Rodney Kimbangu spent eight weeks in Burbank, Calif., with the New York Film Academy. His experience was funded by a Sloane Shelton Arts and Humanities Grant, awarded to Berea students pursuing immersive off-campus experiences. While at the academy, he learned how to produce, write, direct, film and edit a short feature film. He assisted other classmates with their films, as well, working as a production assistant, camera operator or assistant director. In total, Kimbangu worked on six film projects in eight weeks.

Headshot of Rodney Kimbangu

The would-be filmmakers pulled acting talent from NYFA acting students. “When we didn’t have the chance to work with actors, we ended up acting our own projects,” Kimbangu said. “When we were not directing or producing, we were acting in another person’s production.”
Their days stretched from eight to 12 hours, depending on whether they were attending lectures and demonstrations by directing, producing, writing, editing, sound and photography instructors or working on their feature films.

“For the larger projects,” Kimbangu explained, “we had 12-hour shoots because in the film industry a day of work is 12 hours. We mimicked what happens in the industry.”

Growing up in the Congo, the studio art and film double major knew he wanted to be a filmmaker and started taking classes online. He says attending the NYFA was a dream come true for him, and the experience showed him what his limitations were and how to address them. It also showed him what his new capabilities were.

“After we graduated, a colleague looked at my website, where I had marketed myself as a cinematographer. He said, ‘You need to change that. You’re not a cinematographer anymore. You are a producer, writer, director, cinematographer and editor. That makes you a filmmaker.’”

Rodney Kimbangu adjusts the camera during his DFE experience with the New York Film Academy
Future filmmaker, Rodney Kimbangu ’20, adjusts the camera during his DFE experience with the New York Film Academy in Burbank, Calif., home to Warner Brothers Studios.

Kimbangu sees his DFE experience as an opportunity to learn by making mistakes, a luxury not afforded to professional filmmakers.

“The DFE allowed me to make intelligent mistakes so I could see what I needed to work on. That is its own gift because when you’re working in the industry, you don’t have the time or opportunity to make mistakes. Before the DFE, I was probably 25 percent confident in my ability to be a filmmaker. Now I’m at 80 percent.”

He believes saying 100 percent is “too braggy.” “I still see room for improvement,” he added.

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