NewFilmmakers Los Angeles (NFMLA) celebrated emerging filmmakers and Indigenous Peoples with stories spanning a diverse array of genres that spotlighted Indigenous traditions and lives in front of and behind the camera.
The November day began with InFocus: Indigenous Cinema, a selection of outstanding short films by talented indigenous filmmakers from around the world that explored family relationships, connection to land, coming of age, grief, gender identity, and integrity through a range of genres and forms. The afternoon continued with “Balloon Animal,” Student Academy Award-nominated writer-director Em Johnson’s visually rich second feature, which explores the life of a performer in her mid-20s searching for her own identity after having been part of her family’s traveling circus since childhood.
The evening concluded with the shorts program “Fall Shorts,” an eclectic mix of short narratives highlighted this season that offer everything from advertisement satire to a kid who decides to put himself up for adoption to a relationship timelapse.
NFMLA showcases films by filmmakers of all backgrounds throughout the year in addition to its special InFocus programming, which celebrates diversity, inclusion, and region. All filmmakers are welcome and encouraged to submit their projects which will be considered for all upcoming NFMLA Festivals, regardless of the InFocus programming.
Here is some information on the filmmakers and their films, as well as their video interviews with NFMLA Board Chair Danny De Lillo (Twitter/Instagram: @dannydelillo).
“The Pitch,” directed by Eno Freedman Brodmann
About Eno: Eno is a commercial and music video director, designer, and classically trained musician. His voice gravitates towards mindful comedy and tasteful satire. Usually painted in rich colors, his filmic worlds try to make the audience laugh and then also feel heart-warmed. His muses are Pedro Almodovar, Charlie Kaufman, George Carlin and Matthew Frost. He began as the in-house Creative Associate at award-winning commercial production company PRETTYBIRD. Prior to PRETTYBIRD, Eno worked with A-list directors and development teams at Wanda, Anorak, Somesuch, and Iconoclast studying the intensity and comedy of the pitch process.
About “The Pitch”: An ad agency and a director duel out the vision for the trendiest chicken nugget of all time.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Eno Freedman Brodmann, director of “The Pitch”:
“Chemistry,” directed by Allison Sano
About Allison: Allison Sano is an actress, writer and filmmaker from Chino, California. She started her career at a young age performing in and directing over 120 theater productions by the age of 20. She had been a movie lover her whole life, spending every Saturday watching films with her family and sneaking out to watch a film every night on her own. After dropping out of college she re-discovered her love of film and went in headfirst. Allison became creative partners with Chad Sano and developed projects which include Flux, Lovestruck and Meyer of Earth. Soon she realized her true passion was directing. “Chemistry” is her solo debut as a director and she is currently working on writing a series called Stuck.
About “Chemistry”: Wyatt and Sarah are two actors who’ve been called to do a chemistry read for a big movie. When they realize who they’ll be auditioning with, tensions rise and the audience discovers these two have history.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Allison Sano, director of “Chemistry”:
“The Marigolds Listen,” directed by Jacob Figueroa
About Jacob: Jacob Figueroa is an Afro-Latino writer/director/producer. His most recent short “The Marigolds Listen” (2021) traveled the festival circuit and was an official selection at the 2022 Tallgrass Film Festival. In addition, he has multiple screenplays in various stages of development, including ScreenCraft Fellowship Quarterfinalist Feature Film, Texas When I Die. His diverse ethnological buildup and upbringing allow him to express different perspectives with familiar sensibilities in an attempt to express the human experience.
About “The Marigolds Listen”: The life of a relationship told through a bouquet of flowers.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Jacob Figueroa, director of “The Marigolds Listen”:
“Wei-Lai” directed by Robin Wang
About Robin: Zhongyu (Robin) Wang is an award-winning producer, director, and screenwriter. The short films he directed have been official selections of Oscar-qualifying film festivals such as LA Outfest, Urbanworld, and Bronzelens, and can be viewed on streaming platforms such as Dekkoo, PBS SoCal, and Amazon Prime. As a storyteller, Robin is recognized for his coming-of-age Asian-themed comedies with a blend of bittersweet humor, twisted ethics, and heartfelt realities. As one who wanders on the margin of cultures, he wants to continue to explore the meaning of “home” and “homelessness” against the backdrop of cultural displacement and the Asian diaspora.
