A 97-year-old Holocaust survivor belts out death metal lyrics as the camera traces her every grimace and growl.
A young red-haired woman, arms riddled with bug bites, slyly challenges her tiny tormentor.
A Haitian-American teen finds nowhere to hide when he is forced to confront a parent about hugely uncomfortable truths.
These are among the moments captured on screen by eight emerging filmmakers, all participants in the Jacob Burns Film Center’s (JBFC) Creative Culture Fellowship program that premiered its 2018 roster of films on April 5. Launched in 2016 to, ostensibly, fill “a gap in support of filmmakers in the Hudson Valley,” it offers an abundance of support and resources to a new generation of Spielbergs, Spike Lees and Sofia Coppolas.
The Selection Process
Applicants to Creative Culture submit a reel with three work samples, an artists’ statement and a short film proposal. Once accepted, each fellow receives mentorship, studio space, production equipment and networking opportunities plus a stipend to fund, wholly or in part, a short film; the program helps each fellow secure independent funding for a second work.
This year, the genres range from magical realism to mixed media to poetic documentary to a claymation ballet. As Creative Culture Director Sean Weiner notes, the intent is to “select filmmakers making wildly different types” of films. He adds, “By selecting the strongest projects we end up with a diverse group.”
Sean Weiner: Creative Culture Director
Weiner is, in fact, the secret sauce behind the program’s success. Beyond his official designation as director and mentor, an unofficial dubbing could be, as fellow Emily Ann Hoffman says, “super-human.”
Weiner’s own journey began with a penchant for acting and visual arts that evolved into filmmaking, an art form that “scratched both itches.” A Cinema Studies graduate of SUNY Purchase with an MFA from Hunter College, he has taught documentary filmmaking to incarcerated persons through the Westchester Department of Corrections and helped that population discover that they are more than “what everybody says they are.”
At the Burns, Weiner formerly ran the high school program, Creators Co-op, and a one-on-one fellowship program.
Accolades All Around for Weiner and the Program
Leah Galant, a fellow, credits Weiner who “harnesses our vision and helps us execute it” and the artists who bring “talent, passion and drive.”
Reginald Altidor, a fellow, says, “Sean is the type of person every filmmaker needs by their side – to motivate them, to push them, to make them think from a different perspective to achieve different reactions from your audience which you wouldn’t have been able to attain on your own.”
What’s next for Creative Culture? Weiner hopes to have a database of talent in the film community including cinematographers, musicians, sound designers, and other film crew members become more interactive and connected.
The successes are mounting. Films produced through the program have gotten into 37 festivals including the prestigious Sundance and SXSW (South by Southwest). Several fellows are already working on feature-length films.
What does the future hold for the emerging filmmakers? Envelope please…
Portrait of the Artists
Emily Ann Hoffman, creator of “Bug Bites,” Bedford. Hoffman studied illustration at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) where she discovered animation which “sparked film for me.” It allowed her “to tell a story,” and add humor to the mix.
While at RISD, she created The Emily and Ariel Show with another Creative Culture fellow, Ariel Noltimier Strauss, which was accepted into several festivals including LA, New Orleans, and Tricky Women (in Austria). The experience “helped me understand the indie film world.”
Her first Creative Culture film, a claymation film, Nevada, got into the highly competitive Sundance 2018. Funding her second film, “Bug Bites,” helped her understand the process of securing money through crowdfunding and grants. A Sundance Ignite Fellow in 2017, she is currently a screenwriting mentee with Sundance’s Feature Film program.
Leah Galant, creator of “Death Metal Grandma,” Cortlandt Manor. Galant was named one of Variety’s “110 Students to Watch in Film and Media,” while majoring in documentary film production at Ithaca College.
She was looking for a job as an usher at the JBFC when she learned about Creative Culture. “This was a project I really wanted to do – it was a perfect time in my life for this to happen,” she says.
Galant was a Sundance Ignite Fellow in 2017 and another of her short films, “Kitty and Ellen,” also about Holocaust survivors, screened at DOC NYC 2017. “Death Metal Grandma” premiered at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival and will screen at Hot Docs Canadian Documentary Festival.
Reginald (“Reggie”) Altidor, “Do Not Disturb,” New Rochelle. Altidor started writing stories at eight and filmed comedy skits inspired by Dave Chappelle while in middle school. “It was the baby steps of filming,” he says.
A class in filmmaking at Westchester Community College matured his interest; he received a B.A. in film production from Brooklyn College.
Altidor praises Creative Culture for working with persons from “different backgrounds coming together for a common goal.” As each film was different it took away the competitiveness that sometimes occurs in film school. “We worked collectively, in a group,” he says.
Altidor’s first Creative Culture film was “The Jux.” He currently has three short films in post-production and is working on a feature film and freelances as a writer, director and actor.