equally evident in this piece.”
The New York Film Academy congratulates Ilaria Polsonetti on her recent success and looks forward to seeing what she works on next! You can watch VICE on HBO’s documentary on migrants in the Mediterranean below:
New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Olya Schechter recently released her film, A Sniper’s War, to rave reviews. The harrowing documentary focuses on a Serbian sniper named Deki, whose anti-US views caused them to join pro-Russian rebels in the Ukrainian conflict.
The film’s official website summarizes the documentary as “[exploring] the ambiguous morality of war when social media becomes a communication platform for two rival snipers to schedule duels in hope to kill one another between the shadows of rival superpowers.” The filmmakers were given an unbelievable level of access to the conflict’s front lines and the military bases of those involved.
“A Sniper’s War”
The Hollywood Reporter called the film “powerful and disturbing” with “superb cinematography.” Despite positive reviews, however, the film has generated controversy online from those who have misinterpreted the film’s message as “pro-Russian propaganda.” Its rating on audience-driven sites such as IMDB has been torpedoed with 1-star ratings. As a positive review on Film Threat points out, “Schechter tried to keep politics out of it, telling the story of a man, not the story of a war.” She gives a comprehensive (and often tragic) background to her protagonist, who could otherwise be difficult for the average audience member to empathize with. “There is a fine line between a soldier and a killer,” Deki explains.
The pro-Russian, anti-United States sentiment of the protagonist makes for bold subject matter. The film was released by Journeyman Pictures and joins a lineup of daring, diverse pictures such as I Love My Muslim (concerning a 62-year old Muslim marrying a 33-year old Libyan freedom fighter), Pani: Women, Drugs and Kathmandu (about opioid addiction in Nepal), and Take Light (concerning Nigeria’s electricity crisis).
In July 2018, Schechter returned to NYFA’s Battery Park campus to screen her film for students and alumni in the Academy’s 1st Floor Theatre. Chair of NYFA’s Documentary school Andrea Swift joined the audience to support her former student.
The New York Film Academy congratulates alum Olya Schechter on a breathtaking work of filmmaking and looks forward to following her already impressive career. You can watch the trailer to A Sniper’s War below, or buy it on Amazon here.
Maxine Trump is a filmmaker, producer, editor, and author. She is based in Brooklyn and teaches Documentary at the New York Film Academy. Her films Musicwood and To Kid or Not To Kid cover such varied topics as the state of the acoustic guitar industry and the decision to not have children, respectively. NYFA sat down with her and talked about her career as a documentarian and freelance filmmaker, as well as her new book:
New York Film Academy (NYFA): How does the process for writing a book differ from writing a screenplay or documentary? Do you prefer one to the other?
Maxine Trump (MT): That’s an interesting question. It’s very different, it’s a different way of talking to an audience. Although you still want to be accessible, it is more academic — no surprises there — writing an academic book.
I never go for an academic voice in my films, everything should be entertaining, never educational. I tell all my students never to describe your documentary films as educational. Even the BBC has taken that word out of their mission statement. It just sounds boring, and your film will be boring generally, if it’s educational. You’re not making instructional YouTube videos, that’s a very different form of entertainment. Although I love hybrids, and being inventive with formats. So maybe there will be an amazing instructional documentary that someone will make and I’ll eat my words, but I’ve yet to see it. Werner Herzog comes close.
Anyone want to experiment?
NYFA: I watched your “Trumps Against Trump” short and Donald Trump was elected President shortly thereafter. How have you dealt with sharing his last name since?
MT: That’s funny to be asked that question here, people ask me ALL the time. You know we often make documentaries to deal with something personal that we have wrestled with, even if it’s not obvious in the film we’re making. I know one famous documentarian that realized they kept making films that somehow always wrestled with a father figure. So this was my purging, I had to do something. And with all the crazy, shocking political decision-making right now, this film brings a little bit of light. Some humor, and helps me cope with my name. After all, as I’m told in the film by one great character on the street, the [guy] ruined my name.
