NYU’s Fusion Film Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary

NYU’s Fusion Film Festival marks 20 years of featuring the artistic achievements of women and nonbinary artists working in television, film and new media industries.

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Jane Schoenbrun, third from left, was interviewed about their film “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” by film critic Michael Koresky, center, at the 20th Fusion Film Festival. The festival is led by Tisch professor Susan Sandler, third from right. (Photo by Pat Martin)

Pranava Kumar, Contributing Writer

Fusion Film Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary this week, and it was remarkable. The annual festival, run by Film & TV professor Susan Sandler and other Tisch students and faculty, celebrates the artistic achievements of women and nonbinary artists in the television, film and new media industries. The event, which ran from April 7-9, screened and awarded undergraduate and graduate level productions. It also featured additional screenings, panels and master classes from prominent women in the industry.

Over the years, Fusion has garnered a reputation as an important vehicle that promotes women’s voices in media production and spotlights the artists and works that will redefine the industry. This year’s lineup of artists and storytellers exemplified that reputation. 

NYU alums Mitu Khandaker and Latoya Peterson — the creators of the video game “Insecure: The Come Up Game,” adapted from Issa Rae’s HBO series “Insecure” — took the stage on Thursday to discuss their perspectives on creating innovative and interactive gameplay that seeks to broaden the scope of gaming for a large community of underrepresented gamers. 

On Friday, writer-director Jane Schoenbrun screened their renowned film “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair,” a modern horror film “about how fantasy and intimacy and identity play in the digital realm,” according to Schoenbrun. A vivid, visceral portrait of trans horror in the digital age, the film follows a girl’s immersion and descent into an online role-playing game. Schoenbrun’s film gained significant traction following its premiere at Sundance in 2021.

Tisch alum and Fusion’s Woman of the Year Janicza Bravo was the guest of honor at this year’s festival. Bravo is the writer and director of the 2021 indie hit film “Zola,” which screened on Saturday. The sprawling dark-comedy epic, based on a 2015 Twitter thread by the eponymous Aziah “Zola” King, follows a two-day road trip involving sex work, murder, friendship and betrayal.

The story has been praised not only for its sheer entertainment value, but also for its precise depictions of patriarchal, sexually-oppresive power structures. Following the screening, Bravo held a master class in which she discussed her personal journey from a theater student at NYU to an award-winning filmmaker, as well as her perspective and philosophies as a woman of color in the industry. 

Fusion wrapped up with the competition screening and awards ceremony block of the festival. The competition of finalists celebrated the work of graduate and undergraduate women and nonbinary artists. After the screening, this year’s award winners were announced

The awarded undergraduate finalists included “Chico Virtual,” “AmeriGirl” and “Saltwater Interlude.” The three films offered nuanced takes on heavy topics including immigration and familial care. The graduate award finalists “Twice as Good,” “Shadows” and “Nights and Days in America” similarly tackled pertinent realties, including the complexities of race and the challenges of womanhood, with skillful poise and deep insight. The work of these young filmmakers offered a glimpse into what the film landscape could look like if creators continue to show an interest in crafting nuanced stories that address current issues.

Contact Pranava Kumar at [email protected]