The Jacob Burns Film Center followed its inaugural year of Creative Culture with a group of talented filmmakers poised for success. Their short films—both animated and live action—and heartfelt documentaries rival anything you’re going to see this year, anywhere.

The fact that they are presented in an art house theater nestled in bucolic upper Westchester county, far from the red carpet premieres of Cannes or Tribeca does not diminish the compelling narratives and authentic voices presented at this year’s screening. All of Creative Culture’s eight enormously talented film fellows are under 30-years-old while some are still in their early twenties. Many of the young filmmakers had their proud parents in attendance. Just imagine if the Academy Awards had a family night, far from the flashy Hollywood glitz and glamour and just showed powerful films from the best crop of young filmmakers across the country. Sounds like a great platform, right? Well, thanks to Sean Weiner, the director of Creative Culture, the program is now in its second year and is already gaining momentum.

“The difference between now and last year is we’ve come into this group at a higher level,” said Weiner. “Since last year’s launch of Creative Culture’s Fellowship Program our shorts have been programmed at over 37 film festivals including Sundance, SXSW and Hot Docs. Our reputation has begun to precede us, leading to an increasingly talented pool of local and national applicants. We are seeing filmmakers from around the country trying to be part of the Creative Culture Program.”

CC’s 2018 class (absent Vittoria) L-R: Tyler Rabinowitz, Ariel Noltimier Strauss, Crystal Kayiza, Kerry LeVielle, Emily Ann Hoffman, Leah Galant, Reginald Altidor, and director Sean Weiner.

Creative Culture’s mission statement is to provide a ten-month long fellowship experience for emerging filmmakers looking to produce two short film projects in a collaborative community. Fellows receive access to production equipment and space, mentorship and the JBFC’s industry network. Fellowships currently offered include: The Sally Burns Shenkman Woman Filmmaker Fellowship, The Silver Sun Diverse Voices Fellowship for filmmakers from underrepresented communities, and The Valentine and Clark Emerging Artist Fellowship for emerging filmmakers in the Hudson Valley.

Kerry LeVielle (director, “Niskyland”) said, “I was the Valentine and Clark Emerging Artist Fellow. Jacob Burns provided me with a stipend, editing suites, equipment, workshops for acting and writing. They were there the whole entire time. They were so involved. I am so thankful to Jacob Burns and Creative Culture.” “Niskyland” “tells the story of Althea, a young woman of color experiencing two levels of exclusion: emotional exclusion within a failing friendship and environmental exclusion as a person of color living in a predominantly white town.”

Still from Kerry LeVielle’s “Niskyland.”

Reginald Altidor, who made “Do Not Disturb” echoed LeVielle’s sentiments. “Jacob Burns has been a great help pushing me. Last semester, I didn’t think I had it in me. The program supported me so much by making me believe in myself.” Altidor’s film is a coming-of-age tale revolving around a young, Hatian-American teenager’s relationship with his dad after a messy divorce. The film is both poignant and humorous, angling away from sentimentality and delving into a nuanced and complex narrative of one young man navigating his way from adolescence into adulthood.

“My inspiration for this film was childhood memories,” Altidor said. “I always make films away from my personal stories. I make action films or psychotic thrillers. I wanted to bring it down to earth a bit and make something with a little more realism.”

Still from Reginald Altidor’s “Do Not Disturb.”

Emily Ann Hoffman (writer/director, “Bug Bite”) said, “A year and half ago I had a lot of ideas but I didn’t have the experience, confidence, community or resources necessary to bring those ideas to life. Thanks to Jacob Burns Film and Creative Culture and a lot of talented, generous, kind and patient people, I’m able to present my film tonight.”

Hoffman has had quite a year since being part of the inaugural class of Creative Culture. Her animated film “Nevada” screened at Sundance 2018, she was a Sundance Ignite Fellow and a Valentine and Clark Emerging Artist Fellow at JBFC 2017. She is currently a screenwriting mentee with the Sundance Feature Film Program. Her film “Bug Bite’, she said, “Is inspired by experiences with bedbug infestations, the struggle to feel independent as a young adult woman in a patriarchal world and a constant analysis of the ways the body informs identity and experience. This film explores the importance of self-reflection and self-care in order to fortify for whatever fight lies ahead.”

Ruby McCollister as the titular victim of Emily Ann Hoffman’s “Bug Bite.”

While Hoffman is looking for the fight that lies ahead, Leah Galant (writer/director “Death Metal Grandma”) is focusing on the past. “I am a descendant of Holocaust survivors,” Galant said, “and I feel it’s imperative for me to preserve these stories, especially now during a time of political unrest–in order to bridge the generation gap. We need to hear from folks who survived genocide. For me, it’s a call to action, to tell these kinds of stories.”