NYFA: You’ve covered disparate topics from the decision to children not having access to toilets to the acoustic guitar industry’s interaction with the environment. How do you decide to focus and hone in on topics that you think will make for good and worthwhile documentaries?
MT: This is a lovely question, and one that I talk about a lot with the students. You will sit with your film for a very long time, so what are you passionate about? I’ve made documentaries with an underlying message, from the overloaded New York sewage system, to people deciding not to have children. But my films are entertaining. I don’t even like the phrase “social issue filmmaking” anymore, and I make them all the time. But, first and foremost, I think often about who might be coming home from a hard day at work and would want to turn on my film. I don’t want them to necessarily feel bad about life, I want them to feel like there is hope and be surprised and sometimes shocked and sitting on the edge of their seats and laughing, and crying, and want to see more.
Maxine Trump’s “Musicwood”
NYFA: What projects do you have coming up that people should keep an eye out for?
MT: The beauty (and the bane) of freelance is that you’re always working, juggling about five projects any one time. But I love this life. Yesterday I was commissioned to write TV treatments for micro-docs for a TV network, today I’m talking to distributors about my latest feature documentary To Kid Or Not To Kid, about people deciding whether or not to have children. And this afternoon I’ll be pulling together casting ideas for a web series for public television that I’ve just been comissioned to make. And then, of course, I teach at NYFA. This lifestyle allows me to teach (and write) about real world examples.
I love my flexible life, and it’s so great that NYFA supports faculty to work in this way. I think we have a really strong documentary department helmed by Andrea Swift and supported by Amanda Brzezowski, and it’s a joy to teach.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Maxine Trump for her time answering our questions and for all the hard work she does to educate NYFA’s Documentary school students. You can purchase her new book, The Documentary Filmmaker’s Roadmap: A Practical Guide to Planning, Production and Distributionhere.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month and to bring awareness to the cause, the Filmmaking school at New York Film Academy (NYFA) is hosting a screening of Thirsty with its filmmakers. Described by as a “post-queer musical biopic,” Thirsty follows bullied girly-boy Scott Townsend as he grows into revered drag queen Thirsty Burlington, fighting obstacles along the way only to discover what he really wants is self-acceptance.
The musical drama was released in 2016 and won Audience Choice for Best Narrative Feature at the Boston LGBT Film Festival, Best Narrative Feature at the Harlem International Film Festival, and the Jury Prize at the Portland Film Festival. It will be screened at NYFA New York’s 1st Floor Theatre on October 11th.
Margo Pelletier directing Marilyn Matarrese and Deirdre Lovejoy
The screening will be followed by a Q&A with producer Lisa Thomas, actors Jonny Beauchamp (who plays “middle” Scott Townsend), and Michael DiGioia (Uncle Gene), Choreographer Alexandra Amirov, and editor and NYFA alum Fabrizio Famá. Thomas is an industry veteran who has worked on Wonder Showzen and Ugly Americans. Beauchamp has appeared in Penny Dreadful and Stonewall. Famá has worked on many Italian feature films, documentaries, and shorts.
The 97-minute feature film was directed by the late filmmaker Margo Pelletier, who was known for her exploration of gender and identity. She previously made the documentary Freeing Silvia Baraldini. Thirsty stars Scott Townsend as himself, lending a unique realism to its ability to tell a story based on his life. Deirdre Lovejoy (The Wire, The Blacklist) co-stars as Townsend’s addiction-addled mother Doris. Keith Leonard plays opposite her as Townsend’s absent and abusive father. Before her death, Pelletier had told Variety that a “good percentage” of the cast is LGBTQ.
National Bullying Month began in 2006 by PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center. It was originally the first week in October and has since expanded to include the entire month. Studies have shown bullying causes “school avoidance, loss of self-esteem, increased anxiety, and depression.” Learn more at StopBullying.gov. If you or someone you know is struggling, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline online or at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You may anonymously report cyber bullying here and also find help and resources here.
Prior to the Thirsty screening, NYFA will also be hosting a Wellness Day event from noon to 5pm on the 5th floor student lounge in NYC. View some statistics on bullying below:
28% of U.S. students in grades 6–12 experienced bullying.
