In Features, Issues

SUPPORT GROUP

By Shayla Harris

FILM/VIDEO ARTS (FVA), nestled in the heart of New York City’s financial district, has always been a backyard tree house for budding filmmakers. For decades, young auteurs such as Darren Aronofsky and Todd Haynes have glanced over the curling announcements on its bulletin board and lingered around the office talking shop about film stock, cheap locations and narrative structure. FVA has turned this informal chitchat into a structured support network to help promising female and minority artists to hone their craft.

With the support of the Jerome Foundation, FVA’s Artist Mentor Project partners emerging filmmakers of color with established filmmakers. Twice a year, between four and six mentees are selected from a pool of 25 to develop short projects over the course of a four-month workshop with the assistance of resident artists. The program draws heavily on the talents of filmmakers such as Larry Banks, Ayoka Chenzira, Cheryl Dunye and Charles Stone III (best known for his "Whassup?" campaign for Budweiser), who have all led past workshops.

"The artists are not just people who do competent work, but they also want to help other people put forth their vision," says Eileen Newman, executive director of FVA. "They’re almost natural mentors, because everyone has suffered in the same way, especially in this business."

In the independent film world, one is forever emerging, bursting out of cocoons and letting the wings drip-dry. Emerging can mean a student with a film brewing on his or her desktop or an accomplished documentary filmmaker such as Jennifer Fox, the leader of the current workshop. Fox, director of An American Love Story, a 10-hour PBS series, believes the program offers something that she never had at the start of her 20-year career support. "I think FVA is such an important and valuable place to put money because it’s such a community in itself," says Fox, who also teaches a variety of other courses at FVA. "I kind of struggled on my own, as I think a lot of people do. I was scared to death in a closet working on a film."

In contrast, Kim Jameson, David Moore and Jade Wu were given a cash stipend, access to FVA’s equipment, and a cocktail of support and artistic direction. Each resident, Fox says, brings a wealth of life experiences, previous artistic endeavors and passion to their individual projects. A former independent producer, Jameson uses her access as a high-school teacher to explore sneaker trends, excessive consumerism and violence among teens. David Moore draws on his photography background to tell a story about contemporary Harlem as seen through the eyes of two musicians. In her first film, Jade Wu unravels the intricate life and history of her Chinese-Burmese step grandmother.

Wu, a former actress and advertising executive, is grateful for the mentor project. "I didn’t go to film school, and I never studied film. I wouldn’t have known where to go. I hadn’t even heard of FVA before," says Wu, who is hoping to develop her film into a feature. "I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I now feel comfortable that I can go out and tell a good story. Without this program, I wouldn’t have gotten this far."

Alex Rivera will lead the next Artist Mentor workshop. A digital-media artist with contagious energy, Rivera has addressed in his videos, Papapapá and Cybraceros, issues of immigration, displacement and race through the metaphor of cyberspace. Fittingly, the focus of the workshop will be new media. –

[Film/Video Arts: www.fva.com]

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