Chat w/ actor Jeff Lima - "it’s an actor’s responsibility to be involved"

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Jeff Lima, is a New York City-based actor who is best known for his recurring role as Leon Cruz on NBC’s Chicago Fire.

Jeff got his start in theatre at the age of 11 after gaining acceptance to the “by audition only” junior high school, Tito Puente Performing Arts Academy. Jeff was immediately immersed in the teachings of Meisner and Stanislaski with ambitions to secure a seat in a premiere performing arts high school. His tenacity and diligent preparation earned him a seat at the Talent Unlimited High School where he’d study theatre all throughout his high school years. Fortunately for Jeff, preparation met opportunity. The year right before high school, Jeff landed a role in a short film titled ‘Gowanus Brooklyn’, which would later become a feature length Oscar-nominate film. He embarked upon his high school years having already starred opposite Ryan Gosling in ‘Half Nelson’.

During his tenure at Talent Unlimited, Jeff was not allowed to audition for any professional productions, as is the case with most Manhattan performing arts high schools. His insatiable approach didn’t allow him to align himself with the aforementioned school policy. Jeff would often sneak to auditions and one in particular would serve as the catalyst he’d been hoping for!

During an audition in which Jeff spent about an hour with the director and producer during a first session, a spectator observed from afar. At the conclusion of the audition, that spectator followed Jeff to the elevators and asked that he submit his headshot and resume to her agent for consideration. The spectator would go on to win the 2015 Emmy for best Actress in a Comedy Series… it was Gina Rodriguez!

Having remained a client with the agent to whom Rodriguez introduced Jeff, he secured a commendable amount of work in film and television. Jeff has guest starred on CBS’s Blue Bloods, Netflix’s The Get Down, and NBC’s Taxi Brooklyn. He eventually landed a series arc on the HBO mini-series Show Me A Hero and currently recurs on NBC’s Chicago Fire. 

Jeff hopes he can be as influential as many of the educators he’s come across. He is a founding member of the Achievement Lab After School and Summer Camp, which serves 150 at-risk children, annually. Currently, he is shopping to finance short films penned by serious filmmakers. His goal is to identify films that are prevalent to today’s society, and to see the films to fruition.

We talked to Jeff, and here are the excerpts:

  • What do you love about being an actor?

I love that I can be a catalyst for someone feeling an overwhelming emotion. Those instances wherein we’re consumed with feeling are scarce. We don’t feel enough. We go through life being numb.

But in those moments in which we’ve fallen in love like Glen Close in Fatal Attraction or when we’re stuttering from shock after cheating death like Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips, we’ve reached a level of living that is incomparable.

I love that the art of acting affords this to me. If I can stir an audience’s inner being, I’ve done my job and I’m happy because I know how rich it is to be moved by a performance. As an actor, I get that platform.

And, as an actor, I love having a makeup artist- and if you’ve judged me for that- wow!

  • Why do you think it’s important for actors to be involved in social issues? What are the causes/ things you are passionate about?

Without trying, actors influence. This holds for both actors who take action and those who are ok with inaction. None of those two approaches are more powerful than the other. For that reason, it’s the actor’s responsibility to be involved.

A certain somebody recently made the decision to break their career long silence on politics and it resulted in a surge in voter registration.

Our convictions on all issues are probably as unique as a fingerprint. Whatever our convictions are, we should be part of that conversation.

Something that plagued me as child was bullying. Here I am years later, an actor, and I’m active in the discourse on bullying. It’s my social responsibility. I can affect change.

  • Whats your practical advice, based on your own experiences, for other aspiring minority actors.

I always ask myself if I belong in certain rooms. I’m sure folks who aren’t part of a minority group don’t feel this way, at the same frequency.

Now here’s the issue I take; if I’m part of a minority group and I’ve merited access, then I must be pretty darn good. But I struggle with the practicality of this theory. Too often I’m inundated with thoughts that lead me to believe that I am not deserving. Instances in which I walk into a room not questioning myself are rare but feel great.

Being part of a minority group means overcoming a lot of hurdles but it really makes all the difference in the world to remember that you belong exactly where you are. Your work has earned you the right to be in that place. Embrace it.

  • What are your favorite films and filmmakers?

I like a lot of old movies. Its hard to find someone who will sit with me to watch Sophie’s Choice, Scent of a Woman, and other oldies.