20% of U.S. students in grades 9–12 experienced bullying.
70.6% of young people say they have seen bullying in their schools.
70.4% of school staff have seen bullying. 62% witnessed bullying two or more times in the last month and 41% witness bullying once a week or more.
When bystanders intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds 57% of the time
The New York Film Academy (NYFA) is once again a proud sponsor of the famed industry gathering IFP Week 2018, in Brooklyn from September 15th through 20th. At this year’s event, NYFA faculty will be featured on two separate IFP panels. Additionally, NYFA Screenwriting Chair Randy Dottin’s work-in-progress film The Chicago Franchise was selected for a prestigious slot in IFP Week’s Spotlight on Documentaries.
NYFA Documentary Chair Andrea Swift and Producing Chair Neal Weisman explain that IFP Week is an essential industry gathering —whether you’re a director, producer, documentary filmmaker, screenwriter, It is as important for launching and maintaining careers as Sundance, and people fly in from all over the world to attend. IFP Week is the only multiple-platform, international co-production market for projects in the United States. This year is particularly exciting as IFP is celebrating its 40th anniversary with the independent media community.
Andrea Swift will moderate an important #MeToo panel on Saturday, September 15th at 12:30 p.m. The all-female panel will explore difficult but necessary questions and discuss how we can shape the future of the #MeToo movement on screen and through media activism. NYFA Producing Instructor Krysanne Katsoolis will moderate the Looking Abroad panel on Monday, September 17th at 2 p.m. This panel will discuss the how-to’s and why-not’s of utilizing international co-productions and tax incentives.
IFP Week 2017
Additionally, NYFA Screenwriting Chair Randall Dottin’s film The Chicago Franchise was selected for a prestigious slot in IFP Week’s Spotlight on Documentaries. The documentary explores the complicated relationship between gun violence, poverty, and residential segregation in the nation’s third largest city. Learn more about the full project slate here.
The New York Film Academy is proud to help sponsor IFP, and is very pleased to share that IFP has extended a 20% discount to our students and alumni using special code IFP20! Click the following panel titles to purchase tickets for the #MeToo and Looking Abroad.
Renowned for her pioneering work in morphing technologies, legendary visual artist and New York Film Academy (NYFA) faculty member Nancy Burson has just shown how powerfully the arts can intersect with world affairs with her image on the cover of Time magazine: an arresting portrait that combines the faces of U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Burson’s work was also recently singled out by Time magazine in its list of 100 Photographs: The Most Influential Images of All Time. Together with MIT scientists, she patented the morphing technology that the FBI drew upon in the ‘80s to track missing children. She has been featured on Oprah, Good Morning America, CNN, National Public Radio, PBS, and Fuji TV News, as well as countless local TV segments in the USA, Canada, and Europe; and discussed in The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Houston Chronicle, and Scientific American Magazine, to name a few. There are four monographs of her work and reproductions of it appear in hundreds of art catalogs and textbooks on the history of photography, published in all languages. Burson’s fine art photography is available through ClampArt Gallery in NYC. Her website can be viewed here.
Ms. Burson took time out of her busy schedule to sit down with the NYFA Blog and share her thoughts on the meaning of visual art, why she’s still learning, and what it’s like to see her TIME magazine cover image joining a vital international conversation about democracy, freedom, and the future.
NYFA: Tell us, what does photography and visual art mean to you?
NB: The best way of answering is just to say that I think art is destiny-driven, and then there’s the added element of determination that seems to be behind it. That’s what visual art means to me. There’s no choice; you just do it. You do it because it’s your destiny to do it, and you’re driven to do it through determination.
NYFA: What inspired your morphing technology projects, and your recurring theme of composite images?
NB: When I first came to New York, I had this idea to create a machine that would age you by computer. That was driven by a show that I saw at MOMA. It was the first time I had walked into MOMA, and there was a show called The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age. I went there not knowing what to expect, but what I found was a very participatory show in which people that I began to know later on had pieces that were not only three-dimensional, but moving images, video images, and things that were more or less participatory in nature. I thought it was a lot of fun to participate in the art, and it was after that, shortly after that, that I conceived this idea of the aging machine where viewers could see themselves older.
