Documentary Filmmaking

Q&A with New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary Filmmaking Alum Mollie Moore

While traveling all over the world working on multiple film sets, New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary Filmmaking alum Mollie Moore knew she wanted to continue to tell stories through non-fictional storytelling.

She then moved to New York from her home base of London, England, and attended the 1-Year Documentary Filmmaking conservatory at NYFA, where she graduated in 2018. With her background in cinematography and love for documentary filmmaking, Moore continues to push to tell stories that are waiting to be told and to give viewers a glimpse at the life and experience of another.

New York Film Academy spoke with Documentary Filmmaking alum Mollie Moore about her experience at NYFA, her work as a global filmmaker, and her upcoming project with artist Marc Quinn.

Moore shooting on set for the film ‘Mama’

New York Film Academy (NYFA): What made you want to pursue this career in documentary filmmaking?

Mollie Moore (MM): I grew up in South London and was always involved with the theatre world there from a young age. After leaving education, I made the decision to not attend university straight away and, instead, moved to Australia. I ended up traveling around South East Asia, India, South America and further. During this time, I worked on different fictional film sets as part of the crew. This continued for four years, and in this time, I realized the vast possibilities of storytelling and the importance of capturing the beauty of the world we live in and the stories within it. Documentary felt like a natural marriage with my background in theatre, story telling and my passion for exploration and the people I met along the way. This idea eventually led me to New York City.

NYFA: What made you decide to study Documentary Filmmaking at NYFA?

MM: I decided to study at NYFA because it appeared to be a program that I could give all of my attention to, whilst also getting maximum in-person time to learn in a creative and hands-on way.

NYFA: Who are some of your favorite filmmakers/documentaries/media that you think readers should check out?

MM: There are so many incredible filmmakers that are breaking the boundaries of traditional filmmaking. A piece of work I saw and was very moved by was Ja’Tovia Gary’s  The Giverny Document, which has been screened in cinemas and art exhibitions. It Is an experimental piece of documentary filmmaking that “meditates on the safety and bodily autonomy of Black women.” 

Another piece of filmmaking I have seen this year that has stuck with me is a love song for Latasha, another experimental documentary film about Latasha Harlins, who was killed in LA. It is told through memory and archive of her cousin and best friend, and her death is considered to have contributed to the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

NYFA: What are some challenges you may have faced as a filmmaker in the industry?

MM: For me the biggest lesson has been finding my own voice in a male-dominated industry and learning how to best hold yourself in difficult situations. It is a constant learning curve and strengthening experience. I think, as documentary filmmakers, we should constantly be self-reflecting and asking ourselves hard questions about what drives our work.

 

‘A Word Away’ Film Poster (Dir. Mollie Moore)

NYFA: Can you tell us more about your thesis film A Word Away?

MM: My film A Word Away is about a young man named Cosmo from South Sudan now residing in the USA. Cosmo attempts to articulate his journey of migration through the medium of poetry. It was important for me to find a new way of telling a story of migration, through a more intimate and personal lens. The film looks closely at the effects these themes have on mental health, through a young mans eyes and his family. The film premiered at Camden International Film Festival in Maine, where we shot the film. Cosmo and his family were all there to watch the premiere of the film. This was very important for me.

NYFA: Can you tell us more about the other films you have worked on with NYFA alum Lucia Florez? What about other projects (other than A Word Away) you have worked on?

MM: Lucia and I have made three films together so far, with the hopes of eventually making a feature film together. As well as A Word Away, we made the documentary Paper Thin about a young transgender womxn starting a new life in New York City after having to flee the persecution of LGBTQ+ persons in Russia. The film has been really successful amongst festivals. Our most recent film we made together is called Mama. It’s a personal story between a mother and daughter (Lucia), who look into their past to try and reconcile their relationship after difficult years born through the conversation and opinions of Lucia’s sexuality, in the setting of Latin America.

NYFA: You have filmed in many locations all over the world. What are some key learnings that as a filmmaker you have learned from filming all across the globe? Why has it been important to you?

MM: Being lucky enough to have travelled with work has been something I am extremely grateful for. I have been incredibly humbled by the people I have met and worked with in these settings. It is so important to remember how much trust you are being given by people who are generous enough to allow you into a small part of their world. I think that trust and responsibility is not to be taken lightly. This is even greater importance when you are walking into a situation and setting you are not so familiar with. It is important to listen intently before making your own assumptions and narratives. I think documentary filmmaking should always be seen a collaborative process between the filmmaker and the people sharing their stories.

NYFA: A lot of your work focuses on the LGBTQ community, as well as themes of forced migration. Can you explain how this is incorporated or highlighted this in your work? Why is it important for the film industry to see more stories like this told?

MM: I hold both these topics very close to my heart and with a lot of passion, and I identify with some of these themes on a very personal level. I think shedding light on topics and communities that have often been misconstrued massively and discriminated against through violent acts of oppression and injustice is of huge importance. If we have the tools to give platform to things in a honest way, we must share It and give voice to those whose realities have often been silenced throughout history.

NYFA: Do you have any upcoming projects you are working on?

MM: I am currently working on the artist Marc Quinn’s Our Blood project as one of the filmmakers on it. Our Blood is a multi media art project that focuses on the refugee crisis all over the world. We have been filming in London and New York City. The art piece will premiere outside of the New York Public Library sometime in 2021.

New York Film Academy thanks Documentary alum Mollie Moore for taking the time to share her experiences and thoughts on the responsibilities of storytelling for documentary filmmakers. We look forward to seeing more projects from her in the future!

 

Resources to Educate Yourself About Anti-Racism and Race

Throughout history, playwrights, filmmakers, authors and other creatives have used their stories and art to confront systemic issues and racial inequality. In light of the continued nationwide and global support for the Black Lives Matter Movement and the call to end systemic racism, NYFA recognizes that it is our responsibility to continue to educate ourselves on the black experience and celebrate the stories of black creatives, who seek to end racial violence and prejudice, and continue to work tirelessly to educate and inform.

Though this is by no means an exhaustive list, but we hope these educational materials (films, television shows, podcasts, books, and plays), selected by members of the NYFA community, serve as a starting point for us and others to continue to: confront racial inequalities within our society, recognize and applaud black stories and creators, and represent a brighter future in the film, media, and performing arts industries that promotes collaboration and inclusivity.

Films & TV Series to Watch:

Podcasts to You Should Hit the ‘Subscribe Button’ on:

‘The 1619 Project’ (Photo Credit: New York Times)

Books to Read:

Book cover for ‘The New Jim Crow’ by Michelle Alexander (Photo Credit: The New Press)

Plays to Read and Study: 

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7 Films To Watch During SAAM

Each April, we observe Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), an annual campaign to raise public awareness about sexual assault and educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence. 

There are many ways to inform yourself and observe Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Here are seven documentaries and narrative films you may want to check out this April that help spread awareness about sexual assault, have a preventative slant, or tell a story about survival.

1) I Am Evidence
Available on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HULU, Amazon Prime
Not Rated – 1hr 29min – Trigger Warning: sexual assault

This documentary follows the stories of survivors seeking justice through police departments and the courts. It identifies the failures of the US criminal justice system and the extreme backlog of unexamined rape kits, and won Best Documentary at the 2019 News & Documentary Emmy Awards.

2) Spotlight
Available on HULU, Amazon Prime
R – 2hr 8min – Trigger Warning: child abuse

This true newsroom drama starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams, follows a team of journalists who investigate allegations of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and unravel the complex cover-up. The film earned a surprise victory when it won Best Picture at the 2016 Academy Awards.

3) The Hunting Ground
Available on Amazon Prime
PG-13 – 1h 34min – Trigger Warning: campus sexual assault

 The Hunting Ground explores the trauma and turmoil victims of sexual assault face on college campuses. The film earned many nominations and wins across the festival circuit, as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song–Lady Gaga recorded the original song, “Til It Happens to You,” for the film’s soundtrack.

4) Anita: Speaking Truth to Power
Available on Amazon Prime, Kanopy
Not Rated – 1hr 17 min – Trigger Warning: sexual harassment and racism

For many Americans, one of the key moments in sexual assault awareness was Anita Hill testifying at the congressional confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas, who was nominated to become a US Supreme Court Justice in 1991. Anita: Speaking Truth to Power is a documentary that explores the many societal factors at play that blocked Anita Hill from receiving justice after her public accusations of sexual harassment against Thomas.

