A local mecca for artists and film audiences


“People are coming back to the theater,” says Mary Jo Ziesel, executive director of the Jacob Burns Film Center (right), seen here during a screening (and Q&A) of Spencer, on Princess Diana, with the director from the film Pablo Larraín (c) and JBFC, founding director of film programming, Brian Ackerman. Photo> Lynda Shenkman

People are coming back to the movies, ”says Jacob Burns Film Center Executive Director Mary Jo Ziesel (r), seen here during a screening (and Q&A) of Spencer, about Princess Diana, with film director Pablo Larraín (c) and JBFC’s founding director of film programming Brian Ackerman. Photo> Lynda Shenkman

(Left to right) JBFC Executive Director Mary Jo Ziesel at an Artist-in-Residence Film Premiere with Creative Culture Fellows Ash Goh Hua and Aisha Amin. Photo> Lynda Shenkman

In the summer of 2020, a film enthusiast named Marie Jo Ziesel attended a screening of Ron howardthe documentary of Pavoratti at Pleasantville‘s Jacob Burns Film Center (JBFC). She was so impressed with the theater’s knowledgeable staff and sense of community that she returned the following week for a screening of Bong Joon Ho‘s Parasite.

“It would be amazing to work in a place like this someday,” Ziesel, who also happens to be a director with over 20 years of experience at New York‘s American ballet theater, remembers thinking at the time. Soon after, she applied and landed a job as the new Executive Director of JBFC.

“I threw it into the universe, and it happened, so here I am,” Ziesel says.


“She has this incredible energy and good humor, and that came to us like a real breath of fresh air during this tumultuous time ”, says Sean weiner, director of programs at the media arts laboratory at JBFC.

(Left to right) JBFC Executive Director Mary Jo Ziesel at an Artist-in-Residence Film Premiere with Creative Culture Fellows Ash Goh Hua and Aisha Amin. Photo> Lynda Shenkman

Weiner is also the founding director of Creative Culture, a JBFC program fostering collaboration and support among emerging filmmakers, which Ziesel immediately fascinated with.

Creative Culture consists of two groups – fellows and residents. For the scholarship program, four applicants are selected for each session. They each work on short films at JBFC, receive production material, 24/7 access to the Media Arts Lab and production insurance for location shoots.

“We have fictional filmmakers, documentarists, animators, hybrid storytellers,” Weiner explains. “We want to bring together people who tell stories in all these different ways”,


Resident artists are recruited organizations such as the Sundance Institute, Chicken and egg productions, and Black public media. They fly to Pleasantville and spend 4-6 weeks at the JBFC Residence, a house next to the Media Lab that includes a full editing room.

As part of the program’s “collaborative rather than competitive” philosophy, filmmakers are encouraged to share their stories, skills and space with one another. Often times, they form bonds that last throughout their careers.

“It really makes for a community of professional and personal support, which is just nice to see,” says Ziesel. “It’s about building support networks in an industry that can be quite ruthless otherwise. “

The JBFC also gives emerging filmmakers the opportunity to showcase their work to the public and members of the industry, often facilitating relationships with film festivals and distribution companies.


Among the notable alumni of creative culture residents are Chilean filmmaker Francisca Alegria, whose film The cow who sang a song about the future was a Sundance winner in 2017; Melissa Lesh, including the documentary Raising Khan was recently acquired by Amazon for $ 20 million, and Oscar winner Bong Joon Jo.

“It goes to show that you really have to support artists to get them to those breakout moments when studios come to support them,” Weiner explains.

JBFC offers many other educational programs, including an organized short film library for schools, a filmmaking camp for children, and a media literacy course for educators.

During the Covid era, JBFC – like many other arts organizations – realized that while virtual presentations have limits, they also find audiences that would otherwise be out of reach.


“The silver lining is that we don’t just reach out to teachers in Westchester. We are able to reach teachers across the country and around the world, ”says Ziesel.

Ziesel is optimistic about JBFC’s future and hopes his enthusiasm, along with the enthusiasm of the staff and members of the Center, is a sign of a bright future as the organization enters its 20th anniversary.e year.

“People are coming back to the theater. Once you start over, once you break the seal, you pick up the pace, ”she says. “One of the really rewarding things for me is when you’re standing in the lobby and seeing all these people who are really excited to be back in this community of moviegoers.”

Selected upcoming attractions

  • Monthly Senior Afternoon Cinema Series Remembers Legendary Musical Theater Composer Stephen Sondheim by highlighting three of his musical achievements in cinema: Warren beatty‘s red, Alain Resnais Stavisky, and Mervyn Le Roy‘s Gypsy.
    > burnsfilmcenter.org/series/senior-afternoon-cinema/
  • Remix: The black experience in film, media and art. This ongoing series includes a free community screening on January 17 of two episodes of acclaimed 1987 documentary series eyes on the Price, focusing on the historic speech by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. on the March in Washington and the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
  • February 8, Buster keatonsilent comedy The general (1926) will be followed by a Q&A with Dana stevens, author of Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the dawn of cinema and the invention of the twentieth century.
  • Pedro Almodovar‘s Parallel mothers, which opens Jan. 14 for an open engagement, follows the journey of two single women who meet in a hospital room where they both go to give birth.
  • Return home with Paul thomas anderson, January 13. Course on the famous filmmaker, with a lecture and discussion on his current film Licorice Pizza (playing JBFC), a coming-of-age love story set in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. An in-depth examination of the film’s story structure, cast, setting, soundtrack, and how the film functions both as a homecoming and a continuation of stylistic and narrative themes from Anderson.
  • For the full schedule of films, virtual screenings, events, and ticket information, visit burnfilmcenter.org.

Christian Larson is editor-in-chief of North River Log.

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