I took the idea to EAT (Experiments in Art and Technology), Robert Rauschenberg’s organization that was pairing artists and scientists together. So I went to them and said, “I have this idea to age people with a computer.”
Androgyny (6 Men + 6 Women) 1982
They paired me with someone who did very early computer graphics — it was pen and styles and a pad — and I was like, this is just drawing! And he said, yes, you have to wait for the technology to catch up.
I kept in touch with him and eventually he told me to call Nicholas Negroponte, the head of MIT’s now Media Lab, and he thought it was a great idea. They had something called a digitizer (now called a scanner), and it was one of the first times that a computer could interact with a live version of a face.
So I was kind of in the right place at the right time. I had the idea in ’68, and I went to work with MIT in ’76. I’m not that patient, but I was doing other things and kept connecting back to this person, and along the way got to know a lot of other people developing programs that were similar. One friend of mine became the Oscar winner for the morphing technology to make images move. Originally I had the patent on the still images, and he had the technical Oscar.
NYFA: What inspired your latest project, the image of Trump and Putin on the cover of Time magazine?
NB: I’ve been politically active over the years, and I felt I needed to say something.
This last couple of years has not been an exception, and since Trump was elected I have done what I could on Instagram. That’s pretty much what I think an artist can do, unless it was about showing work that had to do with Trump. A few years ago before he was even elected or running, I did a piece called What if He Were showing Trump as 5 different races. I showed it as art in LA. It was a commission by a very prominent magazine that never ran it — they decided at the last minute it was too controversial, so I went elsewhere and finally placed it with Huffington Post.
Then the last couple of years, I did a very early version of Trump and Putin, because the Russia thing has been going on for awhile. Time magazine photography director Paul Moakley is familiar with my work, it was three years ago they put me into their 100 Photographs: The Most Influential Images of All Time. Since then I’ve been sending him creepy images of Trump, one with Kim Jong-un, and one with the three together, and there’s been this dialogue back and forth, and he mentioned last year he was considering them for the cover. I was like, oh, I didn’t know that! I didn’t find out until the last minute this was going to the cover, and I didn’t know if they would run it because it’s so controversial.
So in the end I had a couple hours to finish it and send it in. It was really fast. I had to run down to do the video interview. It was really truly a wacky day, one of the wackiest ever.
What was really meaningful was to be able to have this input in this dialogue that’s ongoing about this investigation, and I think that week was a turning point.
NYFA: What is it like to see your image having such an impact, especially with the wildfire spread of the internet?
NB: Yeah, I mean, amazing. I’m very grateful.
NYFA: What did it feel like to see your artistic techniques used to help the public through searches for missing children?
NB: What happened with missing kids was really amazing. The first case we did was the Etan Patz case for the FBI, and at that point we had done some other images of kids that had been not parental abductions but stranger abductions, and usually those kids don’t turn up. We had done a number of those, and it’s so hard to do. Then Cosgrove/Meurer Productions in LA — these are the people who became the producers/directors of Unsolved Mysteries — did a couple of hour-long TV specials about missing children.
They pulled some of the parents of parental abductions in here and we did updates of the kids. The parents were pulled in to see the update on the screen, and then these images were aired on TV, kids were found literally within a half an hour of the show’s airing.
So we began to find kids — this was around the mid ’80s — and we found at least several in that one year.
I remember this one kid getting on the phone with me because the father had gotten him back from the mother after that show was aired. This was a kid who had just been an image, and then I was talking to him — and his picture looked really very similar to the update we had done. It was a Frankenstein moment. I really was. Just wow.
At that point in the mid-80s the FBI purchased a copy of our software and then they started finding missing adults as well, which is a kind of a different process.
Etan Patz Update (Age 6 to Age 13), 1984
NYFA: What’s the most rewarding thing about teaching photography? What would be your one piece of advice for students interested in the visual arts?