5) Audrie and Daisy
Available on Netflix
Not Rated – 1hr 35min – Trigger Warning: assault and bullying

Audrie and Daisy is a documentary that looks into harassment and public shame that victims of sexual assault experience in high schools across the US, exploring two specific young teenagers who faced cyberbullying and abuse following their sexual assault. The husband and wife filmmakers describe the film as a “a modern-day Scarlet Letter story.”



6) Precious
Available on Hulu, Amazon Prime
R – 1hr 50min – Trigger Warning: sexual assault and incest

This heartbreaking but hopeful film shows the journey of a young woman growing up in an abusive household, struggling to speak out and escape domestic and sexual abuse. At the  2010 Academy Awards, Gabourey Sidibe was nominated for Best Actress for emotional portrayal of Precious, while Mo’Nique won Best Supporting Actress for playing her terrifying and abusive mother.

7) The Shawshank Redemption
Available on Netflix
R – 2hr 22min – Trigger Warning: sexual assault

This film follows the experiences of an imprisoned banker and the friendship he develops with an older inmate. Although the film contains problematic representations of prison sexual violence, identifying what the film gets wrong about sexual violence can serve as the basis for an interesting discussion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9mwtI82k6E

Q&A with New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary Filmmaking Alum Pedro Álvarez Gales

While working in post production for two presidential campaigns in his home country of Venezuela, New York Film Academy (NYFA) Documentary Filmmaking alum Pedro Álvarez Gales realized that his true calling was in documentaries, where he could tell stories rather than just absorb them.

He soon came to New York to attend the 1-Year Documentary Filmmaking conservatory at NYFA in 2013, where he learned the skills to shoot and edit documentaries. He quickly found work as a professional with major names in the industry, including Vice and Netflix.

Pedro Alvares Gales

NYFA alum Pedro Álvarez Gales

New York Film Academy spoke with Documentary Filmmaking alum Pedro Álvarez Gales about his time at NYFA, his work on Netflix hit film FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, and his advice for fellow NYFA students and alumni:

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

Pedro Álvarez Gales (PAG): I am from Caracas, Venezuela, originally a sound designer, but I have always been passionate about storytelling.

What brought me to NYFA was really a combination of things but mainly I was looking for a way out of my country’s political crisis. I felt stuck professionally and needed to try something new. My last job before leaving Caracas was as post production coordinator for two presidential campaigns—I believe that was what triggered my interest on making documentaries instead of just consuming them.

NYFA: Why have you decided to focus on documentary filmmaking?

PAG: The thing I like about documentary filmmaking is that you get to “write” during the editing process. You think you know what you are going to get when shooting a documentary but it’s really in the editing room where you start to realize there might be more to the story than you thought there was, or even a completely different one! It’s a magical thing and it can only be achieved by trying new things, failing and trying again, and again, until that “eureka” moment hits.

NYFA: How did you end up working on FYRE?

PAG: I got to FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened through a contact from a previous job. And there I met an incredible team of editors that made that film possible.

NYFA: What were your responsibilities as Assistant Editor on FYRE?

PAG: I was originally brought in as an editor to experiment with the film and try to see if we could build a series out of it. I did that for a little while but the Netflix deadline got tighter as we went, so the team decided to stick to the original film; from that moment on my mission was to support the team on anything they needed to get the film out as soon as we could. It was a very intense production to work on.

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

PAG: Right now I’m back with the FYRE team working on really great documentary series for Netflix. I wish I could tell you about it because I know it’s going to be amazing, but it’s an ongoing story and we can’t really talk much about it for the moment. I’m really happy to be back with this team and I feel I’ve been learning and growing as an editor on this project.

I also just finished cutting and producing a scripted mini webseries called Killing Tigers (which is a Venezuelan expression, nothing to do with killing an animal) that you can check out at www.killingtigerstv.com. This was my first experience with scripted media.

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

PAG: Almost everything I do today I learned in NYFA. I had never touched any editing software until I went there. It was through NYFA I got my first job in New York too (Vice and Viceland) where I stayed for three years and went from being an assistant editor to junior editor.

I am really grateful to that school and especially to Andrea Swift, the program chair, who is always on top of her students, current and former. I don’t know how she does it but she tries to help everybody that crosses her path. She’s an amazing lady. Thank you Andrea!

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

PAG: I’d tell them that, like almost everything in life, you can only take out of the program whatever you put in it. The Documentary program can be a really intense one with long hours and days, but if you apply yourself and choose to absorb everything that’s coming your way you’ll leave that building a documentary filmmaker. Whatever you decide to do next—either camera, production, editing or writing you’ll have a solid set of tools from NYFA that will help you to keep learning and growing and will take you to amazing projects.

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

PAG: I think it’s important to find your own way of working but to always be flexible with other people’s ways. You’ll encounter many different characters in the industry and one big part of it for you to navigate in it is your own ability to adapt to new teams and new ways. There’s always something to be learn from a teammate, even if they are in a position under you. Also, be kind. People will hire you back if you are easy to work with—to me that’s even more valuable than the skills you bring to the mix.

New York Film Academy thanks Documentary alum Pedro Álvarez Gales on taking the time to share his experiences and advice with us, and we look forward to seeing more projects from him in the future!

5 Quick Techniques for Better On-Camera Interviews

On-camera interviews with subjects are often key parts of a documentary film. They go beyond just simply asking your interviewee one question after another, however. Here are 5 quick techniques for improving your on-camera interviews from Sanora Bartels, Chair of Documentary Filmmaking at New York Film Academy Los Angeles (NYFA-LA).

 

 

Don’t Start with the Cameras Rolling

If the interview is taking place in the Interviewee’s space, one of the first things I do when I arrive “on set” is to ask about something interesting in the room or comment on the view. I do this in order to have a conversation about something other than the “subject at hand.”

When you discuss unrelated topics, it gives you an opportunity to find common interests and build trust. Related to this, you might find that you’ll need to do a preliminary interview without crew in order to form a relationship with your subject. Interviews are really good conversations. In-depth conversations only happen when the two people trust one another. This trust will show in the footage.

Once we start rolling, I start by asking easy questions about family history, their personal background, educational background, etc. These allow them to settle into a rhythm of conversation and then we’re off and running. 

Don’t Fill in Pauses 

Because an interview is very much a conversation, we’re sometimes too tempted to set someone at ease and try to “rescue” them from a perceived lapse in memory or pause. It’s almost never beneficial to fill in these pauses. The interviewee needs time to think and explain themselves and, more importantly, if it’s an emotional topic, they may need time to gather their strength to go on. At that moment, there is a line they cross from “the facts” into deeper meaning and perhaps more personal revelation. One of the best examples of this is in the Errol Morris documentary Fog of War with Robert McNamara.

Use Other People’s Labels

If your subject is talking about their supervisor whose name is Sandra and referring to her as “my supervisor” then you should use those word labels/markers as well. Don’t refer to her as Sandra if they refer to her as “supervisor.” Example: “How did your supervisor communicate the change?”

Ask Open-ended Questions 

Leading questions lead to one-word answers, which aren’t very informative or compelling to watch. Interviews look for much more in-depth answers, information that helps tell a story. Interviewers need to think about phrasing their questions to invite longer explanations. Questions that invite explanation often start with “how” or “why.” Alternatively, you can follow up an opening statement with: “Tell me more about that” or “I am not sure I understand.” 

Repeat A Single Word for More Information

If I feel the Interviewee has stopped just short of going deeper into the story, I use a trick that comes from everyday conversation: repeat their last word or phrase to prompt them to continue.

For example, the Interviewee may end their statement about their livelihood being threatened by climate change saying, “it’s just not sustainable.” The next question from me could simply be “Sustainable”? This simple cue allows them to explain and the conversation continues!

Written by Sanora Bartels, Chair of the Documentary Department, NYFA, Los Angeles.

6 Environmental Documentaries to Watch on Earth Day

For nearly fifty years, Earth Day has been celebrated worldwide to demonstrate a commitment to environmental protection. Originally, environmental issues ranged from cleaning up air pollution and acid rain to safety oversight over fossil fuel companies. The last few years has seen more of a concern of global climate change and the wide-ranging effects warming and acidifying oceans will have on both weather and sociopolitical dynamics around the world.

Environmental topics have been the focus of countless films, including narrative disaster films like Waterworld and The Day After Tomorrow, which sees the world overtaken by everything from giant tornados to tsunamis that freeze over. Even Pixar film WALL-E features a garbage-covered Earth that is no longer habitable to life.

