Grants & Scholarships

A local and a legend - how a Providence woman is launching a film career

When you search famous quotes from iconic filmmaker Spike Lee, a man who helps define Black culture in America and provokes discussion on the country’s widespread prejudice and racism, several of his sayings reveal the kind of person and director his teaching assistant Manya Glassman is becoming.

“All directors are storytellers, so the motivation was to tell the story I wanted to tell. That’s what I love.”

“I believe in destiny. But I also believe that you can’t just sit back and let destiny happen. A lot of times, an opportunity might fall into your lap, but you have to be ready for that opportunity. You can’t sit there waiting for it. A lot of times, you are going to have to get out there and make it happen.”

“I’m just trying to tell a good story and make thought-provoking, entertaining films. I just try and draw upon the great culture we have as people, from music, novels, the streets.”

At just 26, Providence born and raised, Glassman has already produced more than 11 short films for students all over the world and has directed, edited, and written six of her own. Her works are thought provoking visual storytelling, such as her first that asked strangers in Boston who they love and why. Sometimes, they are poetic, but they are always driven by people—their behaviors, experiences, and what’s meaningful to them.

Not only has she been Lee’s assistant for the last four semesters, but the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) candidate at New York University’s (NYU) Tisch School for the Arts is also a recipient of the Spike Lee Film Production and Sandra Ifraimova Funds grant to help pay for her latest script, How I Learned to Die. It is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story about a 15-year-old girl who finds out she has a 60 percent chance of dying in four days. In real life, Glassman learned during her first year of high school at the Moses Brown School that she had a benign cyst in her third vertebrae, and 18 surgeries later, she is living life to her fullest with the aid of a titanium brace that is fused to part of her spine.

Glassman also won New England Best Director for Acquiescence in 2022 and audience pick for Sofia’s Tapestry in 2021 at the Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival.

In addition to those successes, Glassman was picked for a fellowship and two scholarships, including the Antonio Cirino Memorial Scholarship from the Rhode Island Foundation, which is given to Rhode Island graduate students in arts education or the arts with an intention to teach. The $12,000 a year scholarship, said Glassman, is a chief reason she can afford graduate school.

“I always say two of the best days of my life were getting into NYU and then when I got a job with Spike Lee, and it is all thanks to the Rhode Island Foundation because they are partly why I am at NYU, which led me to Professor Lee.”

“I always say two of the best days of my life were getting into NYU and then when I got a job with Spike Lee,” said Glassman, who received her bachelor’s degree from Providence College. “And it is all thanks to the Rhode Island Foundation because they are partly why I am at NYU, which led me to Professor Lee.”

Among the many lessons from her professor, Manya learned to be punctual—Lee is always early—as well as to have a consistent writing schedule, validate your own work rather than seeking external approval, be humble, give back, and pursue what you love most to do. She says he is the “most impressive person in the world,” mainly because of how much he pours into his students despite how busy he is.

“The [Cirino scholarship] is about being an educator and also a creative, and I like how he wants to do both as well, and I want to also,” Glassman said. “It’s nice to give back to where you come from, and he’s so successful now, and it started at NYU, and he acknowledges that.”

Glassman’s love of movies started with her parents. Her father, Gary Glassman, is a documentary filmmaker whose company, Providence Pictures, produces films for PBS, Discovery Channel, History Channel, BBC, and other networks. Her mother, Joan Branham, is an art history professor and Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences at Providence College. Glassman said the family watched movies nightly, and her mother would stop during multiple scenes to discuss the light, shadows, and imagery. She said that was how her family connected and showed love. Young Glassman then started making fun music videos with friends. “I have been blessed,” she said in reflection. “My parents supported anything I wanted to do, and then one day, I just realized, I guess I am doing film because that’s how I love and connect. Meaning for me is being connected—to someone else, to Earth, and to myself.”

She continued, “We’re all connected in some way.”