NB: Probably the most rewarding thing about teaching is that it gives back, in a way, to the photography community. I think that when you teach you also get something back from the fact that you’re always learning. There’s always something to learn from students. I think teachers understand that it’s a give-and-take.
I find student are always wanting to find out what’s out there, what’s new, wants happening. I keep up with the community, not only for my sake, but for their sake. Sometimes there are important things to learn and it’s important to know the state of the art of the tech.
What I say to my students is that if you really want to be a visual artist, or in the case of NYFA, if you really want to be filmmaker, if you really feel this is what your role should be and it feels like destiny to you, then it will become what you do in a certain way that overrides a lot of other stuff. So if your priority is your art, you’re not going spend a lot of time messing around with doing things that you shouldn’t be doing — you have to stay focused.
I think the people that really understand that their destiny is artmaking in a certain way are more solidly based and determined. The kids who I know are going to make it are the kids who are hanging out at NYFA and shooting their projects at night and shooting on the weekends, and they’re just making it — every day they’re making it.
That’s the basis of a career that’s going to be ongoing. That’s going to be a sure thing; you have to have the determination and you have to be unwilling to give up. You have to see that as you goal.
NYFA: Which of your projects have surprised or shaped you the most?
NB: Certainly missing kids was one.
The human race machine, when that came out in 2000, came out as a collaboration with Zaha Hadid at the Millennium Dome in London. I thought it was very cool that people were standing in line for a couple of hours to see what they would look like as a different race. Now it’s not something that I would want to bring out in the world. Now I see that as more about separation than togetherness. But at the time it was an interesting way for people to raise awareness that elicited an empathetic response. My whole concept for right now is called TogetherAllOne, which addresses what astronauts see in space; they see the bigger picture, they see the blue marble. They understand that we are TogetherAllOne.
So there’s the missing kids, the human race machine, and the craniofacial kids. I spent seven years photographing deformity and I got to know kids with progeria, the aging disease as well as adults
Recently it’s really nice, as I’ve heard from some people form those years who saw the new Time cover. One of them in Europe reached out. I had photographed her son, and now she’s developed an organization since them to keep the progeria kids’ families together. I think it’s really great. And I remember her son. It’s been powerful hearing from people whose kids I photographed when they were young. There was even one incident that I heard about where one of the craniofacial kids used the machine with his family to see what he would look like with more of a “normal” face, so that was also a really powerful moment.
During those years I also spent time with adults with prosthetics on their faces from cancer. These are people who had survived cancer and had pretty big holes in their heads if you took their prosthetic device out. I knew the head surgeon at Kettering, and he introduced me to his clients and I photographed them. It was great. It was a real educational experience for people to see these people, and I would have shows of these images and the subjects would come. It was in its own way very experiential.
NYFA: How gratifying is it to see a process you created and revolutionized decades ago still have such an impact on photography, media, and culture?
NB: It’s interesting, I was thinking that the technology was too rudimentary and not specific enough to address politics in a way that would have an impact. But here it is. That was great.
I’m very thankful to Time magazine, who allowed this cover to be. It was a chance and they knew it, and they took it. They had just done something controversial a few weeks before, with Trump looking down at the little kid who is crying, and that had two million hits. The Trump/Putin cover is there, and has I think a two million hits at this point. That was a big cover for them and it was controversial, and they chose to do it again.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank Nancy Burson for so generously giving her time and her story to our student community. Ms. Burson has a show currently in Brescia, Italy, with a solo show upcoming at Art Basel Miami in December. Read our headline piece on Nancy here. Watch Nancy’s interview with TIME below:
Carolina Sosa graduated in 2017 from the New York Film Academy (NYFA) Los Angeles campus with a Master of Fine Arts in Documentary. Since then she’s been hard at work on Trumphobia, a feature-length film that originally started as her thesis documentary.
