Morristown High filmmaker gets real for Scout project

Morristown High School filmmaker Nya Federoff. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Morristown High School filmmaker Nya Federoff. Photo courtesy of the artist.


By Nicholas Voltaggio

Independent film may be the most powerful way to influence lives and convey a message.

At Morristown’s 70 South Gallery, Morristown High School senior Nya Federoff is harnessing this medium to celebrate and encourage local young women.

Federoff’s latest project is Gold Girls — an endeavor that doubles as a prerequisite for earning her Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest honor attainable for Girl Scouts. The film, her first non-fiction piece to be publicly displayed, centers on four classmates pursuing their passions in the arts.

Kylee Strasser is an aspiring filmmaker. Victoria Fanning is a budding actress. Grace Prachthauser is a concert photographer. In the documentary, violinist Jessica Vogel sums up the magic of art that captivates each of them:

“The violin is my voice…I feel like an opera singer when I play onstage,” says Vogel, who was entranced the first time she saw a pit orchestra. “They were like ninjas hiding underground to make music.”

SOPHOMORE STARS: MHS Film Fest prize winners Jessica Vogel, Nya Federoff and Kylee Strasser, June 9, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Documentary maker Nya Federoff, center, flanked by classmates Jessica Vogel and Kylee Strasser, as sophomore winners at the 2017 Morristown High Film Fest. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The film examines how these students deal with the realization that it’s hard to make a living in the arts, and it’s doubly difficult for females. Only 8 percent of the top 100 grossing films of 2017 were directed by women; professional female musicians on average earn 20 percent less than their male counterparts, according to Federoff.

“I don’t need all the success in the world yet,” Prachthauser, a 2018 graduate, says on camera. “It’s not my time. It’s going to come when it’s going to come. It’ll be.”

That’s a key takeaway for Federoff. It’s imperative for young women working in competitive fields to “go through all those challenges with heads held high” as they strive to make a name for themselves, she told Morristown Green.

Ira Black, director of the 70 South Gallery, with Nya Federoff at her documentary screening, September 2018. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Ira Black, director of the 70 South Gallery, with Nya Federoff at her documentary exhibit, September 2018. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Under the tutelage of Morristown High broadcasting teacher Michael Butler, Federoff has risen to become executive producer of the school’s Broadcasting Club, which manages the school’s FM radio station and Colonial Corner video productions.

Gold Girls challenged her. Nonfiction pieces, she acknowledged, have not been her forte.

Teaming with Vogel in the spring, Federoff won second place in the Morristown High School Film Festival with Until You Notice, an edgy fictional reflection on hurtful behavior.

The duo also were part of an MHS team that bested 39 other schools to take “Best Overall Film” in the New Jersey High School Film Challenge with Broken, a short comedy.

Federoff said she loves how film can provoke “fear, sadness, joy” and all the emotions in between. To tell the story of Gold Girls, she trusted her instincts, drawing inspiration from her own life and ambitions and channeling successes of other accomplished young women.

She hopes other girls her age, and younger, find inspiration in the film. Seeing her real-life documentary premiere, for real, at the 70 South Gallery earlier this month was “surreal,” Federoff said.

Gold Girls can be viewed at the gallery through Sept. 30, 2018. contributor Nicholas Voltaggio is a sophomore at Morristown High School. Kevin Cooughlin contributed to this report.

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