The Jacob Burns Film Center, nestled in the Hudson Valley, is a nonprofit cultural arts center that occupies the old Rome Theater, a Spanish mission style theater built in 1925.
With all of the history of the region and the movie house, Jacob Burns and its committed community of dedicated staff and donors has its eyes firmly set on the future of film. It has just launched a new program called Creative Culture: “a unique initiative designed to champion diverse voices and foster a thriving artistic community in the region.”
Ron Howard, director, supporter and one of the highest-profile board members of JBFC, hasn’t taken off his Jacob Burns hat in public for the last 10 years. Of Creative Culture, he writes: “Storytelling is central to human existence. What excites me most about Creative Culture is how the JBFC is cultivating the storytellers of tomorrow—filmmakers, animators and virtual reality artists—through collaborative and innovative professional learning experiences.”
Sean Weiner, director of Creative Culture, said, “It’s about being able to play a role in cultivating young new artists, by giving them an opportunity to build their skills and to show their work.”
If the pilot program that screened on March 9 is any indication of the scope and talent of the young filmmakers assembled there, then movie lovers everywhere are in for a treat. The diverse group of filmmakers tackled subjects poignant and profound, from the friendship of two Holocaust survivors, (now in their nineties) who have been friends since childhood, (“Kitty and Ellen,” directed by Leah Galant), to the animated film “Nevada” (directed by Emily Ann Hoffman) which explores “the physical burdens sex bears on women’s bodies through the ever-present risk of pregnancy and consequentially invasive birth control methods.” It is no wonder that both young filmmakers were awarded the 2017 Sundance Ignite Fellowship. In addition, Galant is the inaugural Sally Burns Shenkman Woman Filmmaker Fellow at Jacob Burns Film Center and was named one of Variety’s “110 Students to Watch.”
Galant spoke of her experience with Creative Culture: “I came about this experience in a really amazing, magical way. I came home after living in Ithaca, New York and I was feeling creatively stuck and bummed out. I saw an opportunity online for a Fellowship Program and I got involved with the Sally Burns Shenkman Woman’s Fellowship. I proposed my project at the same time that Creative Culture was being formed, and it has been one of the best experiences of my life. I’m completely honored to be here and part of this pilot program.
“This experience is so valuable, especially for young people who don’t attend film school or aren’t part of a film club. You can feel a little bit isolated. So to have this space where there is an opportunity to collaborate and share and express yourself with other young filmmakers—that creates a rich community anywhere you go. Especially here in Westchester, where there are a lot of young people who move back home after college.”
Galant offered this advice to aspiring, young filmmakers: “You know what you should be making, so make as many films as possible, and it will work out.”
Hoffman echoed her sentiments: “If an idea keeps coming back to you, it’s for a reason, and you should keep going back to it. Develop it over time.” She added, “The best part of Creative Culture was having people to collaborate with and help you realize your vision.” Hoffman is currently the Valentine & Clark Emerging Artist Fellow at the JBFC and is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design.
Other highlights of the program were “Beyond the Mountain,” a Virtual Reality short directed by Alex Gonzalez. Gonzalez’s journey to Creative Culture echoed Galant’s: “After college, I lost that sense of community with filmmakers and all of that great energy. Jacob Burns saw some of the work I was doing with Virtual Reality, and they invited me on board.”
Gonzalez stressed the importance of community and collaboration in film. He teaches young people how to program their own video games and animated projects, and says he tells them all the time, “There is absolutely no difference between you and some of these guys in the big studios, except knowledge and the passion to do it. I started in my mom’s basement and click by click, I learned. If you have a dream, go for it. It’s possible.”
Lucy Adams, last year’s Valentine & Clark Emerging Artist Fellow, tackled the subject of video game addiction in her short “Good Game.” Adams said, in her JBFC filmmaker profile, “I strive to use documentary film as a medium for connection and understanding.”
Other moviemakers in the program: Kervin Marseille, who has worked with directors Jonathan Demme, Guy Reid and Shaka King and presented the short “Au-bade: The Sunrise;” and Stefaniya Vey with her silent short “Paper Planes.” Vey is also a former Valentine & Clark Emerging Artist Fellow. So was Reweina Tessema, who wrote her short film “Third Period,” a narrative memoir, during her tenure as a fellow in 2015 “It’s been a really fun ride since September. We’ve learned a lot of things from each other. We’ve done some skill-shares and we benefit from each other’s knowledge and it’s been really fun. There’s a lot of advantages of it being loosely structured, and us being guinea pigs in a sense. Since we’re part of this pilot class of Creative Culture, we had the chance to define it ourselves and we got to ask for things and they were pretty receptive. It’s been really exciting.”
The credentials and accomplishments of all seven young filmmakers whose works were screened that evening are eclipsed only by their talent and passion for making art. Whether it was the painstaking humor of a teenage girl getting her period in class (as in Tessema’s film), or an experimental haunting film inspired by “personal experience as well as Haitian culture” (Marseille’s), the audience on March 9 was left with the resonating hope that film, in the hands of these young makers, is alive and kicking. MM
For more information on the Jacob Burns Film Center’s fellowships and programs, visit burnsfilmcenter.org.