About “Wei-Lai”: Tired of getting pushed and punished by his own parents, Wei-Lai, an 11-year-old Chinese American boy, decides to show up at his best friend’s family and offer himself up for their adoption.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Robin Wang, director of “Wei-Lai”:
“Balloon Animal,” directed by Em Johnson
About Em: Em is an award-winning writer and director based in Los Angeles. “Balloon Animal” is her second narrative feature, but the first feature under her production company, First Bloom Films. She graduated with an MFA in Cinema Directing from Columbia College Chicago, where her shorts won awards nationwide including being nominated for the Princess Grace Foundation, Tel Aviv, and the Student Academy Awards. She is currently in development on two new features under her company.
About “Balloon Animal”: A young circus performer, stuck under the harsh rules of her father and community expectations, finds herself captivated by small-town America, forcing her to question everything.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Em Johnson, director of “Balloon Animal”:
tage 5 Filmmaker Interview | Em JohnsonInstagram: @gotemma
“Pretty Pickle,” directed by Jim Vendiola
About Jim: Jim is an award-winning Filipino-American filmmaker whose work frequently explores heartache, longing, liminality, eros, and pathos. He was one of Newcity’s FILM 50 of 2016, 2018, and 2020; a 2021 3Arts “Make a Wave” grantee; and the grand award winner of the inaugural NewNarratives Program from NewFilmmakers LA and WarnerMedia OneFifty.
His latest horror-comedy-romance short, “Pretty Pickle,” is currently at festivals, and has won “Best Short Narrative” at Chicago Underground Film Festival, and “Best Midnight/WTF Short” at GenreBlast. The film had its International Premiere at Fantasia, and its West Coast Premiere at HollyShorts. Jim’s neo-noir crime thriller limited series, Argus, is currently in development with WarnerMedia OneFifty.
About “Pretty Pickle”: As he spends more time with his new girlfriend, a young man begins to privately dwell upon one of her quirks, leading him to a troubling discovery.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Jim Vendiola, director of “Pretty Pickle”:
“Beat Lingo,” directed by Jose Navas
About Jose: Jose Navas is a writer/director born in Nicaragua and raised in Miami. He co-wrote, directed, and produced the Sundance-supported, award-winning film “El Balsero” (2019) which found distribution at PBS. His work has been supported by the Knight Foundation, Sundance Institute, and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers. His film “Beat Lingo” (2021), made its World Premiere at the 38th annual Miami Film Festival in 2021 and was presented at Harvard University following its premiere. His most recent film, “With His Eyes Closed” (2021) made its World Premiere at the prestigious Los Angeles Latino Film Festival. Navas’ work has been featured on NBC, PBS, Univision, Telemundo, The Miami Herald and Deadline.
About “Beat Lingo”: Suffering from mutism has kept this reserved teenager quiet his entire life. After years of homeschooling, he faces his biggest challenge yet: public school. Without being able to speak, he struggles to stand up for himself against the school’s ruthless bullies. However, words are not needed when beatboxing, Marcus’ hidden gift, becomes his outlet connecting him with the other students.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Jose Navas, director of “Beat Lingo”:
“The Original Shareholder Experience” directed by Petyr Xyst
About Petyr: Petyr Xyst is a Laguna Pueblo (American, if you have to) human who has been making movies since the age of five, and for some reason has kept with it, even though every project seems specifically designed to kill him in the process. His work spans narrative, music video, experimental, and more with a typically absurd, sometimes surreal lens. In 2019 he was nominated for Rolex’s Mentor and Protégé initiative and he is an alum of Sundance’s Indigenous Program. He is a graduate of the University of New Mexico and has no opinion on paper straws.
About “The Original Shareholder Experience”: An Indigenous telepresenter contends with her moral credibility and career prospects when her superiors ask her to sell a genocidal product on live television.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Petyr Xyst, director of “The Original Shareholder Experience”:
“The Voice,” directed by Marzhan Khaidar
About Marzhan: Marzhan is an aspiring writer, director and producer, born and raised in Kazakhstan. Growing up in a developing country, Marzhan learned a lot about injustice and violence, which majorly influenced her worldview. Not being able to stay indifferent, she wanted to create thought-provoking and inspirational stories, which gave her a motivation to pursue a career in filmmaking.
In 2019, she received a full scholarship to study filmmaking at New York Film Academy, Los Angeles, and graduated in 2021 with a Masters of Fine Arts Diploma. Since graduation, Marzhan has been working on different film sets as an assistant director in Los Angeles, while also writing her own scripts. Currently, Marzhan is producing a comedy/drama web-series.
About “The Voice”: A young couple’s life is challenged when they are promised fame and fortune in a world where it is dangerous to speak up.
Watch the NFMLA interview with Marzhan Khaidar, director of “The Voice”:
Main image: A still from “The Original Shareholder Experience” directed by Petyr Xyst.