In a New York Minute with Maliyamungu Muhande and Imani Dennison

Still from 'New York Minute'

While women remain largely underrepresented in the film industry (in 2021, just 17 percent of writers and directors were female), there are countless incredibly talented, yet undiscovered women in film with stories that must be seen and heard – and advocated for, across all levels of experience and roles. At Adobe, we are committed to developing more opportunities for women filmmakers to tell their unique stories, while providing them with the platform, tools, and community they need.

We believe everyone is creative and has a story to tell, and the more stories and perspectives we see, the better the world will be.

Filmmakers Maliyamungu Muhande and Imani Dennison — each with divergent approaches and points of view for storytelling collaborated together with Muhande creating an original short film around the theme of “community”, and Dennison documenting and filming Muhande’s creative process behind the scenes. The end result is Muhande’s short film entitled, “New York Minute”, offering an intimate glimpse at the rising filmmaker community in New York City.

Please note that there is some strong language being used that may not be appropriate for all. Use your own discretion.

Maliyamungu Muhande | Filmmaker | She/Her

Maliyamungu Muhande is a Congolese artist, educator, and documentary filmmaker based in New York City. Her work has been screened at the Doc NYC festival, and she has received multiple awards, including the Sundance Ignite x Adobe Fellowship.

The Sundance Ignite x Adobe Fellowship gives emerging filmmakers support, tools, resources, and mentorship needed to expand their skills and careers. Her submission, Nine Days a Week, offers a telling snapshot of the life and career of Louis Mendes, a renowned street photographer who has captured the varied faces of New York City for over fifty years. She is currently developing this into a feature film.

Imani Dennison | Filmmaker | She/They

Portrait of Imani Dennison.

Imani Dennison is an experimental documentary filmmaker and director of photography based in Brooklyn. She has developed commissioned documentary works for PBS, Black Tag, ITVS, and For Africans.

In addition to her work on music videos for artists like Beyonce, Jidenna, and Jamila Woods, Dennison’s film work has already garnered attention. Garden of Eden, her debut work, premiered at The Cannes Film Festival in 2016. She co-directed For Our Girls, which explores the winding bends of the relationship between Black mothers and daughters. Her most recent film, They Say the People Could Skate, is a telling look at the Black Louisvillian’s remembrance of roller skating culture in Louisville, Kentucky.

Bringing the vision to life

It started with a pitch to film everything on an iPhone to show, Muhande says, that filmmaking doesn’t have to be intimidating. “It can be accessible to all,” she continues. “For me, filming on an iPhone as a filmmaker doesn't mean compromising quality, so the process still respects the craft.”

The filming schedule for the film took place over just two weeks, between June 22 - July 8, 2022. (Muhande directed some of the shots earlier remotely while away at a seminar.) With Adobe’s support, Muhande had a community of talented professionals to help realize her vision — a cinematographer, an assistant director, editor, assistant editor, colorist, animator, and post-production supervisor. All of the final edits for Muhande’s film were done using Adobe Premiere Pro, while Dennison also relied on Premiere Pro and Adobe Stock for her work

“[My] team has worked their ass off,” Muhande says. “When you do work in the community, when you share a value in artistic value, like in principles for the love of the work, they did not come because they were getting paid well. They came because I pitched it to them and told them we [could] really make something beautiful out of this.”

The budget breakdown included costs for equipment, transportation, and community engagement. “For the community budget, I managed it by just inviting predominantly Black women with an X filmmaker to brunch and dinner. The idea was just for us to sit, eat, and laugh because we don't get to do that anymore.” Though the budget was limited, it opened up opportunities for Muhande to not only support local NYC nonprofits and businesses of color, but also for the filmmakers showcased in the film.

Muhande also enlisted a composer in Harlem to work on the music and a sound mixer. “I just like I went in with a big vision, very ambitious. And I leaned into my community to say, ‘Come on board with me.’

“I just want to make good work. And I think that's the spirit of independent filmmaking or independent art making. We just want to do good work that we're proud of.”

Maliyamungu Muhande

Drawing on personal experiences

“New York Minute” partly draws on Muhande’s own experience as a transplant New Yorker. “I’ve been in the city since January 2019,” she says.

“I landed in Brooklyn — Brooklyn Heights, Greenpoint, Crown Heights. I’ve moved five times in three years and know Brooklyn really well. Moving has been like chasing the culture, chasing the Black culture, chasing where my people are, chasing history. Then I go to Harlem, and there will be African roots where it's visually with the African history.”

“New York is very much where the environment influences the way you see and the way you write. So just like being aware of my surroundings, because I'm also not from New York, you have fresh eyes and a curiosity to understand the subtext of what you see that meets the eye. At least that's my approach. I'm always like, ‘I want to dig a little deeper.’”

“New York Minute” renders an intimate look at the lives of four emerging filmmakers living and working in New York City: Brittony Mckenney, Sekiya Dorsett, Junting Zhou, and Ihunmehai Isaac. It not only captures their staunch dedication to their craft as filmmakers, but also shows how they straddle their passion and the responsibilities of surviving in an expensive New York City.

“Some of us bartend, teach, and do commercial gigs, [while] others work at gyms or edit on the side. Yet outside our daily hustle, we are still creating our original films,” says Muhande.

“Our New York deserves to be celebrated. The five-minute short is a celebration of our era and highlights that we are doing the best with what we have been served.”

Maliyamungu Muhande

One moment in “New York Minute” that celebrates community shows the filmmakers gathering for a meal, which Muhande says is rare for emerging filmmakers because of their hectic schedules or lack of funds. “I’m making space for us to have the experience that we wish we could have, which is like just to sit and break bread and laugh, which we rarely get to do because it was we either like sitting and watching a new film together and then having to go home and work.”

As a fellow filmmaker, Dennison also found inspiration from her work with Muhande on her short film. “It was nice [being] in a community with our peers and, you know, documenting them and asking them questions and getting their stories on film. [Muhande] is so passionate and dedicated to the community and telling fellow filmmakers' stories in their journeys. It felt really inspiring.”

Why a community of voices in film matter

Much like the broad spectrum of films available to choose from, there must be an even wider, more diverse talent pool of filmmakers and creators. While the content of stories told continues to become more expansive, mirroring the world we live in, the growth of women filmmakers in the industry remains somewhat stagnant. Together, Muhande and Dennison are moving forward in continuing to build gender equity and tell the unique stories of women within the film industry.

This marks a pivotal step in bridging the gap among women filmmakers. While studio or financial support is beneficial for an emerging filmmaker and creator, it’s possible – and attainable - to make a film with limited resources. Adobe is committed to making filmmaking less intimidating and more accessible. With just a smartphone, anyone with an idea or a story to tell can be creative.

Visit Voices of our Community on YouTube to see more inspirational stories from diverse creators.