Oh my god- I’m obsessed with Stanley Kubrick. I could watch The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut everyday! His films are hypnotizing. Maybe I just like an eerie movie score!

  • What’s your most favorite and least favorite things about NYC?

My favorite thing about NYC is that you can literally walk to any audition, in character, drilling lines, and no one will look at you twice. We all assume the next person is crazy.
My least favorite thing is the parking. The parking restriction signs are like reading an algorithm. There’s a fire hydrant every 20 feet and the traffic agents are relentless- God bless them. You don’t know true heartbreak until you’re running late to an audition and realize your car was towed.

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Here’s the full audio/podcast of our conversation with Jeff.

Chat w/ Faraday Okoro, director of 'Nigerian Prince'

NIGERIAN PRINCE, directed by Faraday Okoro, is the first winning film from AT&T Presents: Untold Stories created by AT&T and Tribeca. NIGERIAN PRINCE follows Eze, a stubborn first generation Nigerian-American teenager, and his cousin, Pius, a desperate Nigerian Prince scammer. After Eze’s mother sends him to Nigeria against his will, Eze retaliates by teaming up with Pius to scam unsuspecting foreigners in order to earn money for a return ticket back to America. The film is currently in theaters and available on demand.

We had a chat with Faraday, here are the excerpts.

  • How did you come up with the idea for this interesting and compelling tale of deception, passion, and self-discovery?

o    The idea came to me while I was working in a computer lab in college. I realized I could tell a story that was both thrilling and personal. 

  • What was the most challenging and most rewarding part of making this film?

o    For me, the most challenging part of filmmaking is finding funding. The most rewarding part is screening the film.

  • What role does being from an immigrant family, and being a person-of-color play in your storytelling?

o    It plays a huge role. I want to tell films that not only included people of color; I also want to portray them honestly.

  • What's next on your plate?

o    I’ve started working on several new projects. Since I’m still developing these films, I can’t talk about them just yet.

  • What are your favorite filmmakers, films, and TV shows?

o    The Remains of the Day, Schindler’s List, The Thin Red Line, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Animal Kingdom, Michael Clayton, The Apartment, The Verdict, Half Nelson, Chinatown, Dr. Strangelove, Jackie Brown, Crimes and Misdemeanors, just to name a few.

  • What's your practical advice to other aspiring filmmakers and storytellers?

o    I think aspiring filmmakers should learn about the history, craft, and business of filmmaking, and watch as many films as they can. Also, I think aspiring filmmakers should soak up as much knowledge (politics, literature, sports, music, science, etc.) as possible in order to tell stories that are thought provoking and entertaining.

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ABOUT FARADAY OKORO

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Faraday Okoro is a New York City based Nigerian-American filmmaker. Named after Michael Faraday, a 19th century English physicist and chemist, the idea of pursuing a career in science has been instilled in Faraday since birth. Though, despite his upbringing and name for that matter, Faraday was inspired to pursue a career in filmmaking after watching 20 minutes of the film Road to Perdition.

He graduated cum laude from Howard University, a historically black college in the heart of Washington, DC. At Howard, he was awarded the Trustees’ Scholarship, which allowed him to attend college tuition-free. Currently, Faraday is completing an MFA in filmmaking at NYU’s Graduate Film Program, where he is a recipient of the Peter D. Gould Scholarship.

Faraday’s debut short film Full-Windsor has screened in 14 major film festivals, including the Los Angeles Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, Chicago International Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival and the Montreal World Film Festival. His short film Blitz premiered at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival and was also selected to the Palm Springs International Shortfest. Additionally, his work has aired nationally on PBS Television and GaiamTV, and is streaming online via Indieflix. In 2016, Faraday was included in MovieMaker Magazine/Austin Film Festival’s 25 Screenwriters To Watch list.

Faraday is the inaugural recipient of AT&T / Tribeca Film Institute’s ‘Untold Stories’ prize, a $1 million production grant intended to support underrepresented filmmakers in the making of their first feature film.

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You can listen to the full chat/podcast of our conversation with Faraday below (updated 10/26).

 

Chat w/ Naghmeh Shirkhan, director of MAKI

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Director Naghmeh Shirkhan’s MAKI just won her the best director award at CHELSEA FILM FESTIVAL. She was the ONLY female director to have a feature film showing at this year's festival. Set in the heart of New York City, MAKI is a modern love story with a dark twist, depicting a young Japanese woman’s coming of age. Maki (Naomi Sundberg) and Tommy (Julian Cihi) can no longer conceal their hidden affair once they learn she's pregnant with his child. Their charismatic and persuasive boss, Mika (Mieko Harada) steps in and takes control. The story unsettles as it unfolds, revealing each character’s true intent.

