Film School

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The South African short film “The Suit”, written and directed by AFDA Johannesburg alumni Jarryd Coetsee and boasting 32 AFDA alumni and students on the crew, will be shown to audiences in Paris, Brussels, Rome, Lisbon, Luxembourg, Athens, Madrid, Stockholm and Vienna.

It will also screen in 24 different cities and towns across France, as part of one of the most prestigious film festivals in Europe, La Collection du Panorama des Nuits en Or (The Collection of the Panorama of the Golden Nights) which runs from the 30th May 2017 – 15th June 2017. The film will also be screened at a gala evening attended by France’s leading film-makers and actors, hosted by UNESCO in Paris.

The César Award is widely considered to be the highest honour for film in France, the French equivalent of the Oscars in the United States and the BAFTAs in the United Kingdom. Every year, the Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma (Academy of Cinema Arts and Techniques), the organization that gives out the César Award, holds a film festival called Le Panorama des Nuits en Or (The Panorama of the Golden Nights) which comprises all the short films from around the world that received awards from their national cinema academies during the past year.

From the Panorama, the Comité Exploitants Court Métrage de l’Académie (the Academy’s Short Film Committee) selects a shortlist consisting of the winner of the César du Meilleur Film de Court Métrage (the César Award for Best Live Action Short Film), the winner of the César du Meilleur Film d’Animation – Court Métrage (the César Award for Best Animated Short Film) and a selection of short films from around the world. This latter shortlist is known as La Collection (The Collection). The Collection will be presented in 24 cinemas in different cities and towns across France from the 30th May 2017 – 3rd June 2017. “The Suit” has been selected for the Panorama and the Collection.

The Academy invites all the directors of the Panorama to attend a ten day trip (Le Tour – The Tour) to Europe in some of the capitals that project the Panorama. Each session will be followed by a Q&A with the film-makers. The Tour will end in Paris with the glitzy Nuits en Or Gala Dinner to be held at UNESCO on Monday, 12th June 2017, attended by France’s film stars and leading film-makers.

Director Jarryd Coetsee says: “On receiving the news, I spent several hours reeling from the pleasant surprise. I think it’s phenomenal and truly a great privilege that our film will be shown in the birthplace of cinema and across most of Europe. This is a considerable milestone for Mandala Films and a fantastic achievement for our cast and crew. I can’t wait to share Can Themba’s consequential story with audiences abroad.”

“The Suit” was produced by Luke Sharland of Mandala Films in association with the National Film and Video Foundation and a partnership with AFDA. The story is set in 1950s Sophiatown and focuses on the deteriorating marriage of a lawyer named Philemon (played by Atandwa Kani) who is cuckolded by his lonely wife Matilda (Phuthi Nakene). Philemon forces Matilda to treat her lover’s suit as if it were a person, with tragic consequences. John Kani delivers a masterful cameo performance as the township gossip, Mr. Maphikela, who reveals the affair to Philemon. The film was shot in historic locations in Sophiatown.

“The Suit” won the Golden Horn for Best Short Film at the South African Film and Television Awards (or SAFTAs) in March. “The Suit” also won the Best Short Film competition of the Scotland African Film Festival, held in Edinburgh and Glasgow, in November, the Audience Award of the Cape Town leg of the Swiss Shnit International Short Film Festival and it will compete for the Golden Young African Filmmaker’s Award after showing in nineteen different Belgian cities as part of the Leuven African Film Festival in April 2017.

“The Suit” was selected for two Oscar-qualifying film festivals: Urbanworld in New York City, and the Pan-African Film Festival in Los Angeles where it was given a Special Jury Mention. “The Suit” also received a Special Jury Mention at the Zanzibar International Film Festival and it opened the Mauritius International Short Film Festival. “The Suit” will show in New York City at the prestigious Schomburg Center’s Best of the Fests and the New Voices, Black Cinema Film Festival both in New York City also in April 2017. The film was well-received at the Toronto Black Film Festival and the Vancouver South African Film Festival in Canada, as well as the Red Bull Amaphiko Film Festival in Soweto earlier this year.

Congratulations to all AFDA alumni and students on The Suit Crew.
AFDA Johannesburg 2016 3rd year graduate film “Sicela Amanzi” has walked off with the Best Short Film award (Ministers Award, Ministry of Enviroment); in the Save the Earth! Competition category at the Short Shorts Film Festival in Tokyo, Japan.

