2021 SVA Memorial Award Recipient: Rianne Pyle

OCTOBER 18, 2021

We are so excited to announce the 2021 of the Russell J. Efros Memorial Award Fund from the School of Visual Arts – Rianne Pyle.  The funds from the award helped Rianne Pyle complete her thesis project: FREEDOM DAY. The film tells the story of three founders of The Freedom Day Foundation, a small grassroots organization that fights for racial and social equality. Congrats Rianne!


Tell us a little bit about yourself
My name is Rianne Pyle and I am a director, producer and assistant director born and raised in the Big Apple. My love of filmmaking unfolded in an unusual way. Growing up I always wanted to either be a doctor or a medical examiner, despite my love of my Saturday morning art classes for 12 years straight. After attending a summer film program at SVA during my senior year of high school is when a love for filmmaking was awakened within me.

Since then, I spent the past four years in college developing my skills and professional resume. I have interned for two production companies. One being the award winning production company Our Time Projects, run by DGA and Emmy winning director Matthew Heineman. I have worked on several music videos as an Assistant Director and Production Coordinator which have accumulated millions of views since their releases. I have also directed two short documentaries in addition to Freedom. Rockstar, Producer, TankGod, Studio Session (2017) a 10 min doc about Tank God a 10 x Platinum hip hop producer, which debuted the film at the Ways of Seeing showcase. I also directed the documentary Vic Barrett: Youth Voice  about Vic Barrett, a climate change activist, who is suing the United States government over their climate change policies which premiered at the School of Visual Arts’ documentary showcase, Someone You Know. Additionally, I have directed three short narrative films entitled Unfolding a Memory (2020), Burning (2019), and Mask (2017), ranging in length from 4 – 10 minutes. Freedom Day is currently my first film with an official film festival selection at the Out on Film Film Festival and a Semi- FIinalist at Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival.

What inspired you to create the film ‘FREEDOM DAY’?

May 2020, posed as a new beginning, not just in beautiful weather and more adventures outside of our homes, but for my fellow incoming fourth year colleagues it opened a door to a transition in our filmmaking careers we had been craving for four years now – Thesis. But this time we knew our thesis year would look and feel different. We were presented with the great task of conveying our stories in uncharted territory and then May 25th came, the day George Floyd was murdered. I felt frozen in time as the world continued to zoom past me at lighting speed. A crisis that we have managed to placate year after year finally boiled over into the street.

As a documentarian, I knew the importance of this historical moment – a generation that was tired of being plagued by a system that acts retroactively against them. As I was still in a thesis limbo of sorts, one of my cinematographers and recent SVA graduates, Ryan Devita, connected me with this small grassroots organization called the Freedom Day Foundation. I worked closely with one of the co-founders, Malik Harris, on editing a 30 second promo video for their upcoming march on Juneteenth and quickly realized their individual stories, development of the marches and the events themselves were a compelling story that needed to be told. With the guidance of my thesis advisor, Joan Brooker,  the assistance of my two cinematographers Ryan Devita and Jay Murray, producer, Kirsty O’Donnell, and editor, Charlotte Atkinson, I was able to bring this project to life. 

The founder of the march, Morgan, is a black woman, whose story I personally resonated with and I chose to highlight the strength that black women possess to spearhead some of the biggest moments in our lifetime. 

Freedom Day is really my love letter, as a black woman and black filmmaker, to my community. I want them to feel seen, heard and realized as real people who are still struggling to combat issues that are very pervasive in our society.

“I want those who watch this film to not only take away the importance of being reflective on race relations and equality in this country; but I want them to realize no problem is too big for anyone to undertake when we combine our collective forces to bring about change. The time is here and the time is now.”

What was the most challenging part about creating this film? Most rewarding?

The most challenging aspect of making Freedom Day was directing everything from home. My team was scattered in different states at this stage of the pandemic. It took dozens of zoom calls, text messages, and look books to make sure my team had everything they needed to capture my vision for the film. The first event shot which was their large first march to the Lincoln Memorial was definitely our toughest. I had two weeks to prepare with my cinematographers for their  accommodations, equipment, and travel. I am a hundred percent a firm believer that making a film during such difficult times enhanced my filmmaker skills and made this all the more special to me. It really is a testament to the will and power of my dedicated team, subjects, and myself. The most beautiful thing about documentaries is they begin to take a life of their own in the editing. It can be difficult at times but the best part is watching the whole film come together. No feeling is better than hearing other people being touched by your film and the hard work of your team and yourself. It means so much to me to have a final edit of Freedom Day that I am not only proud of but touches everyone who watches it.  

If you could share any advice with a freshman film student what would it be? 

“Be open. Be open to every aspect of filmmaking. Be open to every genre of filmmaking. Be open to every style of filmmaking.”

When I first arrived at SVA, I was determined to just be the next Shonda Rhimes strictly a narrative film director and writer. I swore off documentary filmmaking as an area people went into if they couldn’t make it in narrative. After creating my first year narrative films, the results weren’t what I was expecting. I began to feel discouraged and started to believe that maybe filmmaking wasn’t exactly what I was meant to do. But then I remembered the one project that I enjoyed making and turned out better than the rest was my first ever mini doc/ interview I shot. From there, I decided to give myself the chance and dive deep into the documentary world. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. Openness has afforded me opportunities to work in pre-production and production on narrative films and music videos. To be open allows you so many opportunities to experience personal and artistic growth that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. And now, I couldn’t imagine myself being anyone else but a documentarian that advocates for their community.

What sprouts your creativity?

I have to say that two things sprout my creativity: 1. my community and their issues and 2. other filmmakers. When I reflect on the content I consumed growing up, I rarely saw stories where people looked like people or dealt with issues I faced. I don’t want any future generations to lack a diversity of stories and characters on the big and small screen. This inspires me to be the best and innovative filmmaker I can be. I also take a lot of inspiration from other filmmakers. Filmmakers such as Garrett Bradley and Ava Duvernay really push the envelope of storytelling and I only hope one day my work will be as impactful as theirs.

Freedom Day Trailer: https://vimeo.com/547255854