November 1, 2022
Two Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) filmmakers — Video Arts and Technology (VAT) major Renzo Esposito and recent VAT graduate Jeremiah Chaparro — are garnering multiple awards for their short films that examine issues including anti-Semitism and other dangerous forms of discrimination, as well as the power of speaking out against oppression and making life-changing choices.
Their films have toured widely in national and international film festivals and garnered an impressive list of awards. Both students entered BMCC with talent and drive, and credit their college experience with helping that talent mature into a level of filmmaking that is an inspiration in its message and technical expertise.
Both also credit Professor and noted documentary filmmaker Anastassios (Tassos) Rigopoulos, for challenging them to reach new levels of storytelling and skill.
“Talk Louder,” a film by Renzo Esposito, calls out the dangers of discrimination
Renzo Esposito, in his second year as a VAT major at BMCC, takes on Holocaust denial, racial discrimination and the Russian invasion of Ukraine in his documentary film “Talk Louder,” winner of the Grand Jury Price at the 5th Annual Joyce Forum Jewish Short Film Festival, among other honors.
The film began as an honors project in which he was mentored by Video Arts and Technology (VAT) Professor and noted documentary filmmaker Anastassios (Tassos) Rigopoulos.
According to Esposito, “Talk Louder” reflects his focus on issues such as searching for a better life, seeking an education, fighting discrimination and amplifying the voices of others who are fighting for their rights.
After growing up in a small town in Argentina, Esposito immigrated to the United States in 2018, moving to Michigan where he joined his husband Morgan.
As he was unpacking and putting books on the shelf, he noticed Morgan had a copy of “Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz.”
“I was surprised to discover it was co-authored by Michael Bornstein and his daughter Debbie Holinstat, Morgan’s cousin,” Esposito says.
The New York Times bestseller recounts Bornstein’s experience entering Auschwitz at age four and surviving there for four years.
Bornstein kept silent about that harrowing time for 70 years, but was propelled into telling his story one afternoon while searching the internet with his daughter Debbie, and recognizing himself in a photo taken the day of his release from the infamous concentration camp.
When he clicked on the picture, he was taken to a Holocaust denial website.
That shocking discovery made him realize he had to “talk louder” about his experience and the truth of the holocaust.
Bornstein’s story resonates deeply with Esposito, who says that as a member of the queer community in New York City, discrimination is one of his most compelling concerns.
“I want to amplify the voices of those who, like Michael, are trying to ‘talk louder,’ to bring attention to their experience and make change happen,” he says.
In his Honors Project narrative, Esposito notes that according to an NYPD report, hate crimes based on sexual orientation increased by over 90% from 2020 to 2021. Anti-Asian Hate crimes increased 361 percent last year. In the Jewish community, hate crimes jumped over 50%.
The documentary “Talk Louder” also addresses the Russo-Ukrainian War. Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky, Esposito explains, is Jewish and the grandson of Holocaust survivors.
“In 2020, when Zelensky traveled to Israel to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Michael Bornstein was there,” he says. “They have a photo together holding the Kiddush cup that Michael’s mother recovered from their old house usurped in WWII. I cannot imagine how President Zelensky and Michael must be feeling, having to deal with a war like this. Faced with such situations, we cannot sit quietly. In order to help, it is not enough to be just an ally — one has to become a co-conspirator.”
In addition to winning the Grand Jury Price at the 5th Annual Joyce Forum Jewish Short Film Festival, “Talk Louder” garnered the Best Editor Award at the International World Film Awards.
It was named a semi-finalist at the American Jewish Film Festival and selected as a Nominee — one step up from Official Selection — in the Cannes World Film Festival, Global University Film Awards and Student World Impact Film Festival.
“Talk Louder” was also named an Official Selection in both the 2022 Filmmaker Sessions and Lift-Off Filmmaker Sessions at Pinewood Studios.
While Esposito continues building his film portfolio, he remains focused on academics and helping other students succeed at BMCC.
He serves as a Supplemental Instruction Leader in a speech class with Professor Virginiya DiDonato, and has this advice for future filmmakers and artists: “Share your work. Post online, everything you do in school. Even if you feel it is not finished, it’s better than waiting for years. I didn’t think ‘Talk Louder’ was ready to be sent to festivals, but I sent it anyway, and now I’m glad I did.”
Part of what enabled him to push that film out into the world was the encouragement he received from VAT Professor Rigopoulos. “He believed in what I was doing, and guided me in some of the technical aspects of storytelling that I was working with,” Esposito say. “He sets high standards and helps us reach them.”
Esposito is also a finalist in the GUIDE program, a partnership between BMCC and New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study.
As part of GUIDE, and in addition to his course load at BMCC, he is taking an interdisciplinary seminar at NYU, “Coming-Out Stories,” exploring how queer identities are created from historical and other perspectives.
Storytelling has been his life’s passion, he says. When was 13, he worked in radio in his hometown in Argentina. After that, he began making short films with friends.
“I could work nonstop for days,” he says. “I had a lot of drive and eventually started a marketing agency and a small production company in Argentina — but I felt like I was limited without the foundations I could learn in school. Now in college, I am gaining that foundation.”