Born in Iran, Naghmeh Shirkhan moved to America with her family a year before the Islamic Revolution. Her father returned to Tehran in the hopes of resuming his career, while the rapidly ensuing Iran-Iraq war prompted her young mother to remain in America indefinitely. The immigrant experience of separation, displacement, and the struggles of starting anew are major themes in Naghmeh’s work. In 2010 her first arthouse feature, The Neighbor (Hamsayeh), hit the festival circuit to wide critical acclaim. Soon after, she began working on her second feature, Maki.

We had a chat with Naghmeh, here are the excerpts.

What inspired you to make this film? 

I wanted to make a film about a young woman who finds herself in an untenable situation with nowhere to turn. I was influenced by Les liaisons dangereuse by Laclos. I also really wanted to try my hand at telling a visually captivating love story that didn’t end in typical Hollywood fashion.

  • What was the most challenging and most rewarding part of making this film?

The most challenging part of making this film was working on a very tight budget. But then again I’d say that was also one of the really rewarding aspects of making Maki, especially in Manhattan. You can do a lot with the current filmmaking technology and you don’t end up having to sacrifice quality. Another very rewarding thing was working with my talented cast. It was such a diverse cast. We had Japanese and Spanish and Swedish and African American and our crew was equally diverse both in gender and ethnic background. It was a phenomenal group of people.

  • Tell us about your experience at the Chelsea Film Festival.

I loved the Chelsea Film Festival. The founders, Ingrid Jean Baptiste and her mother Sonia, took such good care of all the filmmakers and panel moderators. The panels were insightful and informative. The festival feels fresh, youthful and edgy and I loved that.

  • How does being an immigrant affects you as a storyteller?

I’m not sure I would have become a filmmaker if I wasn’t an immigrant. I draw a great deal of inspiration from my background and the wanderlust that I developed as I searched for a place to fit it. I found that place in the world of independent filmmaking.

  • Who are your favorite filmmakers and why?

My favorite filmmakers are from the French Nouvelle Vague like Godard, Rivette, Varda and Chabrol. French New Wave represented a totally radical way of making and experiencing film. There was also an intimacy and urgency that resonates with audiences even today. They weren’t afraid to take chances and push the medium to a new place. I was also deeply influenced by Japanese filmmakers like Kurosawa, Ozu and Kinoshita. Their use of lenses and the economy with which they could set a scene really influenced my own filmmaking style.

  • What's your most favorite and least favorite thing about NYC:

My favorite thing about NYC is its energy, and it’s such an international city where people of all ethnicities, races and religions live together and learn from one another. I also love that it’s a Mecca for international art and cinema. 

My least favorite thing is probably the insane amount of traffic these days. It makes shooting a car scene that much harder!

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You can listen to the full chat/podcast of our conversation with Naghmeh below (updated 10/31).

Here’s the trailer for the film:



Chat w/ Sanjay Rawal, director of '3100: Run and Become'

What would you do to transform your life? How far would you go to change yourself? Would you drive, would you fly, would you run? These are the themes of a new documentary about why we run, 3100: Run and BecomeThis uplifting, intimate portrait of endurance runners and what motivates them.

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Sanjay Rawal is the director of the film. Sanjay worked in the human rights and international development sectors for 15 years and in over 40 countries before focusing his love for photography and story-telling onto filmmaking. His first two shorts Ocean Monk (2010) and Challenging Impossibility (2011) were screened at over 120 festivals including Tribeca, St. Louis and Locarno.

Sanjay then directed his first feature, Food Chains (2014), which premiered at the 2014 Berlinale and then screened at Tribeca before securing domestic distribution from Screen Media. The film chronicled the battle of a small group of farmworkers (the CIW) against large supermarkets and fast food chains. The film was produced by Eva Longoria and Eric Schlosser and narrated by Forest Whitaker. Food Chains had a robust opening release in 26 cities in November 2014 and went on to screen in 1100 more through its theatrical, semi-theatrical & community screening tour. It won a host of awards including a James Beard Award as well as the BritDoc Impact Award as one of the most important films of 2015.

A lifelong runner, Sanjay was happy to lose the pounds he gained eating Mexican food in farmworker towns and take on a project about running.