Perhaps the most interesting environmental films of all are the true ones though—documentaries that portray the delicate balance of natural life on the planet, and all the ways society can upset that balance.

Here are just a few documentaries you can check out this Earth Day:

The 11th Hour

Directed by Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners, The 11th Hour gained a lot of buzz when it was realized for its association with producer, co-writer, narrator, and creator of the film—Hollywood megastar and noted environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio. The 2007 film interviews a murderer’s row of scientists, politicians, and activists, and places a focus on the myriad problems that pose dangerous threats to the planet, while offering possible solutions that are just as varied in their strategy.

Our Planet

The high profile docuseries Our Planet is Netflix’s own take on the Planet Earth series—Netflix went as far as working with Planet Earth producers Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey, and hiring David Attenborough to narrate this series as well. Each of the eight episodes of the series focuses on a specific part of the planet, from seas to deserts to forests and everything in between. The docuseries has become event television this spring, with an early Hollywood screening in February moderated by NYFA Acting for Film alum Lana Condor giving Our Planet some early buzz.

Everything’s Cool

Everything’s Cool was directed by Dan Gold and Judith Helfand and was first shown at Sundance in 2007. Unlike many other environmental films, the documentary focuses more on the politics and public perception of climate change, rather than the science behind it. This important angle is especially key at a time when the world’s scientists have come to a consensus that action needs to be taken to prepare and respond to climate change, while the laws and practices of nations and private corporations have yet to catch up.

Gasland

The 2010 film Gasland was directed by Josh Fox and showcased harrowing footage of local families dealing with the disastrous effects of corporate fracking—the process of stimulating natural gas production by injecting the ground with copious amounts of liquid chemicals. The film made fracking a hot button issue to this day, and brought to light some of the shocking side effects of the drilling method, such as water coming out of kitchen sink taps that could be lit on fire with a match.

An Inconvenient Truth

The 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth helped kickstart the latest wave of environmental activism, as well as a slew of environmental documentaries that followed in its wake. Based around a slideshow given by former Vice President and environmentalist Al Gore, the film focuses on carbon dioxide’s effect on climate change, and won two Academy Awards for its efforts—Best Documentary Feature and Best Original Song.

Koyaanisqatsi

Koyaanisqatsi is an experimental film directed by Godfrey Reggio from 1982, with a score by Philip Glass and cinematography by Ron Fricke, who mostly used slow motion and time-lapse footage of both urban areas and natural landscapes. The avant garde film is very much open for interpretation, allowing its viewers to lose themselves in its sometimes haunting imagery and music. While nothing is told outright to the audience, the relationship between humanity, technology, and nature is clearly the focus of the film, raising questions about how these connections affect the world around us and will affect the world around us for decades to come.

With every passing Earth Day, these questions are becoming more important than ever.

2019 Oscars: Best Documentary Feature Nominees

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have announced the nominees for the 91st annual Academy Awards, to be given out during ABC’s televised ceremony on Sunday, February 24. New York Film Academy (NYFA) is incredibly proud that two of the nominees, Free Solo and RBG, were worked on by faculty members of our Documentary Filmmaking school.

The Oscars will cap off a months-long awards season featuring industry veterans, newcomers, and as always, endless debates about who deserves to go home with the golden statue.

New York Film Academy takes a closer look at this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Documentary Feature:

2019 best documentary

Free Solo

Free Solo profiles Alex Honnold as he attempts to free solo climb, without the aid of ropes, El Capitan. The film has already won several top awards, including the BAFTA for Best Documentary, and was edited by NYFA instructor Bob Eisenhardt and directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin. This is the first Oscar nomination for Vasarhelyi and Chin, who also directed climbing doc Meru. Vasarhelyi also directed the documentaries A Normal Life, Touba, and Incorruptible, among others.

Hale County This Morning, This Evening

Hale County This Morning, This Evening won the Documentary Special Jury Award for Creative Vision at Sundance and documents the citizens of Hale County in Alabama’s Black Belt. The film has already been nominated for and won several awards, including Best Documentary at the Gotham Awards. Ross has worked as a cinematographer, producer, and editor, all positions he served on Hale County. This is his first Academy Award nomination.

Minding the Gap

Minding the Gap showcases three young skateboarders in Rockford, Illinois and won the US Documentary Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Filmmaking at the Sundance Film Festival. This was the directorial debut of Bing Liu, who worked a cinematographer on the short films Collinsville, Mistress, and What We Talk About When We Talk About Zombies, and crewed on Hollywood blockbusters like Jupiter Ascending, Divergent, and Transcendence, as well as television shows Shameless, Sirens, and The Girlfriend Experience.

Of Fathers and Sons

Director Talal Derki risked his own safety and life to document radical jihadism and terrorist training camps in the midst of the Syrian Civil War, following the Osama family—a father and two sons—as they dig deeper into their beliefs and face the consequences that ensue. The film won the World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, among other accolades. Derki previously shot and directed the documentary The Return to Homs. This is his first Oscar nomination.

RBG

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is profiled in the wildly popular and successful documentary, RBG. The film was shot by cinematographer and NYFA instructor Claudia Racshke and directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West. This is the directorial debut of West, who previously produced films such as Whiz Kids, Constantine’s Sword, The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem, and The Lavender Scare. Cohen has produced for Dateline NBC and directed the documentaries The Unforgettable Hampton Family, A Joyous Sound, The Sturgeon Queens, and American Veteran, among others. This is the first Oscar nomination for both.

 

Check out the New York Film Academy Blog after this year’s ceremony for a full list of the 2019 Oscar winners and losers!

Oscars 2019: The Best Documentary Short Nominees

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have announced the nominees for the 91st annual Academy Awards, to be given out during ABC’s televised ceremony on Sunday, February 24. The Oscars will cap off a months-long awards season featuring industry veterans, newcomers, and as always, endless debates about who deserves to go home with the golden statue.

New York Film Academy (NYFA) takes a closer look at this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject:

Black Sheep

Black Sheep is a look at Cornelius Walker, the son of Nigerian immigrants who dealt with traumatizing racism while growing up in London, and who attempted to deal with that racism by trying to assimilate into his white neighborhood. Notably, the 26 minute-long film is mainly a single close-up of Walker, interspersed with reenactments. Director Ed Perkins has mostly shot documentaries, including Chutzpah and If I Die on Mars. This is his first Oscar nomination.

End Game

The Netflix short End Game is 40 minutes long, the maximum length an eligible film can be for the Documentary Short Oscar. The film centers on palliative care providers and terminal patients in the San Francisco Bay Area and was directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Epstein has won two Academy Awards for the feature documentaries Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt and The Times of Harvey Milk, though this is first nomination in nearly thirty years. This is the first nod for Friedman, who co-directed Common Threads. The pair also directed the Allen Ginsberg biopic Howl, starring James Franco.

Lifeboat

Lifeboat follows Sea-Watch, a German nonprofit that looks for stranded refugees in the Mediterranean Sea, over the course of a single day in 2016. The 26-minute-long film gives a look at the desperate migrants fleeing North Africa for Europe. This is the first Academy Award nomination for director Skye Fitzgerald, who also directed the documentaries Bombhunters, Finding Face, and 101 Seconds.

A Night at the Garden

A Night at the Garden is a seven-minute-long haunting look at archival footage from a pro-Nazi rally held at Madison Square Garden in New York City on February 20, 1939. Appropriating themes of American patriotism, 20,000 audience members attended the event, supporting Third Reich ideals for the United States on the eve of World War II. Director Marshall Curry has been nominated for the Oscar twice before, for the Documentary features If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front and Street Fight, which followed the 2002 mayoral campaign of now Senator and presidential candidate Cory Booker.

Period. End of Sentence.

Period. End of Sentence. explores the cultural taboos around menstruation in India, where many women don’t have access to the same quality hygiene care found elsewhere. The 26-minute-long film focuses on a low-cost, easy-to-use machine that manufactures sanitary pads invented by entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham, an advocate of women’s rights in India. This is the first Academy Award nomination for director Rayka Zehtabchi, who also directed the short narratives Madaran, We Home, and Shnoof.

 

Check out the New York Film Academy Blog after this year’s ceremony for a full list of the 2019 Oscar winners and losers!

When is it Right to Expand Your Documentary to a Docuseries?

