Alysa Nahmias is an award-winning filmmaker and founder of AJNA. She directed and produced the feature documentaries ART & KRIMES BY KRIMES (2021) featuring artist Jesse Krimes and distributed by MTV Documentary Films, THE NEW BAUHAUS (2019) about visionary artist László Moholy-Nagy, and UNFINISHED SPACES (2011, co-directed with Benjamin Murray) about the Cuban National Art Schools, which won a 2012 Independent Spirit Award, was distributed by PBS and Netflix, and is in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
As a producer, her work includes the forthcoming UNTITLED WILDCAT DOCUMENTARY directed by Melissa Lesh and Trevor Frost for Amazon Studios, and the Emmy-nominated and Oscar-shortlisted UNREST directed by Jennifer Brea, which won an a Jury Award at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and was distributed by Netflix and PBS Independent Lens. Her producing credits also include the scripted feature NO LIGHT AND NO LAND ANYWHERE, directed by Amber Sealey with executive producer Miranda July (Jury Award winner, LA Film Festival 2016), and the documentaries A DECENT HOME, directed by Sara Terry (DOC NYC 2021); WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED, directed by Mariam Ghani (Berlinale, SFFILM 2019) distributed by Dekanalog and Criterion; I DIDN’T SEE YOU THERE, directed by Reid Davenport (Sundance 2022); WEED & WINE (Hot Docs 2020), directed by Rebecca Richman Cohen; and American Masters’ AFTERNOON OF A FAUN directed by Nancy Buirski with creative advisor Martin Scorsese (NY Film Festival, Berlinale 2013).
Alysa has been featured in Filmmaker Magazine as an independent film innovator. She is a 2020 Film Independent Fellow and a 2019 Sundance Institute Momentum Fellow. She was the co-author of a Sundance Creative Distribution Case Study on Unrest. She holds degrees from New York University and Princeton University. Alysa is a founding member of FWD-Doc as an ally who is committed to advocating for disability rights and inclusion, and she is a member of the Documentary Producers Alliance (DPA) and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. ajnafilms.com
Her film, Art & Krimes by Krimes, is part of BIFF 2022
What was your first experience on a film set?
I studied art and architecture, not film, so my first experience on a film set was when I directed and produced my debut documentary. We were a small, three-person team making an indie film in the challenging context of early 2000s Havana, Cuba. It was a tough, exhilarating, beautiful learning experience, and I found my calling.
What was the first film you directed/wrote?
“Unfinished Spaces (2011), which I directed and produced with Benjamin Murray over the course of a decade, is a feature documentary about Cuba’s ambitious National Art Schools project, designed by three young artists in the wake of Castro’s Revolution. The Schools were neglected, nearly forgotten, then ultimately reclaimed by the Cuban government as a visionary architectural masterpiece.
In 1961, three young, visionary architects were commissioned by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara to create Cuba’s National Art Schools on the grounds of a former golf course in Havana, Cuba. Construction of their radical designs began immediately and the school’s first classes soon followed. Dancers, musicians and artists from all over the country reveled in the beauty of the schools, but as the dream of the Revolution quickly became a reality, construction was abruptly halted and the architects and their designs were deemed irrelevant in the prevailing political climate. Forty years later the schools are in use, but remain unfinished and decaying. Castro has invited the exiled architects back to finish their unrealized dream.
Unfinished Spaces features intimate footage of Fidel Castro, showing his devotion to creating a worldwide showcase for art, and it also documents the struggle and passion of three revolutionary artists.
The film was distributed widely around the world, including on Netflix and a PBS broadcast, but the most meaningful screenings for me were at the Havana Film Festival when the architects received long-deserved recognition on the island for their amazing achievements.”
Who is your favorite filmmaker?
This is an impossible question, because I have more than one favorite filmmaker, some who are icons of cinema that many others also look up to, so I’d like to instead mention a few current nonfiction directors whose work I admire: Natalia Almada (USERS), Sandi Tan (SHIRKERS), Sara Dosa (FIRE OF LOVE), Jennifer Brea (UNREST), Garrett Bradley (TIME), Michael Dweck & Gregory Kershaw (THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS), Jim LeBrecht & Nicole Newnham (CRIP CAMP), Lance Oppenheim (SOME KIND OF HEAVEN), Jessica Kingdon (ASCENSION), Laura Gabbert (CITY OF GOLD), Reid Davenport (I DIDN’T SEE YOU THERE), Jason Kohn (NOTHING LASTS FOREVER), Mariam Ghani (WHAT WE LEFT UNFINISHED), Isabel Castro (MIJA).
What are you working on that no one knows about?
I’m developing a doc about a pioneering 20th century woman musician that I’m very excited to direct.