Lawsuit: Film School Misrepresents Hollywood Connections, Underserves Educational Needs

A former student of the New York Film Academy alleges the school knows that it couldn't provide him the resources needed to graduate

The New York Film Academy, an institution that prides itself on hands-on learning and lots of celebrity connections, is facing a lawsuit from a former student who asserts that not only did the school fail to deliver what was represented to him when he enrolled, but that the school took active steps to discourage students from working with him after he left and set up a studio.

The lawsuit was filed by Gonzalo Digenio, who says that he enrolled in the cinematography program in January 2011. He says that he was led to believe that NYFA was affiliated with Harvard University, associated with Universal Studios, and was the film and acting school of choice for such luminaries as Kevin Kline, Susan Sarandon, Peter Bogdanovich and James L. Brooks.

Digenio now has has a different view of the school.

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The cinematographer says that in his first year, he learned that NYFA wasn't really associated with Universal and had no meaningful access to the studio's resources or equipment. He says that NYFA doesn't have an affiliation with Harvard either. (On the school's website at the moment, all the way at the bottom, is a disclaimer.)

As for the celebrity connections, NYFA advertises that Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Bruce Springsteen, Al Pacino, Robert Downey Jr., Jamie Foxx and Jodie Foster have sent family members to study at the school. That may or may not be technically true, but according to the lawsuit...

"Mr. Digenio is informed, believes, and based thereon alleges that, as of 2013, the only connection Steven Spielberg or any other celebrity had to NYFA was that their children attended a NYFA summer camp."

The alleged misrepresentations over the resource support are arguably the main focus.

The lawsuit goes into Digenio's personal situation where he allegedly came to odds with the school during his third semester. The plaintiff says that he was owed 120 hours of instruction that NYFA "was not capable of providing him," that NYFA's facilities and instruction were inadequate, and that after exhausting efforts to work with the school, he left.

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Digenio's lawsuit suggests that "no student has ever graduated from the NYFA Cinematography MFA program."

After Digenio left the school, he says that he and his wife set up a small production studio, which he advertised to NYFA students, who he says are in the market for reasonably priced studios to complete projects. He says he contracted with several students to be clients of the studio, but now asserts that the school has interfered with his business "by discouraging if not outright prohibiting its students from working at Mr. Digenio's studio." He says it's in retaliation for asserting his rights.

Digenio is seeking damages and injunctive relief for breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, unfair competition and tortious interference. The lawsuit (full complaint) was removed from LA Superior Court to federal court this past week by NYFA, which has generally denied the allegations in its answer.

"The New York Film Academy has been in existence for over twenty two years," says Dan Mackler, the NYFA's director in LA. "We pride ourselves on the excellence of our programs and the experience of our students. Never in our many years has someone accused us of the allegations set forth in Mr. Digenio's complaint. While we are confident that the facts which will emerge during the litigation will prove all of Mr. Digenio's claims to be baseless and even libelous, it is the policy of the school not to comment on ongoing legal matters."

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner

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