Ahhh.. seems just like yesterday that Film Independent President Josh Welsh was on stage at the 2023 Film Independent Spirit Awards (looking sharp AF in a peach tie and crisp pocket hexagonal, btw) announcing the kickoff to our year-long #AD30 celebration, commemorating three uninterrupted decades—pandemics, strikes and recessions be damned!—of Film Independent Artist Development programs.
Of course, in reality that announcement was one full awards cycle ago, back when the Past Lives, Earth Mamas and May Decembers of the world were but a flicker in eyes of industry plaudit prognosticators. But the story of #AD30 has only grown in the interim.
Look no further than the program that started it all, Project Involve, which today announced the 27 new Fellows joining as part of its 2024 cohort—the 31st overall such cohort in a long line of inclusive, up-and-coming industry players. Project Involve alumni include Lulu Wang (Expats), Linda Yvette Chávez (Flamin’ Hot), Jomo Fray (All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt), Effie T. Brown (The Inspection), Tze Chun (I’m a Virgo), Harry Yoon (Shang-Chi and Legend of the Ten Rings) and Sundance Director of Programming Kim Yutani, plus many, many more.
“Each year we look forward to the energy and brilliance these talented filmmakers bring to the program,” says Project Involve Associate Director Francisco Velasquez. “Project Involve remains the premier program for building a community of gifted and diverse artists,” he added, excited to see what these new collaborations might yield.
Filmmaker support this year comes again at both 1:1 scale and in extreme miniature form, as the LAIKA Animation Fellowship enters its second consecutive year—in fact, the PI animation Fellows studio-supported short Dormilón is already in production, set to debut as part of Project Involve’s First Look screening in 2025.
Past shorts produced in the program include Dear Mama… (2023 NAACP Image Award Winner) Blackout (2022 NAACCP Image Award Nominee) Black Boy Joy (2020 NAACP Image Award Winner, currently airing on HBO), Lonely Blue Night (2020 AFI Fest Short Film Audience Award, currently airing on HBO), Liberty (2019 SXSW Narrative Short Film Jury Award, 2019 Special Prize of the Generation 14plus International Jury for the Best Short Film at the Berlin International Film Festival, 2019 AFI Special Jury Prize – Live Action) and Emergency (2018 Sundance Special Jury Award, 2018 SXSW Narrative Short Film Jury Award).
Grouped by track, this year’s Project Involve Fellows are…
Jeremy Brockman is an EMMY award-winning filmmaker and cinematographer from Detroit. He has lensed a number of productions in narrative, documentary, experimental art and branded content. Brockman was awarded a NATAS Michigan Regional EMMY Award for Lyricist Society, a documentary short about an alternative music program at a high school for young men in Detroit. His narrative work has been screened at several festivals including American Black Film Festival and Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival. With his work, Brockman seeks to create images that truthfully represent and inspire his community.
Vaughn Greve is a cinematographer based in Los Angeles. They hold an MFA in Cinematography from AFI Conservatory, where they were a recipient of the prestigious Tom Yoda Scholarship Award. Their work is informed by a BA in Film Studies from Barnard College, Columbia University, a 35mm film program at FAMU and three years as a screener and script reader for Sundance Film Festival.They believe in the capacity of storytelling to create radical empathy, and strive to make imagery that is vital and life-affirming. When not working, they can be found camping in the desert.
Karissa Leicht is a growing artist, a metalhead and basketball nerd from Dallas, Texas. Leicht holds a BFA from Stephen F. Austin State University, where she studied cinematography, digital media and art history. She employs both a technical understanding of what a project needs, but also utilizes her intuition for decision making, and uses life experiences and travels as a platform for her art. The most notable narrative film she has photographed is Mrs. Anderson, directed by Brina Palencia, produced by Destinee Stuart & Farah White and executive produced by Jamie Lee Curtis & Paul Wingo. Her most recent project she lensed is Fresh Paint, directed by Raven-Symoné. Leicht’s biggest values are to lead with love and inspire others around her.
Angelia Sciulli is a Los Angeles-based cinematographer hailing from Cleveland, Ohio. She has lensed numerous short films including Cherry Lemonade, which debuted at the Tribeca Festival. Sciulli is a 2021 mentee of the ASC Vision Mentorship Program and a member of the International Camera Guild (ICG 600) as a camera operator. She has operated on numerous projects, including Netflix’s Brand New Cherry Flavor and the upcoming indie feature All That We Love. A graduate of the American Film Institute, where she earned her MFA in cinematography, Sciulli is inspired by character-driven stories that have an emotional heartbeat.