Carolina is one of many notable alumni and faculty to hail from the NYFA Documentary School, including instructor Kristen Nutile, who edited the Oscar-, Peabody-, and Emmy-nominated Heroin(e) on Netflix, and RBG’s director of photography and NYFA Documentary professor Claudia Raschke. Ranked as a top documentary filmmaking school for the past eight years, holding a coveted spot on The Independent Magazine’s list of the Top 10 Academic Programs for Documentary Filmmakers, the New York Film Academy’s documentary program aims to prepare students for the practical challenges, opportunities, and realities that arise when creating documentary films.
It was no surprise, then, when NYFA alum Carolina Sosa recently received a $10,000 grant from the Rogovy Foundation, an organization that works “to build a more enlightened and harmonious planet,” and supplies grants to documentaries and other “highly targeted projects which will have a measurable impact.”
Recently, Carolina spoke with the New York Film Academy about her film Trumphobia, her time at NYFA, and other projects she is currently working on:
New York Film Academy (NYFA): First, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what brought you to New York Film Academy?
Carolina Sosa (CS): I’m from Uruguay, I’m 27 years old, and I got a Fulbright scholarship to study a master’s degree in documentary filmmaking, and NYFA was the school that gave me the highest tuition award from all the schools that I have applied; also the program was located in Los Angeles.
NYFA: Why have you decided to focus on documentary filmmaking?
CS: I like to use art as a tool for change. I believe that reality is often more fascinating than fiction, and I want to dedicate my life to tell true stories that inspire, promote justice, and can make a difference in this world. And also, because I love to travel and share my view with others.
CS: Trumphobia: what both sides fear (tentative title) is a feature documentary about the political division in the United States and how Donald J. Trump’s rhetoric increased that division with the help of the mainstream media. On one side, he gave strength and safety to his supporters and, on the other side, he imposed fear and anger on his opponents, which led to major confrontations, protests, and counter-protests across the country. Trumphobia analyzes the reasons for the political division, provides a moving description of Trump’s supporters along with the people who are most affected by Trump’s policies, and proposes empathy and compassion for all as a possible solution to the turmoil. The documentary has the participation of the Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, New York Senator Michael Gianaris, Berkeley professor of cognitive science and linguistics George Lakoff, Ph.D., professor of psychology and social behavior Peter H. Ditto, six hate crime victims and witnesses from both sides, representatives of major organizations, many of Trump’s supporters and opponents, and includes footage from more than thirteen debates, marches, and protests across six states.
NYFA: What inspired you to make Trumphobia?
CS: The documentary started as part of my master’s thesis. I was looking for a subject matter right when Trump got elected, and I thought that making a documentary about a current topic that affected millions of people was worth my long work. Especially because I wanted to portray both sides of the story — his supporters and opponents — and I wasn’t seeing much about the right side on the media, so I wanted to be one of the first ones to make a documentary that actually tried to be objective when it comes to politics. The good thing is that most of the crew was international, so we all had an outsider perspective that allowed us to listen without immediately judging. And the one thing that got my attention the most was the articles about hate crimes related to the election and the violent confrontations between people, so it’s not about Trump’s policies — it’s about critical thinking and how moral values determine our worldview. I believe we are all biased, and we need to be more empathetic with others to overcome our differences.
CS: Thanks to NYFA, I became a member of the International Documentary Association and, through their website, I searched for all the grants that I could apply and that’s how we heard about the Rogovy Foundation. We have applied for more than ten different grants, it’s a long and tedious job to prepare all the documents and materials for each grant, but it was worth it because we got their Miller / Packan Film Fund for the postproduction of our film, and they have been very supportive. Moreover, the IDA accepted our project and they became our fiscal sponsor, so that’s also good news.
NYFA: That’s great news! What are your plans for Trumphobia?
CS: For the thesis, I made the first 20 minutes of the film and, since September 2017 when I graduated, I have been working on the 90-minute version. It took me a lot of time because I started working as an editor right after school, and so I have been very busy. But I have never given up, even without money or with a full-time team, I truly believe in the message of the movie and I’m very proud of the result so far, thus we are still working on it. We shot the movie during a year almost and there is always a new thing with Trump, so it takes a lot of work to edit many hours of footage and do constant research, but we are almost there. We are planning to have a final cut that we can send to the Sundance Film Festival in September, and then really finish the movie in October. After that, we will send it to more festivals and try to find online distribution immediately.