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"Sicela Amanzi”

This Japan born, Academy Awards® accredited festival is one of the largest film festivals in Asia. The festival was started by actor Tetsuya Bessho, a native of Japan and SAG member, as he wanted to introduce Japanese audiences to short films, which were a format that many people in Japan were unfamiliar with. The first festival was held in the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo in 1999, and 6 short films made by George Lucas, known best for the “Star Wars” franchise, when he was a student were screened. Since then we have received an annual letter of support from the director.

In 2001 the festival became known officially as Short Shorts Film Festival (SSFF), and in 2004 was accredited as a qualifying festival for the Academy Awards ®. This means that the winner of the festival Grand Prix is eligible to be nominated in one of the short film categories of the Academy Awards ® the following year, offering a bridge between Japan and the Oscars so that young talents may realize their dreams.

Furthermore, Short Shorts Film Festival Asia (SSFF ASIA) was established with support from Tokyo Metropolitan Government in 2004, to introduce new Asian video culture and nurture young filmmaking talents from the region. To this day, the two festivals are held together as Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia. Aside from the 3 Official Competitions, there are categories and programs compiled around “music,” “environment” and “CG animation” related shorts.

The short film specialist theater Brillia Short Shorts Theater was established in the Minatomirai area of Yokohama in 2008. Also acting as one of the festival venues, the theater has welcomed over 300,000 audience members to date. Whilst the festival expands its activities in Japan in order to spread the word of short film, it will also continue to support young creators and provide a springboard into the world of film.

Congratulations to the cast & crew!!! - for more information on the Short Shorts Film Festival Asia. - See more details on our website.
It's nearly the end of March and for the second year in a row, I have not received any acceptances for the MFA screenwriting programs I applied to. Of the 4 programs, currently I have two denials, one interview, and one I have not heard anything from. So now what?

First, I admit to myself that I'm taking a second round of rejections a lot harder than the first. It hurts. I'd be a liar to say otherwise. It filled me with self doubt. Why not me? What am I missing? What did I mess up? Where did I go wrong?

And after a few days of tears and frustration, I snapped out of it. I've been working in film for 7 years and writing my entire life. Acceptance or denial to film school doesn't affect my ability to create. So I completely throw myself into prepping a short film I've been talking about shooting since the fall.

When I attended the University of Michigan for my undergrad in screen studies, I directed all my own projects. It was a requirement of the program and by my professors. But since my big senior project in the spring of 2011, I haven't directed anything. My entire academic and professional career I spurred any notion that I might want to direct. I focused on producing (even formulating my own independent study in producing) and screenwriting. I would say directing didn't appeal to me. I was lying to myself. Everyone in film has a fantasy of directing their own projects. I finally indulged mine and I loved it. I consider myself a first time director. It has changed everything.

It took roughly a month to prep the 2 day shoot for a 10 page script. I produced the entire project in prep by myself. I researched the camera I was loaned, how much data I would create, scouted locations, announced and held casting calls, arranged travel for actors, organized all my own paperwork, schedule, budgets... All while preparing my students at U of M for their 48 hour film projects. In fact, I was only able to shoot my own project because I had to re-work my schedule to be available for my students during their 48 hour weekend. My dates were chosen out of necessity and availability of crew - deadlines motivate me so I obsessively worked on producing my short right up to the last minute.

(If anyone is interested in a more detailed blog post about how I produced my own short, leave a comment and I'll follow-up with one!)

On Wednesday March 15th around 9pm, shooting wrapped on my project. I could not be happier. The challenges of producing my own project and pushing myself to direct the short reminded me why I applied for my MFA and why I don't need to get admitted for an MFA to achieve my goals. For me, an MFA in screenwriting is self-indulgent; I want to be able to dedicate 2 years of my life to focus on only on writing without the distractions of working as a PA or an AD. An MFA would also enable me to teach one day because education is my other passion. But my short reminded me that I do not have to get my MFA now. What I have to do, is write, create, repeat. That is what matters. And I can write and create without an MFA. It's harder to fit into my schedule, harder to afford, harder to focus, but if my years of balancing school and work has taught me anything it's that there if there is no other way, then I'll stick with my passion because eventually it pays off.

