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Film Independent Tue 12.4.2018

Guest Post: A Letter to Film Independent to Say “Thank You”

The time is now to make an end of year tax-deductible donation to support Film Independent. In order to highlight Film Independent’s positive impact on the development of new voices in film, we asked 2016 Project Involve Fellow Sue-Ellen Chitunya to share her experiences with the organization.


Dear Film Independent,

I cannot fully articulate how much your support has impacted me both professionally and personally, but this is my attempt to put it into words…

I vividly remember my first movie going experience. I was six and my uncle snuck me in to a drive-in to watch Terminator 2: Judgement Day—I hid under a blanket in the back of his dusty Datsun 120Y. I was in awe of the moving pictures. It was in that drive-in theater that I knew I wanted to be a part of the magic. But growing up in Zimbabwe, the arts were not encouraged. You were expected to be a lawyer, doctor or accountant. My Uncle was the first person to show me the true meaning of unconditional love and was my constant movie-watching companion, until he died in 1998. My Grandfather’s last words to me before he passed were: “Get an education.”

When I moved to the United States for college, I was on track to be a doctor. With two classes left to complete prerequisites, I decided to switch studies to Film. Despite not getting a lot of support from my family, I was relentless in my pursuit. I have not looked back, and ever since have been active about learning as much as I can about producing.

Sue-Ellen Chitunya on the set of her Project Involve short ‘Get the Life’ in 2016

I crossed paths with you, Film Independent, in 2016 when I was a Project Involve Producing Fellow. At the time, I was at a crossroads—I was new to Los Angeles and a bit lost in the pursuit of my goals. My PI experience honed my producing skills. It allowed me to become malleable in my working style and comprehend that things change at the speed of light. I had the honor of working alongside other Fellows selected for the program, whose immense talent continues to inspire me. I still keep in touch with many of them and I look forward to collaborating with them in the future.

Receiving the Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation Fellowship was one of the most emotional and joyful moments of my life. With the help of the unrestricted grant, I have been able to sustain myself financially and transition to living in Los Angeles with ease. Additionally, I have been afforded the opportunity to travel to various film festivals and conferences. Attending these events is an educational experience that fosters my understanding of the international filmmaking landscape while developing my first feature film.

One of the greatest gifts of the grant, which happened naturally, has been receiving mentorship from Chaz, who is very gracious. Having her as a mentor makes me feel like I have both her and Roger as mentors, guiding me as I navigate the gruesome channels of the filmmaking industry.

Chaz Ebert (left) and Sue-Ellen Chitunya

During PI, I had the opportunity to work closely with the Director of Programming for the LA Film Festival as a programing consultant assisting with programming world films, specifically from Africa, Middle East, Caribbean, and Asia.

This year, I came back home and played with this year’s Project Involve class, ushering them from post-production to completion. And as if I hadn’t played with you enough, I also came back as a Global Media Makers mentor. Bravo! What a great initiative. I like that GMM encompasses all the aspects of your Artist Development Programs. Mentoring GMM Fellow Wissam Tanios and producing his short documentary was a fun eye-opening cultural experience for both of us.

All these experiences you’ve afforded me are invaluable, and the experience doesn’t stop here, it keeps going. Whenever I have had a challenge I can always trace my solution back to Film Independent. The Artist Development team is ever so supportive. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve called Francisco and Angel with a challenge. They’re always there to listen and offer guidance.

“I was in awe of the moving pictures. I knew I wanted to be a part of the magic.”

I love watching films because I feel connected to my Uncle—it feels like we’re hanging out. Being involved with various Film Independent programs allows me to learn something new each time, thus letting me continue my education. And I know this makes my Grandfather smile from above.

All in all, Film Independent, you’re my haven. You remind me that anything is possible. You have given me a safe home to learn, succeed and fail. It is because of the programs that you offer that people like me are afforded the privilege to pursue our goals. Keep up the great work—and a happy 25th year of Project Involve. I understand that my accomplishments are because of the kindness and grace afforded me by individuals and entities that believe in me. I promise to continue to make you proud and pass the kindness you have shown me forward.

Much love and endless gratitude,

-Sue-Ellen Chitunya


Sue-Ellen Chitunya is a 2016 Project Involve Fellow and recipient of the Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation Fellowship grant. Originally from Zimbabwe, she is a graduate of Georgia State and the UCLA Producing Certification Program. She has participated in the 2016 Women In Film mentoring circle, 2015 Berlinale Talents, the 2013 Marche Du Film Producers Workshop, the 2012 CaribbeanTales Incubator and the 2011 Durban Talent Campus and Kyoto Filmmakers Lab. She has consulted for Zimbabwe International Film Festival, producing the Big PictureCon. Chitunya has produced several shorts that have screened at festivals worldwide. Her PI short, Get the Life screened at over 30 film festivals including BFI London Film Festival, Iris Prize, and OutFest. She is currently developing multiple projects.

If you would like to support Film Independent in its efforts to champion the voices of emerging and underrepresented filmmakers, consider making a donation to support Film Independent before the end of the year. All gifts received or postmarked before December 21 will be allowable for your 2018 tax deductions.

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