NYFA: What other projects are you working on or do you plan to work on?
CS: For the 1-year project of the school, GuangLi Zhu and I made a short documentary about the killing of pets in animal shelters, called Exit the shelter, and I have been promoting that short as well. We received the award of Best Film at the Los Angeles Television, Script and Film Festival and an Award of Excellence at the Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards, and we are still waiting to see other festivals’ results. GuangLi was one of my classmates and he is back in China now, but I have partnered with the LA Animal Services and other shelters, so we recently did a screening of the short and a fundraising event to help the pets in two different shelters. Meanwhile, I work as an editor, producer, and cinematographer at Dame Dash Studios; right now I’m editing a documentary about a trip to China for them, but I’m also working as a camerawoman for Harrison Engle (former president of IDA) for one of his documentaries. And every once in a while, I work freelance on other small projects. I’m a workaholic, I work eight hours (or more) at my job every day, then I get home and I work four hours on Trumphobia, and on the weekends it’s all about Trumphobia.
NYFA: What did you learn at NYFA that you applied directly to your work on Trumphobia, or your work in general?
CS: The documentary department at NYFA was very helpful with my project Trumphobia. Since the topic was so urgent, they allowed me to borrow the equipment in November 2016, while all my other classmates shot their thesis in June 2017. I pitched the project when Trump got elected and I asked them if I could travel across the U.S. in the winter holidays so I can shoot what I needed, and with almost no bureaucracy involved they said yes, so I’m always thankful for that. They gave me the freedom to do what I wanted and the resources that I needed when I asked for it, because I shot through the whole year several times and they never said no. I can imagine that this could have been very different in other schools. NYFA gave me the tools that I needed to feel prepared to shoot across the country with little resources.
NYFA: What advice would you give to students just starting out at NYFA?
CS: My advice to new students is to think big, work hard, go to all the events, conferences, and workshops that you can (even the ones that are not related to your degree); go out, meet people, build your network, and apply to as many grants, scholarships, and festivals that you can — you never know who you are going to meet, what you are going to receive, and what you are going to learn.
The New York Film Academy congratulates Carolina Sosa on her recent grant and looks forward to the completion and distribution of Trumphobia and Carolina’s continued career!
Interested in learning documentary filmmaking? Check out more information on New York Film Academy’s programs here!
Elizabeth Grimaldo was already a household name in her native Panama when she came to study Acting for Film at the New York Film Academy, but since then her career has truly crossed international borders. Now based in Miami, the singer/songwriter and actress recently made her U.S. television debut on Telemundo NBC ’s Al Otro Lado Del Muro, tackling an intense storyline involving immigration, human trafficking, and unbreakable family love.
Here, Elizabeth shares a bit of her amazing story with the NYFA Blog.
NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what brought you to NYFA?
EG: I’ve been on TV since I was 12 years old as a singer, which is also my profession. It started in a national singing contest for kids (Canta Conmigo), which opened so many doors for my career in Panama. At the age of 15, I started acting in my first soap opera as the main character, and it was an amazing experience. My next big project, at the age of 18, was Romeo and Juliet the Musical as Juliet, at the national theater of Panama City. That was a dream come true, to perform there.
That play turned on my hunger for the performing arts, and I knew I wanted to dedicate myself to this field. One month after the play finished, I went straight to the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles.
NYFA: Do you have a favorite NYFA moment from your time studying with us? Or did anything about your program particularly surprise and challenge you?
EG: Many things were challenging. Acting is hard work, and not many people understand what it really takes to build a character who is nothing like you and convince an audience that it’s “real.”
I remember one of my coaches, Michael, used to challenge me a lot — which I am grateful for, because I admire him as a person and professional. He was so passionate in every class, every detail, and most important, he wanted us to do what it takes to be great. He cared and wanted us to succeed. He told us once, “Imagine all the secrets that someone would need to know about you to play you perfectly.”