There’s no denying the growth in popularity of documentaries in the last 20 years. From Morgan Spurlock’s fast food adventures in 2004’s Super Size Me to the focus on SeaWorld’s controversial orca in Blackfish nearly a decade later, documentaries have been making a difference as more people show interest in factual and not just fictional stories.

Docuseries, however, have shown the greatest surge of late, almost entirely due to the rise of streaming services like Netflix and the expansion of HBO’s original content output. Audiences have a better ability than ever before to watch what they want when they want — the perfect platform for episodic content.

If you’re entertaining the idea of expanding your documentary to a docuseries, consider the following to help you decide if it’s the right (or wrong) move for your project:

Netflix

You have something truly unique

Perhaps one of the best ways to gauge if your documentary would be more effective if expanded into a docuseries is by asking yourself one question — is your subject fresh and exciting?

Elaine Frontain Bryant, Executive Vice President of A&E, shared an interesting nugget of information concerning how vibrant and competitive the docuseries market has become: “In the world of the DVR and trying to be Netflix-and-streamer-proof, it’s the subjects that people haven’t seen before that feel the hottest,” she said during a talk with realscreen.

Additionally, your access to the story should be unique. Whether that comes through your own personal drive and good research (see below) or a natural, personal connection to a subject, your documentary should be one that only you can tell. It is this unique angle that will make your story fresh and interesting to an audience looking for something new.

You have a story you really care about

If you’re putting in the effort into making a film, be it documentary or narrative, you likely already have a personal investment in the story. When it comes to creating a docuseries that requires following a subject or people for an extended period of time, you will need that passion throughout the process.

Docuseries often need extra time as you research, plan, shoot, and edit each and every episode. The less interest you have, the harder it may be to maintain a high level of creativity and dedication. Find a subject that you’re so passionate about that you are willing to give your all to tell its story.

Camera

Your subject is interesting enough

If you feel that your subject matter is unique and you have a lot of passion for it, the next thing to ask yourself is if people will still be interested after the first two or three episodes of your series.

Many of the most groundbreaking documentaries in recent years were effective because they formed an emotional connection with viewers. Although docuseries can provide powerful and thought-provoking content, the story needs to be especially captivating if you want to preserve interest for several episodes as opposed to single feature-length sitting.

You’re ready to do the work

Filmmaking is tough endeavor, no matter what kind of project you have in mind. The fact that docuseries are episodic and require additional hours of content means you’ll inevitably have that much more work to do.

This includes through research, following leads, fact-checking, creating outlines, shooting and editing content, and so much more. If you don’t think you’ll have the time or energy to take on such a feat, expanding your documentary film into a docuseries is probably not the right choice.

Interested in studying documentary filmmaking? Check out more information on New York Film Academy’s documentary school programs here.

IDA: Window to the World of Filmmaking

by Sanora Bartels

When students ask me what’s the best thing they can do when starting out as a documentary filmmaker, I always tell them: “Join IDA!”

IDA is the International Documentary Association and students can join for $35 a year — a small price to pay given the wealth of access to high-level documentaries and their directors, producers, writers and editors.

To give a “for instance,” on Jan. 6, 2018, IDA held a Master Class with Rachel Grady & Heidi Ewing in Los Angeles, CA at Netflix Studio facilities — a beautiful new building next to the old KTLA building on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.  Driving onto the lot was a pleasure and everyone involved with the day was enthusiastic and welcoming, including Netflix’s Director of Original Documentary Programming Jason Springarn-Koff.  In other words, attendees were rubbing elbows with the people in charge of obtaining new work for Netflix.

More important than the welcoming atmosphere was the opportunity to hear Rachel and Heidi share their experiences making documentaries: Boys of Baraka, Jesus Camp, 12th & Delaware, Detropia, and their latest, One of Us.

They shared clips of their films and spoke specifically of the individual challenges faced with each project. Tickets were limited (100 people were in attendance in the filled to capacity screening room) and there was time for Q&A throughout the Master Class.

NYFA documentary alum Valentine Rosado and classmates on set.

One of the most important pieces of advice Heidi and Rachel gave that day (and there were many) was to hold off pitching your project until you have secured unique access to the subject or story.  

In this era of internet and email, the most important tool to help documentarians secure access is the phone. The filmmaker must make the call and connect one-on-one with the people important to the story. Once you have developed a relationship with the people involved, you can then pitch your story without fear of a production company saying, “Yeah, great idea, thanks for bringing it wrapped in bow, we’ll get right on that,” And then proceeding to put their own team on it.

Yet access can be tricky and often it’s not just as simple as a phone call.

While researching One of Us, the filmmakers learned about Footsteps, an organization designed to help individuals leave the Ultra-Orthodox world of Hasidic Judaism.  With the permission of the organization, they hung out in the lobby of the non-profit for months in order to develop relationships with individuals and possibly use them to tell the story of the difficulty in leaving an oppressive community. Heidi and Rachel estimated that they spent nearly a year developing access and casting their documentary.

Spending a few hours with Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady reminded me that Documentary Filmmaking requires patience and steel-eyed persistence tempered by a genuine compassion for your characters as they share their lives and story.  

The reminder came at a bargain price.

A Q&A With Conservationist and NYFA Documentary Alum Valentine Rosado

We are excited to share an exclusive email interview with biologist, conservationist, and NYFA Documentary Filmmaking alum Valentine Rosado. Check out his impressive work in Belize, his insights on documentary filmmaking within the context of conservation, and more.

NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your environmental work?

VR: I live in Belize with my wife and daughter. We found out we were expecting a baby only days before I went to NYFA and we had already decided to pass on on the course so that my wife would not go through her first phase of the pregnancy alone. After lots of contemplating we decided to make it work.  

I have worked on a multitude of conservation projects focused on protected areas and their benefits to communities. One of my areas of special interest is mangrove reforestation as a form of ecosystem-based adaptation. The idea is that we are able to reinforce coastlines against erosion and climatic impacts by integrating mangroves with coastal planning. The dialogue between preservation and development is most often a polarizing one, but I believe that scientists play a crucial role in facilitating the integration of sound sustainable practices into private sector development.  

I recently founded Grassroots Belize with my wife. It is a private consulting firm, where we now combine our qualifications and experience to work on conservation projects that instill meaningful change for the environment and the communities that depend on them.

I have done volunteer work throughout my career and pro bono work is still a big priority for us. We work with several community-based organizations throughout Belize by providing technical support where we can. In 2016 and 2017, 30 percent of our time was dedicated to pro bono work and 25 percent of our net revenue was contributed to charitable projects.

NYFA: Can you tell us how the WWF Professional Development Grant came about for you?

VR: We have been supporting a local community-based organization with their education and advocacy program. Fragments of Hope Belize works with volunteer fishers and tour guides in southern Belize and has out-planted more than 90,000 corals since 2006 — and that number grows significantly every year.

Through our work with FoH, I applied for a WWF-EFN professional development grant to participate in the NYFA documentary filmmaking course. I believed that specialized training in documentary filmmaking would greatly enhance our ability to present our stories to the wider public.     

NYFA: Can tell us a bit about your experience studying at the New York Film Academy?

VR: I have participated in countless training courses and workshops throughout my career but attending NYFA was a truly life-changing experience for me. I realized that storytelling and filmography was something I had always wanted to do. I now look back at my earlier years and realize that I did my first photographic story when I was just 10 years old. I was trying to get the local municipality to shut down the slaughterhouse that was located adjacent to our bayside community (even though our family business was a meat shop).

When I was 14 years old I scripted, directed, and shot a short film for a school project about a start-up tour company. My original idea was to produce the trailer of a faux movie involving scenes in the cemetery and a police riot but just getting access to an old VHS camera was enough of a challenge.

There was of course not much hope pursuing a career in the arts at the time, and I knew all too well that my sure bet was to pursue a career in science. The NYFA course made me realize all these things, and that I have always been a person that lives a life worth living. Hence, it enabled me to renew my interest in film and storytelling. It sent me into a phase of extensive reflecting and soul searching.

The experience could only have been possible because of what NYFA is: the location of the school, the facility, the amazing people that I now consider my mentors, and of course such a wide diversity of students. At the expense of my family and our business clients, I neglected every other commitment I had for the entire time I was at NYFA because I wanted to take advantage of every experience and opportunity I had during the course.

