By Heidi Philipsen
The voices of Black, Middle Eastern, and Latinx artists have long been marginalized. But at Nova Frontier Film Festival and Lab, they take center stage. Actor, filmmaker, writer, producer, and film programmer Lydia Darly discusses why she co-founded the festival (where NYWIFT is proud to present an Outstanding Female Content Creator Award), and what she hopes to see from the 2020 edition which, like so many recent events, is going virtual.
The festival will stream for free online June 11-14th, 2020.
What was the inspiration for starting Nova?
Nova Frontier Film Festival and Lab was inspired foremost by my love of foreign films, particularly films from the African Diaspora, The Middle East, and Latin America. As a filmmaker and actress who is an Afropean with origins from Guadeloupe and Paris, traveling to film festivals with my own films, I have always felt the programming at most film festivals was limited when it came to films from these regions represented, especially in film festivals and theaters in the USA. There is also the fact that as a black actress, I hardly ever saw myself represented on the screen.
After many conversations with my best friend, the multi-artist and filmmaker Billy Gerard Frank, who is also Afropean from Grenada and London, and a cinephile like myself, we decided to start The Nova Frontier Film Festival and Lab, and the rest is history. The festival came out of a place of frustration, love of foreign films, and friendship.
Your festival has been amplifying the voices of the African Diaspora, the Middle East, and Latin America for three years. Given the national events of the last few weeks, your festival could not be more timely. How has your festival worked to amplify these voices? Are there projects featured this year that will resonant especially with our current national conversation?
The annual film festival takes place at the Iconic Billie Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn, NY that has been our home since its inception. With year-round screenings, panels, VR, and performances, we are more than just a film festival, but an experience: a hybrid curated program of global films that celebrate our diversity and human connectedness. Our films and programs deal with socially and politically relevant issues and themes like immigration, cultural identity, and social justice.
Despite the global health crisis, and the challenges that independent filmmakers and the film industries are facing as a result of this pandemic, Nova Frontier Film Festival is fully dedicated to working with our partners to support our independent filmmakers. We are partnering with Laurel Channel to bring a virtual 2020 Edition of the festival.
If art is any guide to the times in which we are living, our 2020 program of 17 curated long and short-form films, panels, and performances tackles family, global migration, and community, with immigration and cultural identity as the dominant themes running throughout all the films in this year’s submissions. They raise questions and force us to re-examine notions of home, state, nationalism, borders, and communities, apropos to the times.
For many of the real-life characters depicted in the films, concepts and constructs of social distancing and self-quarantine are not novel to them. They were already living a somewhat enforced quarantined existence in refugee camps, or squatting on the edge of cities and society – caught in the limbo of state bureaucracies and red tape.
What do you hope the film community at large will take away from seeing the voices of Black, Latinx, and Middle Eastern stories on screen?
Nova Frontier Film Festival and Lab came at a crucial juncture and is a direct response to all the complexities and currents unfolding in the USA and globally. Our programs and our NOVA LAB, which is a core component of what we do, nurture and teach filmmaking and media skills to underserved and underrepresented youth in the community of Brooklyn and beyond. Our main aim is to provide a platform that promotes intercultural understanding and intellectual engagement through exceptional films and the arts, addressing critical social issues of our times, while celebrating the diversity that surrounds us.
We hope that our community and audience at large, will get to see versions of themselves on the big screen; see stories of real-life people and communities from the African Diaspora, the Middle East, and Latin America, which most Westerners learn about only through soundbites and headlines in the media that frame them in negative stereotypes.
In most cases, these are filmmakers coming from countries like Iran and the Middle East that have been banned and boycotted from Europe and the USA, with no access to financial institutions to submit their films to festivals. The filmmakers focus their lens on people caught up in the maelstrom of wars, oppression, and displacement, giving voice and humanity to them.
What has been your favorite moment from the past festivals? What do you hope to see happen with the festival this year?
Some of my favorite moments at the festival is seeing the excitement and joy on the faces of the children and adults in our communities when they get to have a Virtual Reality experience for the first time, seeing themselves as superheroes on the screens. Our panels on Immigration and Identity last year, that erupted into engaging and meaningful discussions around real issues and concerns of the community. The Billie Holiday Theatre bustling with creative energy, telephone numbers being exchanged, passionate dialogue, and folks in the community mingling with global filmmakers and artists as one family.
Follow on Instagram at @NovaFrontierFilmFestival
Additional reporting by Katie Chambers.
Many children – and more than a few adults – dream of long-distance space exploration. But what about the real human toll of that kind of journey? The new documentary The Longest Goodbye, which debuted at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, takes a poignant look at the fundamentals of day-to-day reality in space: the isolation, confinement, and lack of privacy and social contact. Executive producer Valda Witt spoke to us about the project, her childhood dreams of space travel, favorite moments making the film, and getting to know scientists and astronauts in a deeply personal way.READ MORE
NYWIFT member Caitlin Gold is the Co-Founder and Co-Head of Film, a private equity fund dedicated to financing narrative and documentary films directed by women. The fund’s tagline is “Films by women make more money, but Hollywood isn’t making them….” Thanks to Gold and her colleagues, that very well may change! Their most recent feature is the Australian film Shayda, which premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival in the World Dramatic Competition and won that category’s Audience Award. Gold spoke to us about Shayda’s path to the screen, funding work by women, and what’s next on her horizon.READ MORE
Developed in partnership with Sundance Institute and Founded by Hartbeat CEO Thai Randolph and Head of Film Candice Wilson Cherry, WOMEN WRITE NOW is a comedic writing fellowship designed to champion the next generation of Black women in comedy through mentorship, advocacy, production, and exhibition. Now in its second year, this year’s fellowship brought in three emerging writers, Mayanna Berrin, Kianna Butler Jabangwe, and Danielle Solomon to develop and produce their comedic short scripts under the guidance of some of the most influential Black women in comedy. The resulting projects were then brought into production by Hartbeat studios. Cherry and the writers spoke to us about their experience.READ MORE
Ericka Nicole Malone Entertainment presents the “Indie Director’s and Creator’s Spotlight” in celebration of diversity in filmmaking at the Sundance Film Festival 2023. Featuring a day of education, industry networking and panels, its evening activation will transform into a Neo Soul lounge with the sultry sounds of 3x Grammy Award-nominated R&B/Neo Soul Singer Angie Stone as the headliner.READ MORE