We had a chance to talk to him, here are the excerpts:

- What did you learn in process of making this film?

We wanted to approach documentary filmmaking and this story in particular as though we were making a narrative film. That approach allowed us the freedom to imagine we could stitch together incredibly different stories – from the world’s longest race where runners circle a ½ mile loop in New York City for 3100 miles to a Navajo spirit runner retracing a family journey thru the high deserts of Arizona. We were able to work with an exceptional director of photography, Sean Kirby, and focused our story telling thru visuals as well as deep character-driven storylines.

The final product doesn’t simply show people running; the film reveals the meditative reasons why people run long distances and the power of long-distance running to transform people.

It was an honor to spend time and document the stories of three remarkable groups of people all of whom have rarely shared their stories – the Navajo, the Kalahari Bushmen and the Monks of Mount Hiei, Japan.

- What inspires you as a director and storyteller?

My background is in human rights and international development and the projects I enjoyed most were ones where recipients of the programs had equal power in driving progress. Those projects allowed everyone to participate. In that sense, my style of filmmaking is no different. I really enjoy listening to other people’s stories and seeing those stories come to life in film.

- How being an Indian-American affects your storytelling? What's been your personal experience on this journey?

I had a traditional Hindu upbringing in California but after university I yearned to deepen my identification with India and I moved to New York to study at the feet of an Indian Yogi – Sri Chinmoy. He gave me an entirely new perspective on happiness and I began to understand how best to achieve happiness in the West. One can’t shun life – the Divine is in everyone. It is through the acceptance of life and of other people’s own journeys and perspectives that we can fully appreciate the breadth of the Supreme here on earth. Sri Chinmoy’s philosophy blended advaita, bhakti yoga and seva in very much a modern way. At the same time, he was an ardent proponent of physical fitness and running, and founded the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Run, upon which my film is based. So, in many ways, 3100 Run and Become is fully an Indian-American film.

- What's next on your plate?

I’m hoping to take some time off, my first break since my previous film started production in 2011.

- Who are your favorite filmmakers and few of your favorite films and TV show?

I really enjoy Wes Anderson’s films and his perspective on life. I tend to like dark comedies and Rushmore ranks as one of my all-time favorites. At the same time, I love crime dramas from the Godfather to more pulpy films like The Departed or Hell or High Water. As for TV, I love procedurals like Bosch and Southland.

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More about the film:

3100: Run and Become follows Ashprihanal Aalto, an unassuming Finnish paperboy, and Shamita, an Austrian cellist, in their attempts to complete the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race, the world’s longest certified footrace, which takes place each summer June through August. The 3100 encourages runners to discover the limits of their capacities--and to try to go beyond them. And go beyond, they must: the small group of competitors come from all over the world to run a distance that approximates a US cross-country run -- a total of 3,100 miles in 52 days – 5,649 laps around one city block in Jamaica, Queens. 

Ashprihanal and Shamita’s 3100 quest takes viewers from the heart of this astonishing event in New York to places around the world where ancient cultures have held running sacred for millennia: the Kalahari Desert, Arizona’s Navajo Reservation, and to the mountain temples of Japan. Through the heroic stories of three other runners (Shaun Martin, a Navajo runner and Board Member of Wings of America; Gaolo of the San Bushmen of the Kalahari; and Gyoman-san of the Monks of Mt. Hiei, Japan) 3100: Run and Become presents a portrait of endurance and transformation. Beyond competitiveness and athletic prowess, they run not for glory but for spiritual enlightenment, universal oneness --or because they simply have the responsibility to run.

3100: Run and Become is directed by Sanjay Rawal (Food Chains) and produced by Tanya Ager Meillier (Alias Ruby Blade, Capitalism: a Love Story). It was edited by Alex Meillier (Alias Ruby Blade, Obscene) and shot in 4K by Sean Kirby (Racing Extinction, We are X, Long Strange Trip). The film’s soundtrack, composed by Michael A. Levine, features an original song recorded by Roberta Flack, her first after suffering a stroke in 2016. 

Running Time: 79 minutes

 Websitehttp://3100film.com/

Instagram: @3100film
Facebookfacebook.com/3100film

Twitter: @3100_film

Trailerhttps://vimeo.com/261386426

3100: Run and Become Festivals and Screenings

DATE                           CITY                             THEATER                                                                                               

Oct 26 New York                   Village East

Nov 9    LA/Santa Monica      Laemmle Theater