I especially enjoyed the hands-on approach of filmmaking that took us to interesting locations across New York and allowed us to really appreciate the fact that everyone has a story tell. Everyone’s story can be pleasantly captivating if we invest the time and creativity to put it together. I think that was my “take home lesson” — we have the ability to capture stories that will inspire others. As storytellers, people seek our storytelling abilities and we owe it to the world to do it right.    

NYFA: How has your time at NYFA impacted and changed your work in Belize?

VR: One of the main effects was that it make me think really carefully about what path my career would take after the course. I wanted to dive into filmmaking but I also knew that it was not realistic to give up my career as a scientist. The scientist in me made me conduct a thorough evaluation of all aspects (self, family, values, etc.) and to refocus our work under our Grassroots Belize banner.

Our mission is to inspire people to improve our world. Once we defined that approach, it cleared the dilemma of scientist or filmmaker or etc. We now take up projects of positivity to promote people living in harmony with nature. Science, business, filmmaking, etc. are various methods in our advantage.     

NYFA: What is Grassroots Belize? What is your role there?

VR: I recently founded Grassroots Belize with my wife. It is a private consulting firm, where we now combine our qualifications and experience to work on conservation projects that instill meaningful change for the environment and the communities that depend on them.

We believe that people can live in harmony with nature and we hope to inspire others through our work. We combine our experience in business, science and the arts to work on projects that enhance the sustainability of communities. Our multidisciplinary approach allows us to make connections across traditional boundaries and to develop a unique worldview for innovation. We work on a wide range of projects that aim to improve the environmental performance of natural resource users and the benefits they provide to communities.

I serves as a biodiversity scientist and my wife, Angie, is the administration and finance director.

NYFA: You were featured in WWF’s Education for Nature Annual Report. Congratulations! How did this come about?

VR: WWF-EFN works diligently at growing and strengthening their network of grantees (alumni). The network consists of over 2,500 experts in different fields of conservation from all corners of the world. I had the opportunity to participate in the first alumni symposium this past year that brought together over 40 current and past grantees from 17 countries.

I even had the opportunity to document the stories of three grantees and capture the portraits of several of the scientists. One of the most interesting aspect of the experience is that I was very much interested in their stories and considered my story not interesting at all.

Ironically, everyone else seemed to feel the same (super interested in the stories of others and considered their own less important). I guess if we all reflect on it, we will realize that perhaps we should all be open about sharing our own stories in the hopes to inspire others.

NYFA: Has anything shifted for you as a result of WWF’s Annual Report?

VR: Indeed. In my readings I came across literature about human personality. It turns out that the better we are at traits that result in great scientists, the less we are at the traits that define our communication with others. It seems like a challenging paradox for conservation where we invest so much effort into sound science aimed to address unsustainable behavior.

Basically, every alumni I heard from [at WWF’s symposium] confirmed in some way that our research is not having the impact we desire at the community and global level. The experience with WWF, post-NYFA, has reenergized my drive to expand my knowledge and efforts in science, and to complement it with my recent training in storytelling.

Someone has to tell the stories. The difference is that I also understand the science.   

NYFA: What do you most want people to understand about environmental conservation in Belize? How can we help?

VR: I believe that in an effort to bring attention to the issues facing our world we focus heavily on issues and challenges. However, it may result in an atmosphere of constant negativity and sense of helplessness. In the process, we tend to overlook or underestimate the good progress and the good stories around us.

I have always believed that we should be highlighting the stories about people doing their part to improve our world. We have many such stories in Belize and I think that this would inspire others at a global level.

If a small group such as Fragments of Hope can replenish reefs with 90,000+ corals in 10 years (with very limited resources), what would this world be if the global financing for conservation gets directed to initiatives that have this level of direct impact on communities?

My final message would be to follow our stories. We hope they inspire others to improve our world in their own communities, in their own small way.  

NYFA: What is next for you? Any upcoming projects we can watch out for?

VR: This past year of training, reflection, strategic planning and welcoming my daughter (thankful for good health and all), made me put several projects on the back burner. Now that our business is focused and we have all this training, we have several exciting projects in our work plan for the year.

The following is a synopsis of 3 short films that I have in post-production and expect to complete in the next few months.  

  1. Sandwatch Belize: children from schools in Placencia participate in hands-on program that assesses coastal erosion of coastal communities. The activities serve as a meaningful incentive to inspire greater learning but not everyone gets to participate.
  2. Man O’War in Peril: the island was officially protected in 1977 as a bird colony but in recent years, storms have affected the island’s vegetation. Tour guides are concerned that they are about to lose an important tourist attraction.
  3. Palo Seco Costa Rica: resort owners used mangroves to reinforce their coastline against erosion. In the process, they were able to safeguard their land concession with the government. The success has prompted scaling up of efforts.

Congratulations to Valentine, his family, and Grassroots Belize! Connect with Valentine Rosado on Facebook and follow Grassroots Belize on Facebook.

A Q&A With New York Film Academy Documentary Instructor Denise Hamilton on Creative Circles Forum

New York Film Academy Documentary Instructor Denise Hamilton has made her career by producing incredible films on the history of Broadway. She is a member and Co-Chairperson of the Black Association of Documentary Filmmakers-West, and an expert on documentary filmmaking. Her work includes productions for KCET, WABC, NBC and Discovery. She recently sat on a panel at Burbank Arts for All to discuss the future of documentary filmmaking.

Hamilton took some time out of her busy schedule to discuss why these conversations are important to the community with NYFA Correspondent Joelle Smith.

NYFA: What is the goal of Burbank Arts for All?

Hamilton: Burbank Arts for All, or BAFA, is a foundation that provides funding for arts programs and arts-related materials and equipment to educational institutions located in Burbank. Because the budgets for school arts programs are often limited, BAFA raises funds from corporate donors, then turns around and gives grants that enable dance, music, visual and graphic arts programs to thrive in the Burbank schools. Schools can apply to BAFA and get, for example, musical instruments to replace broken ones, a ballet barre for a dance studio, lighting for theatrical productions, or a 3D graphics printer.  

NYFA: How did you become involved in the project?

Hamilton: I became aware of BAFA because I teach NYFA’s Community Film Project, and I researched local nonprofit organizations that my students could choose from to do pro bono work.  My 2014 MFA class selected BAFA to be the recipient of a promotional video that the students produced, and it was well received.  

As a result of this working relationship with BAFA, I was then invited to participate as a panelist in their annual Creative Circles Forum on Documentary Films, held Nov. 8th.  The panelists included Chief Financial Officer, Rugged Entertainment  Kelly Bevan, Burbank High School Digital Video Production Teacher Amy Winn, Writer-Director at New Filmmakers Los Angeles Varda Bar-Kar, and Academy® and Emmy® Award nominated Director/Producer and President/CEO, Rugged Entertainment Peter Spirer.

NYFA: What topics were you most excited to discuss?

Hamilton: We spoke on the industry from our various perspectives, and I talked about documentaries as a creative art form. There was so much to cover, and not enough time to cover it all, but the most important discussion for me was centered around recognizing that documentaries have become a major source of valuable information. In the last few years, the increasing popularity of documentaries has made them a welcome alternative to news outlets for information that’s trusted.  

NYFA: What was your goal for the evening?

Hamilton: My goal was to show that creating documentaries can be just as interesting as narrative filmmaking, and can lead to job opportunities in entertainment beyond documentary production.  I also mentioned that the international student population at NYFA provides a great forum to network and develop lasting relationships that are helpful in the professional world upon graduation.  The time flew by, and there was plenty of insight provided by the panel.   I certainly enjoyed the evening, and hopefully, the audience took note of the great information that was shared.

The New York Film Academy would like to thank Denise Hamilton for taking the time to speak with us about her endeavors.

SERVICE INDUSTRY: How to Work with Cinematographers

“What can I do for you?”  

The above question is the first thing I ask my director.  You, the director, answering it ensures that you’ll get the most out of me – your cinematographer or DP (director of photography).  

Before you meet with your cinematographer, you should have a good grasp of what the film is about and the story you want to tell. What do you want your documentary to look like? Start with visual references (documentaries, narrative films, still photos, paintings, etc.) ready to show and discuss. After reading the script or treatment, it’s the first thing a cinematographer will want to talk about.

As a visual artist, my job is to translate words and concepts into images. Cinematographers bring loads of ideas to the table. Once I know what a film is about, I shift into visual hyper-drive.  