“Harmony,” a film by Jeremiah Chaparro, examines isolation and the power of making the right choice
Jeremiah Chaparro, who graduated from BMCC with an associate degree in Video Arts and Technology in 2022, just won the Best Student Film Award at the 2022 International Film Festival Manhattan for his short film “Harmony.”
In May 2022, while he was finishing his degree at BMCC, “Harmony” won Best Fiction Film, Best Screenplay and Best Editing, while his documentary “Boutique” garnered honorable mention for Best Message in the BMCC Student Film Festival.
“Harmony” also won the MVRP Award which was created in honor of the late BMCC film student Michael Vincent Rosen-Pipitone and was also an Official Selection in the competition of the 4th Meihodo International Visual Media Festival.
Now in his first semester at the University of Miami — where he is earning a Bachelor of Science in Motion Picutre — Chaparro’s love of graphic novels informs some of the elements of the film, including talk bubbles and simultaneous narratives.
In the opening of “Harmony,” we see a student working from home on his computer, and we hear the professor’s voice on the zoom call announcing a deadline: “Do I make myself clear?”
“Yeah, I got it,” the student (played by Chaparro) says to the computer screen with a light tone, even as he is writing in his notebook, “Why do I feel so alone?”
The theme of isolation is something Chaparro relates to his experience with remote learning, during the early semesters of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was often sleep deprived. I was working at a comic book store and staying up late to do class assignments,” he says, and adds that he lost a personal mentor to a heart attack when he was working on “Harmony.”
Overall, he says, the story and tone of “Harmony” is a departure from the comedy or action films he had made up to that point, and he approached it with rigorous attention to process.
“With ‘Harmony,’ I wanted to walk myself through every detail; from the storyboard, to screenwriting, to the floor plan of each scene,” Chaparro says.
That process was something he had a chance to try out, in his time at BMCC. While earning his associate degree, he was part of the cohort academic program ASAP, which provided him with academic support and counselors to check in with. “Plus it made my parents happy because it helped with tuition,” he says. “Whatever I made working, paid for fees and other expenses.”
Chaparro grew up in Brooklyn, in the Flatbush area near Church Avenue. In his website bio, he identifies himself as an aspiring African-American and Puerto Rican film director. His mother earned an associate degree herself at BMCC, in Business, before becoming an entrepreneur who has pursued ventures as a makeup artist, jewelry designer and more, while she homeschooled her children.
Chaparro has found the move to Central Florida — his parents, three siblings and grandmother are in Central Florida, while he’s in Miami — to be quite a switch from life in New York City.
“We all made the right decision. People have so much more space here,” he says, “but I miss going around the corner for a bacon, egg and cheese. I miss the realness of New York City, in a sense. Florida is so clean and shiny — but then you turn the corner and there’s a poverty-stricken wasteland, abandoned buildings and homeless people on the sidewalk.”
“Harmony” reflects his move away from BMCC and everything familiar to him in New York.
“I had just moved to a new state, from Brooklyn to Florida,” he says. “I didn’t know anyone; didn’t have public transportation and missed being in a big city. I missed the bustle of Times Square, I missed interacting with strangers at a comic shop, or going to church physically, not virtually. My best work comes out of where I am emotionally.”
Chaparro’s ultimate goal, he says, “is to make feature films around the issue of mental health, depression and anxiety, and where that takes people. I like exploring the redemption arc, the healing arc, someone who learns to live with their scars or fully heals themselves.”
He adds that he sees the story value in human tragedy. “People do the wrong thing, but it’s also a lesson or a warning. Any one of us could have a bad day, and it’s our decision where to go from there.”
Like Esposito, he credits much of his growth and exploration as filmmaker to Professor Rigopoulos, known to students as Professor Tassos.
“He was always willing to listen to our ideas, but he was also critical in a way that helped us see the potential in something and how to zero in on that. He’s very chill, great to be around, and I appreciate how he didn’t just automatically love everything we did. He was critical in a way that helped us make something great.”
To learn more about the Video Arts and Technology (VAT) associate degree program at BMCC, visit here.
To learn more about Supplemental Instruction (SI) at BMCC, visit here.
To learn more about ASAP at BMCC, visit here.
Creating opportunities for students to present their work in public-facing festivals and conferences supports the BMCC Strategic Plan including Strategic Goal 3: Integrate Career Development Throughout the Student Experience.
- BMCC Video Arts and Technology (VAT) major Renzo Esposito takes on Holocaust denial and more in his documentary film “Talk Louder,” winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 5th Annual Joyce Forum Jewish Short Film Festival, Best Editor Award at the International World Film Awards and more.
- Recent VAT alumnus Jeremiah Chaparro, now at the University of Miami, lands the Best Student Film Award at the 2022 International Film Festival Manhattan and other honors for his short film “Harmony.”
- Both students credit their experience at BMCC — working with faculty including VAT Professor and documentary filmmaker Anastassios (Tassos) Rigopoulos — for helping to kick off promising careers in filmmaking