So what's next? I'll try to be patient while I wait to hear back from UCLA and Northwestern. Maybe it'll wind up being good news, maybe the cat won't be dead inside the box. I can't know until the box is opened and unfortunately the box is out of my hands. For now, I've got post-production and a crowd-funding campaign to start. I entered my pilot Somnia in more film festivals and competitions too. In between all of that I will starting to write a new pilot in April. If no acceptances come, I'll have some hard decisions to make. My job is fantastic and it would be hard to leave (especially the great insurance), but I'm far overdue to move to LA and if I do, I'll be attending the UCLA Professional Program for TV Writing.

The great thing about writing is I can always write and will always write. I can always shoot a short for a couple grand or less by putting it on my credit card. I can always create regardless of getting any recognition, funding, acceptances into grad school or film festivals. I don't write to win awards or impress anyone, I do it because it's part of who I am and how I express myself. I don't write to make money, although some money would be nice. As long as I get the chance for one singular person to feel a little less alone when they read or watch something I made, then I've done everything I've ever wanted to do. Basically you can consider the conclusion to this blog post the interview given by Jeff Bebe during Almost Famous. He's right. All the benefits of having a career in something you're passionate about are great. It makes life a lot easier, but at the end of the day, it's not why we do it... even when it is why we do it.
I'm going to take our humble leader Chris's lead and start with a run down of how I've worked in the industry so far and where I plan on going from here. I'll give you a hint, it's involved a lot of travel and quite a bit of luck.

To begin with, I'm a stereotype. I have been playing with cameras and writing for as long as I can remember. Perhaps less common though, I've never done anything else besides work in the film industry. A very long, personal story made short, I took 4 years off between high school and college due to health reasons. By the time I started undergrad at The University of Michigan - Dearborn, Michigan had a full fledged film tax incentive and a thriving industry. I spent a decent amount of time stalking a few sets of big movies around town. During Scream 4, I stood with a crowd for hours as they filmed a green screen fender bender. I walked my dog past the set of Trust countless times. Little did I know I was stalking many crew members whom would later become good friends and co-workers. I landed my first movie, a $100,000 horror flick, as an internship - the program head had befriended the director a few years earlier at Cannes. Don't ever let anyone tell you it isn't who you know, because in my experience, your network is the only thing that matters in this business.

That one small movie (I was credited as production coordinator, although I did many other things on that job and earned college credit for it) set everything else in motion. I had the confidence to create a resume, sent it around, and see what stuck. Within a year, I was working so much as a production assistant I was nearly failing my classes due to lack of attendance. I scaled back on my PA work to avoid any issues with school, and to maintain my health. Somehow I managed to graduate on time.

After graduation, I did what we all hope to - I headed to LA. I attended the UCLA Professional Producing Program, which I found through this very website back when I lurked in the shadows. My time in LA was unintentionally short-lived, I flew back to Detroit for my birthday and wound up landing my first 2nd Assistant Director gig on a kids movie. With the tax incentive still thriving, I quickly booked my second 2nd AD job within weeks of wrapping the first.

I've worked on over 20 films in Michigan, LA and NYC. I have no idea how many commercials because I don't keep track. And I've dabbled in the unscripted world. But in 2015, the new governor of Michigan canceled our tax incentives outright. I was losing my home-base. It was time to change my strategy. Moving to continue working as an AD didn't feel like the right choice. The long hours standing on set, not going to the bathroom for 8-12 hours at a time, and the stress of the AD department took a toll on my health that I wasn't thrilled to continue.

Last winter, I had an epiphany - writing was my passion. Writing was why I wanted to work in the film industry in the first place. I rushed to put together applications for my MFA in screenwriting despite having missed the deadlines for some of my top choice programs. It didn't matter, because the point was shifting my focus on a writing career and beginning to embrace calling myself a writer for the first time. Although I didn't get accepted to any programs, I was beginning to shift my focus in a meaningful way and attend a TV Writing Workshop at Columbia University in NYC. The pilot I wrote during the program was used as my sample for this years applications and is currently a film festival competition.

Right now I'm focused on continuing to write for competitions, myself, possible producers, and whoever will read my scripts. The upcoming weeks include a long over due trip to LA for an interview with UCLA, lots of fun projects with my students, and hopefully some good news from other grad schools.

If you have any questions or there's a topic you'd like me to discuss more, leave me a comment! I've never blogged before, so it's going to be a bit shaky at first. Hopefully I get the hang of it and someone out there finds it helpful or entertaining.