In the meetings — there will be more than one — you’ll want to discuss the tone of the movie:  Should it be pretty or gritty? Formally composed or “fly-on-the-wall?” Some handheld work perhaps? Why? Will the subject matter benefit from cool, somber tones, or warm, inviting colors?  

Once you’ve discussed tone, your documentary film is well on its way to visual coherence. Some directors just like to chat and pull up images to discuss. Others spend a considerable amount of time preparing a lookbook. Either is okay. It’s whatever works for you.

The style of your film is comprised of more technical questions – the different modes of documentary (See Bill Nichols “6 Modes of Documentary”) beg for different approaches.

Some questions to answer for yourself and communicate to the DP:

  • What lenses will best depict the characters?
  • Is the style up close and personal or are we taking a long view?
  • Will the interviews take place in a home, a workplace, or some neutral ground?  
  • Are you thinking formal compositions, or something more edgy?  
  • If there are re-creations, will they be stylized or realistic?
  • Finally, and not least important, you’ll want to discuss visual metaphors and transitions that serve to link the sequences.  

But what about “shooting from the hip,” some will ask? Let me share an experience I had in the field.

A while back, I was starting a documentary television series that, in addition to archival footage, involved interviews, re-creations, and establishing shots. In pre-production, we spent some time discussing the re-creations, but the director and producer weren’t ready to discuss overall tone. I knew it would come back to haunt us.

On day one, our first interviewee waited patiently while we went back and forth about the location, then the background, then the lighting. It was decided the lighting should be soft with strong contrast. It became the interview tone for the show. We met later to clarify things going forward and avoid further embarrassment of the interviewees watching a confused approach.  There were new challenges for sure, but the solutions were more intuitive for me because the tone and style were set.

The DP is the director’s confidante, the “ace-in-the-hole,” the side-kick to the superhero. But most importantly, he/she is the director’s collaborator, who wants to help make the best documentary film possible. To do that, communication is key.

Ready to learn more about documentary filmmaking? Check out the New York Film Academy’s Documentary School.

Written by Carl Bartels. Bartels is a director and cinematographer whose credits include “Taken,” “The Fantastic Four,” and “Greedy Lying Bastards.”

10 Documentary Essentials


Today’s 21st century documentary filmmaker has more tools than ever available to them. The cameras are smaller and offer higher resolution. The audio equipment is smaller and hears better than ever. Editing software is intuitive and easy to learn and use. Those are the sort of broad stroke items which are essential to successful documentary film shooting.

Documentary film crews are significantly smaller than a narrative feature crew. This means everybody on a doc crew should know how to operate all the gear, and be able to take on any job in a pinch.

This article is not about any of that stuff. Instead, it’s about the smaller things you will need along your journey to becoming a documentary filmmaker.

Here are 10 absolute must-haves on any shoot, the base minimum for professional-level work.

  1. Flashlight – You never know when you will be in low light conditions or the dark, wrapping after a shoot, prepping before a shoot, lost a nut, somebody else lost their phone … you get the idea. The point is that a flashlight is an essential tool for every filmmaker.
  2. Hat – When you are outside shooting in the sun a hat is another piece of essential equipment, and it can help in a light rain too. It keeps you cooler and keeps the sun out of your eyes. I recommend a full brimmed hat, rather than a baseball cap, to protect the back of your neck. Keep $20 hidden in the crown for emergencies.
  3. Belt – I like to wear a belt so that my tool pouch is always where I expect it to be. I can clip various items to my belt (see glove clip) including my flashlight. It provides easy access to immediate use items, and allows hands free carrying, and frees up your pockets for items best kept secure. Holds up my pants too.
  4. Sturdy Shoes – these are one of the best investments you can make. On the set you will be on your feet for long periods. Having good shoes will save your feet, make you more comfortable, and protect you from injury. A foot injury can keep you off the set for weeks, if not months.
  5. Gloves – Good leather work gloves are an inexpensive insurance policy against hand injuries and burns.
  6. Glove Clip – this holds your gloves on your belt for immediate and easy access.
  7. Pouch – I would say that a First AC pouch is best. If you have so much stuff that a First AC pouch is too small you have too much stuff to carry.
  8. Pen – see below.
  9. Paper – A pocket-size notebook will allow you to take notes and record details. Yes, this is an old school, analog way of making notes, but phone batteries run out and writing things down imprints them into your memory. Think of it as a way to cross-check the work. Documentary filmmaking is, by its nature, an exploration — with plenty of room for extemporaneous events. Record new questions and ideas as they come up to help you make your documentary the best it can be.
  10. An iron-clad plan and the ability to adapt it to changing circumstances – One of the most important things you can bring to your documentary shoot is an open mind and insatiable curiosity about your subjects, and finding the truth of the story. You should have a plan (and a point-of-view, of course). You should know about how long you expect to spend interviewing that person, or shooting that activity. Your research will have given you a strong foundation of what to expect and where your documentary is going. But don’t be so rigid in your preconceived agenda that you aren’t open to unexpected new information, or serendipitous occurrence in the field. It is better to have the footage and not need it, than to turn away and wish you had it later in the editing room.

 

Want to know what else you’ll need to know on a professional set? Learn documentary filmmaking at New York Film Academy.

Written by James Coburn

6 American Documentary Film Funding Programs to Consider

Documentary films are generally far less expensive than fiction, but they do have a price tag.

Luckily, funding opportunities abound for the documentary filmmaker. Crowdfunding is especially successful for documentaries. And with a clear artistic vision, an articulate artist statement, and a team that you can call on when opportunity knocks, you may be in a good place to secure nonprofit or foundation funding. For some, you may need a fiscal sponsor, which is essentially any 501c3 organization that agrees to sponsor your project — there are also 501c3s with a specific mission to fiscally sponsor film funding. Often, it’s a great alternative to starting your own nonprofit, which allows you to seek grants and solicit tax-deductible donations under your sponsor’s exempt status.

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As a general piece of advice, be patient and get organized! These programs can be tedious to apply to, with a lot of competition. Funders don’t just hand over money to anyone with a good idea. We all have one! Each application takes time and precision, but the payoff can be significant.

Many countries have funding set aside for film. And some of the American funders are open to a production from any country!

So take out your calendar and start thinking about which materials you need to compile, in order to meet program requirements and deadlines.

Get your story told!

ITVS Open Call

Independent Television Station (ITVS) is one of the biggest players when it comes to funding documentaries, but applicants take note: this is not a grant. ITVS acts as a co-producer, investing in your film and providing creative development, feedback, and in some cases, the publicity and marketing needed to help get your film seen. They’ll also work on your behalf with public television programmers to get your film programmed on their networks.

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To date, ITVS has funded 533 films, with each one receiving an award of $150,000 to $350,000.  Many have aired on PBS series like Independent Lens, POV, American Masters and Frontline.

With the next deadline in February, this is one program that can certainly offer a great reward if you can take the time to complete the application, which generally, can take 1-2 weeks.

And if you don’t get accepted the first time, keep applying. Persistence rules the game!

(Check out the ITVS Diversity Development Fund and Digital Open Call while you’re there)

Jerome Foundation

Started in 1964 by artist and philanthropist Jerome Hill, The Jerome Foundation offers production grants, of up to $30,000 for emerging film, digital production and video directors who reside in NYC or Minnesota.

These grants support specific projects, and only production and post-production expenses (not pre-production, marketing or distribution costs) are supported. Deadline is August 24th.

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BONUS

The Jerome Foundation also has a Travel and Study Grant Program which, for the 2018 cycle, will support emerging artists who create new work in dance, film/video/digital production, and literature. This program is meant to provide support to periods of domestic and/or international travel for study, exploration and growth.

So if you are still in the development stage, for example, where you are deciding which questions to ask in your documentary, who is best to answer them, and perhaps, how to give your story a definitive arc, this program may be well suited to helping fund this critical period. Eligible activities include preliminary research, the development of collaborations (whether artistic or organizational), taking part in specific non-academic training programs, time for reflection and individualized study, and field investigation.

Deadline is Thursday, December 7, 2017 at 4:30 pm Central/5:30 pm Eastern.

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Catapult Film Fund

Catapult Film Fund offers grants for up to $20,000 each and requires both a written and online application. Meant to catapult filmmakers’ careers, funds are intended to help in the crucial next steps in the development of films, which include a first shoot and editing pieces for production fundraising. Once accepted, recipients also have access to an informal mentorship program with Catapult’s co-founders, particularly in areas that include story development, production process, fundraising and distribution strategy.