That was the most challenging part for me, because I realized in that moment how far I was from knowing my character. I realized what it takes to do the job. It’s not acting; its life, and a lot of research.
NYFA: Before coming to NYFA, you acted in Panama’s Summer Dreams. How has your process changed regarding performing, since your studies and other experiences in Miami?
EG: It’s totally different. I started to act without having studied acting. Now that I have studied acting (which you never stop doing), I wish I could go back and do it again with what I know now. It’s been a satisfying and fun process.
NYFA: For our international student community, can you offer any advice on studying in the U.S.? Can you tell us a little bit about your experience of coming from Panama to NYFA Los angeles?
EG: It was the best decision of my life. It’s hard yes, but it’s so worth it.
I know it’s scary to leave home and pursue a dream by yourself out there, but let me tell you something: it’s going to change your life in so many positive ways! I accept that I felt overwhelmed many times missing home and feeling lonely, but all those situations that I went through back then in Los Angeles made me the strong, independent, and passionate woman that I am today.
NYFA made me grow as a professional and a human being. I learned so many things and I am grateful and happy for it.
NYFA: How did your experience on Canta Conmigo come about? What was it like achieving second place?
EG: It was amazing. It changed my life, basically. So many doors opened for me after. Since then my career in Panama has been accepted and successful, thanks Gob and to the people that has been supporting me since the beginning. I feel blessed that I have been able to represent my country in the U.S. and make them proud.
NYFA: As a singer and musician, what most inspires your work?
EG: I could say experiences, in every sense of word, which led me to start writing songs. It’s funny because that process started when I was at NYFA living by myself for the first time. I wrote my first songs back then.
I use to think I couldn’t write lyrics, but I was wrong. Experiences are necessary to tell stories from the heart.
But what inspires me the most is my mom. She is my drive, the one who encouraged me to do this and helped me in everything. She believed in me since I was three years old and sang for the first time, Cucurrucucu Paloma. Everything I do is dedicated to her.
NYFA: Can you tell us how your work with Telemundo came about, and a bit about your character?
EG: This February I had my debut on American television in the Telemundo NBC series Al Otro Lado Del Muro, which means “the other side of the wall.” I still don’t have words to express how happy I am for this opportunity. It was an honor to work with renowned actors such as Gabriel Porras, Litzy Martinez, Marjorie De Sousa and Adriana Barraza, the Oscar nominee for the movie Babel, who was my coach here in Miami at her school Adriana Barraza Black Box. Being able to work with Adriana on my first job was a dream come true.
The series talks about immigrants and their different stories. My character is Raquel Aranda, a Salvadoran immigrant who arrives in the U.S., running from the human trafficking. Later, she is separated from her family and unjustly deported to Mexico. She tries to cross the border, again facing dangers in order to be with her family and her one-month old child.
After screening and logging your footage, you have to write a script (which is sometimes a collaborative experience). If you look carefully, that’s Olivia Newton-John on the poster for the movie Grease, peeking through the window … No, she didn’t participate in the script writing.
Once your script is approved (perhaps by instructor Lexi Philips, or maybe all-star teaching assistant Catherine Kobayashi), it’s time to record your voiceover.
But audio tracks do not magically record themselves, so your classmates monitor your delivery of the script and make sure it gets organized into digital files.
Then all you have to do is edit the story … and re-edit the story … and re-edit the story … and re-edit the story, making sure sure you make deadline to submit it. (What could possibly go wrong?)
If you work hard, you’ll have the skills that will make you competitive in an always challenging job market. Traditionally that meant going to a small-market TV station to prove you “got what it takes.” That’s exactly what NYFA Broadcast Journalism grad Linda Zhang did. She went to Monterey, California and, as her Reporter Reel demonstrates, she got a chance to “do it all”: live shots, news packages, live inserts from a control room studio. And how well did she do all these things? Obviously very well, as she has been hired as an Associate Producer on the Los Angeles unit of Dateline NBC.