Exclusive Q & A with Donella Alanwick, Managing Director of the IFI

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In a few short years, the International Film Institute of New York has quickly emerged as one of the strongest film programs in the city for students of all levels of expertise who are looking to hone their craft. Students hailing from all corners of the Earth have participated in IFI courses and each and every one of them is given the opportunity to create original work and diversify their film portfolio while gaining firsthand experience.

Today, we sat down with Donella Alanwick, the Managing Director of the International Film Institute of New York, who has worked alongside Director Misael Sanchez closely to continue innovating and keep moving the film school forward. In this interview, Donella provides insights on the IFI’s journey to date, previews some of their upcoming programs and offers some important advice to filmmakers. Enjoy!

  1. How did the IFI get started? What niche were you and Misael Sanchez, (the director) hoping to fill and what would you say is the IFI’s mission?

We realized a need for a professional and academically sound mid level program that would allow students, interested in film, to explore all aspects within an environment comparable to what they might expect in higher education without the costs associated and the commitment to a full time program. Our mission is to support students as they work towards higher education in film. We consider ourselves a bridge where people can dabble and experiment in filmmaking to make sure it’s the right path for them.

  1. Students of the Five Week Summer Intensive shot their short films very recently – how did that process go?

The process went great. Every summer we get an amazing group of students hailing from all over the world. Some students have made a film before and some have not. So its always interesting to see the storylines that come up during the first few days in screenwriting. The most exciting part, for me, is watching how these projects bloom from ideas to a final product. Witnessing the transformation of the students from the first day to the last day, our final screening, is an extremely rewarding process for me. Through all the tears, frustration, and exhaustion everyone becomes part of the team and we all learn through process (even myself).

  1. Can you tell us a bit about the upcoming One Week Intro to Filmmaking Seminar in October? What can students expect to learn during the week-long course?

The introduction class is seminar style course with a few hands on sections. It will include Intro to Screenwriting, Directing for the Screen, Camera & Lenses Demonstrations, Hands on Lighting Workshop, The Job of the Producer, Editing Overview, Film Festivals & Distribution. The course will be 35 hours of training and take place in downtown Manhattan.

We really do take into consideration the feedback we receive after each session. We continue to add more hands on instruction to the seminar and this coming October we will be adding a new element – sound and audio workshop.

  1. What are the some of the perks shooting in the fall in New York?

October is a great time of year in New York City. The moderate temperature allows for comfortable exterior shoots. Also, the changing scenery provides a great color scheme and can set the tone for certain types of stories.

  1. The IFI has a decorated faculty and the group keeps growing larger – what exactly do you look for when seeking new potential instructors?

We like to work with like minded individuals – positive, enthusiastic, and really take our mission statement to heart. We look for people with a lot of professional experience, patience, and understanding that goes into teaching individuals coming from different levels. Filmmakers who are passionate about what they do and can present information in an accessible way to individuals nervous about exploring a new career or a new path in life.

  1. The IFI continues to blossom as more and more aspiring filmmakers have been signing up to participate in your courses – where do you see the IFI in five years? What are some of the things you guys are still hoping to accomplish?  

We hope that in five years we are more than a short term program. Providing training to aspiring filmmakers with more advanced training offerings. Also, having a larger community of students, alumni, and faculty who use each other to create projects and work together to tell stories.


“Picking the Brain” of an IFI Graduate: Q&A With Jonathan


With the summer drawing to a close, we took some time to sit down with Jonathan Schneider, an IFI alumni who graduated from our July One Week Seminar. Jonathan was an exceptional student who showed great potential as a filmmaker and really honed his craft in his time as a member of the IFI. He even enjoyed the IFI’s July One Week Seminar so much that he came back to witness and participate in our Five Week Summer Intensive Program!

Here is our full interview with Jonathan, who spoke on his IFI experience:

Q: How long have you been interested in film? What compelled you to take the IFI’s July One Week Seminar? 
A: I had been interested in film my whole life but really became interested in making my own films roughly one year and a half prior to the IFI seminar. I decided to sign up after the IFI visited my school and I experienced how professional the staff was.
Q: Did you have any prior experience in film before attending the IFI? If so, what was it?
A: I had experience with minor short student films and helping run my film club.
Q: What were a couple of your favorite classes during the IFI’s July One Week Seminar?
A: The directing and lighting classes taught me many skills and tools that I was able to use immediately in the production of many of my projects.

Q: What were the main things YOU learned from the IFI’s July One Week Seminar?
A: The directing lectures gave me a new way to look at movies and express my meaning. Lighting gave me the fundamentals as far as equipment training and basic lighting that gave me the competence to help out on other sets.
Q: You recently volunteered to participate in the shooting process of the IFI’s Five Week Summer Intensive in your spare time – what led you to make that decision?
A: I decided to help out with the Five Week Summer Intensive so I could gain more experience for my group, meet people also interested in film, and have some fun in the process.
Q: How was your experience working on the projects for the five week intensive?
A: I saw many different styles and ways to approach film that I personally never would have thought of. This increased my passion and drive to learn more and do more in film.
Q: Would you recommend the IFI to other aspiring filmmakers? Would you take another course with the IFI after completing the One Week Seminar?

A: I would recommend the IFI, especially to aspiring filmmakers, because of the guidance and tools that are given to the students, which empowers them to start creating immediately.

Stay tuned for more interviews from IFI students, faculty and other featured filmmakers as the year unfolds! Be sure to visit our site, or click here if you’re interested in participating in our upcoming Five Week Winter Intensive!