Allason Leitz (ARAD ’19) received her graduate degree from the Teachers College at Columbia University in Arts Administration and her undergraduate degree in Liberal Studies with an emphasis and a minor in Global African Studies at Seattle University. Since college, she has been a part of the administrative team at Yole!Africa, a cultural center in Goma, D.R. Congo which hosts the Congo International Film Festival founded in 2005 by the internationally acclaimed filmmaker Petna Ndaliko. After graduating in 2014 she has continued to be involved with Yole!Africa and lived in Berlin, Germany for a year where she worked on the i-doc web series Kinshasa Collection.
Jessie: Thanks so much for taking some time to answer a few questions about life post-graduation. Tell us about your current role. What are some of your responsibilities? Any projects you’re involved with right now?
Allason: I’m working on several projects right now. In addition to working with Congolese internationally acclaimed filmmaker Petna Ndaliko on the distribution of his latest film, Matata. I currently work at Maysles Documentary Center as a Programmer and Theater Manager, and I’m also the Coordinator for the Double Lens Harlem DocFest. The festival is co-presented by five different organizations: Harlem Stage, the Documentary Forum @ CCNY, Third World Newsreel, New York Latin Film Festival, and Maysles Documentary Center. My job is to ensure that all parties involved are taken care of and that the festival goes off without a hitch.
The Opening Night is on Friday, November 15, at the Harlem Stage and will feature Lisa Cortes and Farah X’s film, The Remix.
The DocFest will also take place partly at Maysles Cinema in Harlem on Saturday (November 16). The final screening at Maysles is on Sunday and is a Harlem Youth Doc Shorts series which will feature different films shot and directed by youth in Harlem.
The best part is that this entire festival is FREE and open to the public! Here is a link to the full schedule.
Jessie: This sounds like a pretty incredible opportunity, I’m curious to know how ARAD helped you meet your professional goals?
Allason: Going into the ARAD program made a lot of sense, but reflecting on it now, it makes even more sense than it did when I was initially applying. At first I was interested in many different art forms, so I came in looking for more guidance and inspiration from faculty and my classes. Throughout the program I focused on film, music and the performing arts, and while the latter two art forms will always be a crucial part of my career eco-system, going through ARAD made me also re-consider a lot of the different aspects of independent cinema world that I had overlooked. I gained a lot of confidence and assurance on how I wanted to move forward in this industry.
Jessie: Can you tell us about your internship experience, did you gain any experience that you would like to share?
Allason: Well firstly, I was interested in working for Susan Margolin who is a documentary producer. I had wanted to work with a producer in a growing production company to see how that world works and not when it’s so established that the different departments are all siloed. I was interested in being able to produce films, and I really like to watch somebody who really knows what they are doing, so making this connection through ARAD was very helpful. Things in the classroom can feel abstract, but through this opportunity, they became much more concrete.
The second part of my internship included feature film programming under the supervision of Gabrielle Kelly. With her, I programmed a couple of different festivals including the Women’s International Film Festival in Islamabad, Pakistan. This was a super interesting project in part because I learned how to program for an international festival, which had many different political censors. This definitely has a connection to my current role at Maysles.
Jessie: How did your internship help you transition to what you’re doing now?
Allason: I did my internship pretty late in the game, during the last semester I was in the program. I think that this helped me secure opportunities after graduation, especially given that I freelance. It made for a smoother transition into full-time work. I now work for the two people that I interned with and I even secured the internship via someone I met at the internship fair. I had rarely seen opportunities like that come through from formal events of that nature, but this one in particular inspired me to show up to the event this year to find new interns for Maysles.
Jessie: What was the biggest takeaway from the Arts Administration program at Teachers College?
Allason: My biggest takeaway was to look at the arts not just on a microscopic level, but to look at it as an ecosystem. I learned to recognize how certain creators were being promoted and represented and others not as much. Dr. Lena’s class on “Diversity in the Arts” provided amazing insight into the field for me, especially for a white German-American woman often working with people of different cultural and racial backgrounds.
Jessie: As an alumna, what advice would you give to current students?
Allason: Take advantage of what’s being offered at the school outside of coursework. I did go the extra mile to try other departments and used my electives outside of TC (a lot of work, yes!) but I never regretted it, and I’m very grateful in retrospect that I took the time to do that as part of my graduate experience.
When I was at TC, I also expanded my network outside of the University. I worked at a little cabaret theater on the Upper West Side, which was a great way to get my hands dirty with the challenges a small venue faces and still make some money. It allowed me to engage outside of the school environment, helped me find a new community and build contacts, which in turn led me to new people and projects that I love. In a nutshell I guess my advice is to see every opportunity as a learning experience.
Someone recently also gave me great post-grad freelancing advice. She said there are three ‘p’s’ that matter on any project you consider taking on: the people, the price (payment), and the project. Try not worry about all three but do worry about two of them, whichever are most important. Use this experience in ARAD as a jumping off point, it can be such a great foundation, but like anything else in life, it’s only what you make of it. It gives back what you put into it.
Above: Allason on OPEN at BronxNet Community Television this morning promoting the festival.
About halfway through ARAD I sat myself down and made a mental list of the things I wanted to take away from this experience, things that I could take into the next phase of my life. From there on I made a huge point to network outside of the university bubble as well as within it. People often willingly give you their time you’re a student, so my advice is to lean in and get what you need from them.
Thank you so much, Allason, for your time and consideration!