Galant’s first film created as a Sally Burns Shenkman Woman’s Filmmaker Fellow at Jacob Burns was a story about the friendship of two Holocaust survivors, (“Kitty and Ellen”) which screened at DOC NYC. Her most recent film “Death Metal Grandma” made with Creative Culture premiered at SXSW Film Festival 2018. It tells the story of Inge Ginsberg, a 97-year-old Holocaust survivor singing death metal. If the Goth title doesn’t entice you, Inge will. She is as quirky and eccentric as Little Edie in “Grey Gardens” without the pathos. Her story brims with optimism and insight.

Of Creative Culture, Galant said,” It’s an essential program. I don’t know where I’d be without it. I can’t believe it really worked out this way. This is exactly what I was looking for, even though at the time, I didn’t know it was what I was looking for.”

Crystal Kayiza’s narrative voice is also tied to her community. Kayiza is a Brooklyn based documentarian whose film Edgecombe “captures the stories of three North Carolina residents from different generations.” Kayiza said, “This film is only a glimpse into their individual experiences, but I hope it can also serve as an example of the powerful stories of Black folks in the historic South.” The voices and cinematography in “Edgecombe” are compelling and visually stunning. It speaks to Kayiza’s special gifts as a filmmaker and activist who has spent two years at the ACLU working on racial and criminal justice issues.

The Jane Peck Gallery exhibiting stills and information from this year’s Creative Culture films. Photo by James McSherry.

Rahessa Vittoria, a filmmaker from Sao Paulo, Brazil also focuses on issues of race and gender. Her poetic film “I Am The Wind” “tells the story of Nina, a young Brazilian immigrant in search of a better life in New York, who finds herself feeling lost and disconnected from her identity.” Vittorio said the following, “I like to explore the labyrinth of a woman’s mind, women of different races, nationalities, professions, and other backgrounds. Through poetry I can tell the stories of the myriad of challenges women face daily inside the patriarchy.”

Ariel Noltimier Strauss uses the poetry of ballet juxtaposed against animated, “lumpy tactile bodies” in her experimental film, “Circadian Rhythm.” It captures three art forms simultaneously: dance, film and animation to tell a story in a unique and inventive way.

Strauss’ ingenuity and craft are evident in the piece. She explains her process: “I reimagine the ballet—a space historically home to thin, delicate figures representing “perfection”—by asking it to share space with lumpy tactile bodies presented in an artistic style with inherently jittery movements. My work is interested in re-contextualizing the mundane, as it is so much of what constitutes daily life.”

Finally, the last film of the eventful evening also told the story of how a “diagnosis” can disrupt the “daily life” of two middle-aged gay lovers, one of whom denies his romantic relationship to the doctor caring for his partner who was recently diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Tyler Rabinowitz, (“How I Got To The Moon By Subway”) said the following: “The film is my small contribution to a conversation I have a deep, personal connection to based on my experience watching a loved one navigate a diagnosis that forced them to reckon with a part of their identity they were taught to fear. This not a story about coming out, but about trying to stay in.”

Opening ceremony reception packed the house. Photo by James McSherry.

“How I Got To The Moon By Subway” is as profound as it is sincere. The closing shot will take your breath away. Rabinowitz is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts where he was named one of Variety Magazine’s “110 Students to Watch in Film and Media.” Also a Sundance Ignite Fellow, U.S Presidential Scholar in the Arts, and TED speaker, Rabinowitz readily admits that life after film school before launching a career in the profession was daunting, despite all of the accolades.
“There is a missing link after graduation for most aspiring filmmakers,” Rabinowitz stated.

He agreed with the other fellows about Jacob Burns and Creative Culture helping bridge that divide and like the others, bring him one step closer to making his dream a reality.

Sean Weiner stood at the podium at the onset of climactic evening and said it best: “Your films are important. Your films tell stories that we haven’t seen. You’re the next generation of filmmakers. You’re going to challenge this industry to be something different, something more collaborative, more inclusive. That’s happening right now as we all know: Remember these names: Reggie Altidor, Leah Galant, Emily Ann Hoffman, Crystal Kayiza, Kerry LeVielle, Ariel Noltimier Strauss, Rahessa Vitorio and Tyler Rabinowitz because those are filmmakers that you need to keep your eye on.”

I know I will and you should, too.

These are the moviemakers of the future. MM

For more information, visit the Jacob Burns Film Center. Featured image still from Rahessa Vittoria’s “I Am The Wind,” and all other stills courtesy of Creative Culture.