This is definitely one of those funding programs that will require you to have a fiscal sponsor, as Catapult will only make grants to 501(c)(3) organizations.

National Endowment for the Humanities

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National Endowment for the Humanities (or NEH) offers a media production grant with an application deadline coming up on August 9th. Meant to support projects that engage general audiences in the humanities such as history, art history, film studies, literature, drama, religious studies, philosophy, or anthropology, grants help filmmakers inspire their audiences to explore the broader significance of pertinent issues. Projects can be short form or broadcast-length video.

Filmmakers with programs intended to encourage cross-cultural and international collaboration with scholars based in the U.S or abroad, can also receive support by working with an international media team. While partnerships should address broad cross-cultural perspectives on proposed topics, they should be geared primarily to a U.S. audience.

BONUS (again!)

NEH also offers a development grant for film projects with the same August 9th deadline. And while these are just two grant programs, NEH has an online database which allows you to search for a plethora of grant opportunities that may better suit your subject and the current stage of your project.

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New York Foundation for the Arts

With a longstanding commitment to supporting artists from diverse cultural backgrounds at all stages of their professional careers, the New York Foundation for the Arts’ (also known as NYFA, just like us!) grant cycle is also one to look at. In 2017, NYFA awarded 92 grants to 95 awardees with 3 collaborations totaling an amount of $644,000.

NYFA Artist Fellowships, are awarded in fifteen different disciplines over a three-year period, with $7,000 cash awards made to NYS or NYC based artists for unrestricted use. While these fellowships are not project grants, they are meant to fund an artist’s vision or voice, regardless of the artist’s development level.

Notable alumni of the NYFA fellowship include Junot Diaz, Tony Kushner, Suzan Lori-Parks, and Spike Lee. Application period opens in fall 2017.

New York Foundation for the Arts also will act as a fiscal sponsor for selected projects.

Fledgling Fund

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With an open rolling application process, Fledgling Fund offers grants to support outreach and engagement for documentary films that have the potential to inspire positive social change on some of the most critical social issues.

The filmmaker must complete an online application with a project description and its goals for social change. Generally, films must at least have a rough cut.

While grants typically range from $10K – $25K, Fledgling supports strategy building for outreach and engagement and can also be used for a project that is already complete and is ready for launch. Grants are NOT available to support production or post-production.

And they make it very clear: the film must in some way inspire, educate, and mobilize audiences to create positive social change. To apply, filmmakers must have a fiscal sponsor.

Are there any other documentary film funding opportunities we neglected to include on this list? Let us know in the comments!

 

4 Groundbreaking Documentary Films to Note

Most of us consume quite a lot of TV and Netflix, and we tend to think of cinema as a means of entertainment. But the visual storytelling medium of film is capable of so much more, and there’s a dearth of real life stories and authentic and diversified representations of people on screen. This is where the documentary comes in. A documentary film is more than just educational non-fiction film: a well-made documentary can move the viewer as much as an Oscar-winning narrative film. Whether you’re a cinephile or a budding film maker, watching documentaries is an integral aspect of understanding how the cinematic medium works as well as for exploring its full potential.

Here are some groundbreaking documentaries that you just can’t miss.

1. “Super Size Me” (2004)

Directed by Morgan Spurlock, this film is built on a very interesting premise: Morgan decides to eat only McDonald’s food for 30 days straight! From Feb. 1 to March 2, 2003, he ate at a McDonald’s outlet three times a day, consuming around 5000 calories per day.

Given the rising obesity rates, the movie is an eye-opening look at how dangerous junk food is for one’s physical and mental health. It took Morgan over a year to lose all the weight he gained from the experiment. The movie was so successful it was nominated for an Oscar, and a comic book based on it has been released.

2. “Fahrenheit 9/11” (2004)

The highest-grossing documentary film of all time, “Fahrenheit 9/11 ,” directed by Michael Moore, takes a cold hard look at the presidency of George W. Bush — especially the invasion of Iraq and the worldwide damage and chaos it caused. Coupled with intelligent humor and investigative journalism, the film displays a nuanced critical analysis of the situation.

Fahrenheit 9/11 made over $150 million. Among its many accomplishments, the film prompted several controversies, won the Palm D’Or, received a 20-minute standing ovation at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, and also featuired a cameo by Britney Spears. The movie’s title is of course a reference to Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451,” thereby ironically putting everything into perspective.

3. “Waltz With Bashir” (2008)

This autobiographical war film by Ari Folman is important for its innovative and heart-wrenching way of tackling its subject: the 1982 Lebanon War. Given that the documentary medium is primarily associated with realism, the film eschews the use of real people to talk about their experiences. Instead, most of the film is narrated via animation which has a gritty, graphic novel feel. When real footage is inserted in the narrative, suddenly, it hits you like a ton of bricks.

The style of the film not only challenges the traditional expectations of a documentary film, it also artistically conveys that some things are so violent and so depraved that it’s impossible to show them as they are.

4. “The Square” (2013)

A three-time Emmy Award-winner, this film depicts the ongoing crisis in Egypt. Marked by gritty cinematography, it begins with the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 at Tahrir Square and showcases the daily reality that most of us tend to turn a blind eye to. Over 500 hours of footage was edited to make this film.

And we have another reason for you to watch it: this groundbreaking political documentary was shot and co-produced by New York Film Academy graduate Muhammad Hamdy! For his remarkable work, Hamdy won an Emmy for Best Cinematography.

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Now that’s inspirational!

This list is just scratching the surface, but it should give you an idea of how diverse, original and experimental the documentary genre is, using a myriad of styles and techniques to critically and innovatively show audiences dynamic, true stories that may otherwise go unnoticed.

So if you’re looking to take a filmmaking class at NYFA, why not give documentary filmmaking a shot?

 

How Netflix Documentaries Are Changing the Industry

It’s hard to imagine that almost 20 years ago, you could find a red envelope nestled in the depths of your mailbox. There’s a chance you’d rip open the small package to see which DVD was hiding in its Netflix sleeve.

In 1997, Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings founded Netflix in Scotts Valley, California. Netflix — now with more than 80 million DVD and online streaming subscribers — is continuing to change today’s market.  

The New York Film Academy’s filmmaking school has ranked as the top filmmaking school for the last eight years. It has also been listed in the Top 10 Academic Programs for Documentary Filmmakers in “Independent Magazine.”

Well-rounded industry experts teach students in the filmmaking school artistic and professional skills. Our students will face practical challenges, opportunities, and realities when they are creating films in the documentary filmmaking program.

Where is Netflix in today’s market?

As of March 2017, Netflix has created original films and television series in genres including drama; comedy; animation; animated and live action movies for children and families; foreign language; in partnership; continuations; docu-series and documentaries; reality; talk shows; specials and stand-up comedies. The company even has acquisitions in exclusive international television distribution.

Michael Lev-Ram of “Fortune” wrote in June 2016 that Netflix ranked No. 379 on the Fortune 500 list. The company, which has focused on streaming media the last few years, isn’t required to disclose viewership numbers and the Netflix originals don’t show up in Nielsen ratings. The Fortune 500 ranking and the audience’s reaction to a show doesn’t really concern Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of Netflix.

“Great storytelling is what makes something really global,” Sarandos said during the interview with “Fortune.” At the end of the day, it’s about how many subscribers sign up for streaming services, not rankings or ratings.

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In April 2016, Netflix announced that the company had seen an increase of 35 percent in subscribers after it had passed its 81-million-subscriber mark. Forty-two percent of Netflix’s current customers are outside of the U.S. but Sarandos still considers Netflix a small company.

Netflix Documentaries

The selection of Netflix documentaries and docu-series has increased rapidly over the last few years. As of April, there are more than 50 documentaries available on Netflix—ranging from true crimes stories like H.H. Holmes to crises in the healthcare system. Netflix documentaries and docu-series are redefining the definition—they are not boring and they boast some pretty big names.

One new documentary, “Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On,” is available for streaming on April 21. The documentary series follows people and their lives, which are affected, by social media, pornography and virtual relationships. Sex and technology in today’s age highlight the fact that both are equally important in how most live and interact.  

“Five Came Back,” based on Mark Harris’ book, is Netflix’s newest documentary, which focuses on five men who put aside their careers, families, and their safety to join the fight against Imperial Japan. Meryl Streep narrates the documentary and Steven Spielberg is the executive producer.

Documentary Filmmaking at NYFA

Our documentary filmmaking program at NYFA focuses on subjects such as sound; cinematography and lightning; producing and directing the documentary; editing; new media/self-distribution; writing/non-fiction storytelling; producing; documentary craft; documentary traditions and aesthetics; production; post-production; and graphics, special effects, and color correction.   

Netflix has demonstrated that it aims to have great storytelling. The company is focusing on documentaries that will be more interesting for the audience. In order to do that though, Netflix has had to bring in larger names to help hold interest. One thing is for sure, Netflix will continue to dominate the media streaming industry, but its list of documentaries will surpass its other content without a doubt.

What is your favorite Netflix documentary? Let us know below! If you’re ready to learn more about documentary filmmaking, check out NYFA’s documentary filmmaking program offerings.

How to Reconcile Personal Bias in Your Documentary Film

Is your bias getting in the way of your documentary? In documentary filmmaking, your opinion can enrich your creation with information and insight, but it can also hinder it if not at least considered. When filming a documentary, it’s important to reconcile your personal bias with the topic at hand. Reconciling your bias may not only expand your viewpoint, but may help to enrich the perspective you’re trying to convey to your audience. Learn how to balance your viewpoint with other perspectives and information out there. Your documentary will thank you for it!

What is a bias?

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According to Google, a bias is a “prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.” For instance, you may have a bias towards a certain political party due to your pre-existent beliefs and opinions surrounding subjects like gay marriage or gun rights. Consider details of your background and experiences as predisposition towards certain points of view. Depending on your documentary’s topic, it may or may not reflect your personal bias.

What are your biases and how did they form?

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It’s important to be aware of where your biases come into play and how they can help or hinder your film. First, you must have a clear understanding of your own viewpoint. You may come from a demographic that is involved in and impacted by a topic covered in your documentary. For instance, it wouldn’t be surprising for a medicaid recipient doing a documentary on health care to be in favor of public health care versus privatized health care. Details like these factor into biases.

Here’s how you can get around your bias.

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There may be nothing wrong with your opinion, but you cannot let it minimize your documentary’s focus in any way. Naturally, the audience is going to wonder about the other side of the topic at hand. Give your audience information that allows them to think critically and draw their own conclusions. For instance, if you’re doing a documentary on the health care crisis, you could try to include information about privatized healthcare. Interviewing a representative from a private healthcare company would accomplish this while not straying from the focus of your documentary. You want to balance your perspective with footage and facts that broaden your viewers’ perspective.

Your documentary is presenting a perspective to your audience. It’s up to you what that perspective is.

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When you reconcile your biases, you can refine your opinion in a way that strengthens and expands it. Researching arguments that differ from your own can help you a lot. Let the audience think for themselves and make sure your documentary gives them the information they need to be able to do that. Give them facts to consider that ultimately amount to your documentary’s purpose. After all, your audience has their own biases they will have to reconcile upon watching your documentary.

Interested in learning more about making documentary films? Check out NYFA’s documentary filmmaking programs!

HBO Documentaries: Which Ones Make the Cut?

HBO is known for their premium television shows like “Game of Thrones,” “Boardwalk Empire,” and “True Blood.” But the network has also produced some riveting and chilling documentaries. HBO produces a handful of documentaries per year, but only a few still stick around in recent memory as truly captivating. While there are many more documentaries worth viewing, these are four of the many worthy documentaries shown on HBO within the past few years:

Spoiler Alert: May Contain Spoilers.

“The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst”

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The six-part 2015 documentary series was already popular before the filmmakers unintentionally caught Robert Durst — a real-estate heir — making a startling admission. But even without the shocking discovery, the series captured the attention of many interested in a high-profile murder case. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a whopping 94 percent and a. 8.8 out of 10 rating on IMDb. The film combines both past and contemporary interviews, news footage, reenactments, and more exciting visuals to make it a worthy documentary.

“Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief”

Based on the 2015 book  of the same name by Lawrence Wright, the documentary premiered in 2016 and received heavy criticism from the Scientology community. Regardless, the film won three Primetime Emmys. The New York Times wrote, “[Director Alex] Gibney, who enters swinging and keeps on swinging, comes across as less interested in understanding Scientology than in exposing its secrets, which makes for a lively and watchable documentary if not an especially enlightening one.”

“Beware the Slenderman”

The film initially appeared in 2016 at South by Southwest, but was released on HBO January 23, 2017. The documentary analyzes the case of two preteens who stabbed their friend repeatedly to avoid being murdered by an internet folklore legend called Slenderman. The film lifts stills and footage from the indie game inspired by Slenderman called “Slender: The Eight Pages,” fan sites, and from the homemade “mockumentary” by Marble Hornets. IMDb rates the film at 6.3 stars out of 10 and Rotten Tomatoes gave it an 83 percent rating.

“What really compelled us about that case was how the girls blurred fantasy with reality,” producer Sarah Bernstein told Rolling Stone. Bernstein added, “[That] notion of, as a parent, can you really police what your children are watching online?”

The film itself would more than likely be nothing new to those familiar with the Slenderman myth, but for those who are just getting acquainted with the faceless forest-stalker, it’s nightmarish.

“The Loving Story”

Centered on the historic Supreme Court case on interracial marriage, “The Loving Story” follows the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who married and started a family regardless of discriminatory laws in Virginia. The film received a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and fittingly premiered on Valentine’s Day in 2012, just in time for Black History Month. The film combines new interviews as well as home video footage from the Loving family with previously unseen photographs of the Lovings and their lawyers from LIFE magazine.

Interested in learning more about documentary film? Check out NYFA’s documentary programs!

5 Social Justice Documentaries to Watch on Netflix

Whether you call it the Civil Rights Movement of the millennial generation or however you prefer to phrase it, there’s no denying that the world is politically tumultuous at present, and folks are speaking out loud and proud about those social justice issues that matter to them most. And while we’re all busy learning, protesting, challenging the status quo, or creating meaningful art, there’s nothing like a good documentary to keep us inspired, informed, and engaged, while on the path to making radical changes to improving our world as we know it.

Whether you are advocating for racial justice and reconciliation, gender equality, animal rights, or equal rights for those of the LGBTQ and transgender community, here are five social justice documentaries available to stream online right now, courtesy of Netflix.

1. “13th” Ava DuVernay, Dir.

An in-depth examination of the judicial system in the U.S. and how it reveals our nation’s racial bias at the intersection of justice and mass incarceration, Ava DuVernay’s Academy Award-winning documentary posits that slavery in the U.S was never fully abolished. Her thesis is that slavery only evolved into our nation’s current prison industrial complex that criminalizes certain behaviors, unfairly targeting African-Americans. Named after the 13th Amendment, which freed slaves and prohibited slavery, “13th” demands that viewers recognize the existence of modern-day American slavery by another name.

2. “Miss Representation” Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Dir.

Premiering at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, Jennifer Siebel Newsom draws on the experiences of everyday women and celebrities like Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Sarah Palin, and Ellen DeGeneres, who concede that women cannot aspire to become what they know nothing of. In short, the film questions why there aren’t enough strong women role models in mainstream media, and implores those who view it to take a pledge against gender misrepresentation: #DisruptTheNarrative!

3. “Prescription Thugs” Chris Bell, Dir.

In this sobering look at America’s legal drug abuse problem, director Chris Bell turns his camera to the abuse of prescription drugs and big pharma, and eventually to his own harrowing addiction. This film explores the goals of pharmaceutical companies, the doctors involved in this epidemic, and the nature of addiction. This thought-provoking expose is one to watch to better understand how ordinary people deal with pain, and their response to addiction in an economy that profits off of them.

4. “Second Chance Dogs” Kenn Bell, Dir.

*Trigger warning for animal lovers.

In this emotionally charged documentary, we follow several dogs who’ve experienced various situations of abuse through puppy mills and hoarding, and despite it all, have been rescued and rehabilitated. Originally aired on Animal Planet, the film follows a facility dedicated to their recovery through patience and innovative techniques at the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center.

5. “A Sinner in Mecca” Parvez Sharma, Dir.

On his own pilgrimage to Mecca, openly gay Muslim director Sharma documents his own personal journey, fulfilling a lifelong dream. In the film, he strives to make a place for himself in the Wahabi Islam he’s always known, and the extremism Islam he’s come to know but that has no resemblance to his religious and spiritual beliefs.

What are your favorite social justice documentaries to stream right now? Let us know in the comments below, and check out NYFA’s documentary programs.