Joewi Verhoeven is a Dutch-Chinese cinematographer based in Los Angeles. Born and raised in the Netherlands, he left for China at the age of 18 to learn Mandarin and immerse himself in the Chinese film industry. He shot several feature films, commercials, music videos, shorts and documentaries. His work has screened at film festivals such as Camerimage, San Sebastian and Busan. He graduated from the American Film Institute Conservatory in 2023 with an MFA in Cinematography. His approach to image-making is spiritual—to infuse every frame with a soul and authenticity while never losing sight of the story.
Natalie Camou is a Mexican-American director and writer based in Los Angeles. Her 2016 short tereza won the inaugural Audi Fellowship for Women, a full fellowship to attend The American Film Institute. Her documentary Domestic Violence in Rural America won the 2018 Communicator Award, Award of Distinction. Camou’s 2019 PSA Changing the Chairs opened in front of the world premiere of Queen & Slim at the 2019 AFI FEST. Supporters such as Laura Dern, Mati Diop and Snoop Dog shared the piece. She is currently developing two features and a series in the genre formats of historical drama/sci-fi, horror and coming-of-age.
Blaine Morris is a queer Latina filmmaker and Columbia University graduate. She has acted on MTV’s Skins, Master of None and more. Morris has directed, written, edited and produced short films that played Sundance, Slamdance, Austin Film Festival, Outfest and more. She wrote, produced and starred in the feature Dark Obsession, now on Tubi. She assisted Oscar nominated writer/director Charles Shyer for Netflix’s The Noel Diary and is an associate producer on The Grotto, directed by Joanna Gleason. Morris shadowed on the Season 4 finale of Good Trouble and graduated USC as a MFA George Lucas Scholar in Film/TV Production.
Portlynn Tagavi is a Persian/Creole filmmaker based in Los Angeles. An AFI directing alum, Tagavi’s distinctive voice first echoed in her award-winning short, They Won’t Last. This film established her penchant for balancing dramatic themes with comedy, earning her a Student Emmy and recognition in over 50 festivals worldwide. Tagavi is currently finishing her festival run with her latest short, Out of Tune. In addition to working on her latest short We’re Gonna Die Alone, she has been working as a story artist at Netflix, where she just finished developing and leading their 2023 Story Trainee Program.
Manuel Villarreal is a gay first-generation Mexican-American writer, director and actor in Los Angeles. He’s renowned for reimagining underrepresented stories through the lens of magical realism. Villarreal’s short film La Bruja recently won the Tomorrow’s Filmmakers Today Audience Award at the Hola Mexico Film Festival. Prior to directing, Villarreal worked as an actor, starring in commercials, including Super Bowls ads for Carl’s Jr. and Kay Jewelers. With an MFA from the AFI Conservatory, his films have graced prestigious festivals like Newfilmmakers LA and Outfest Fusion. Currently, he’s developing his debut feature, La Mujer del Blanco, expanding his storytelling influence.
Olivia Eliseo is a Los Angeles-based film and television editor who quickly became obsessed with the craft after figuring out how to edit together her family’s VHS tapes. She most recently cut Season 3 of All Rise for OWN and two award-winning short films. Wolves won Best Horror/Fantasy Short at the DTLA Film Festival, and Lucha Noir won the Grand Prize at the McDonald’s Spotlight Dorado Competition. She is a member of both the Motion Picture Editors Guild and the Television Academy, and is represented in film and television by Dattner Dispoto & Associates.
Shannon Griffin is a film editor with a career that spans narrative films, music videos and commercials. She has lived in Tokyo, Hartford, Tianjin, Shanghai, then Honolulu before moving to Los Angeles to pursue film. She recently edited the feature film The Invisible Girl, which was an official selection at the 2023 Nòt Film Festival. She also edited the short film Influential, which was an official selection on the BIFA-qualifying platform Director’s Notes. Her commercial and music video work has been recognized at the 2021 Clio Music Awards and 2020 MTV VMAs, as well as the 2020 CMT Awards.
Augustine So is an award-winning film editor from Hong Kong. So is the editor of Guide On, which won Best Editing from the Oxford International Short Film Festival and Excellence in Narrative Short Production from the Ashland Independent Film Festival. His most recent editing work is the absurd comedy Fishmonger. It won the Gold Screen of Young Director Award. He is working as an Assistant Editor on Amazon Prime mini-series Expats, directed by Lulu Wang. He is an alumnus of the AFI Conservatory and a member of the Motion Picture Editors Guild.
Israel Vasquez is a Salvadoran-American editor and writer from Los Angeles, CA, with a BA in Film and Media Studies from UC Santa Barbara and completed the UCLA Summer Film Institute Program. He has worked on various documentaries and narrative feature films as an editor and assistant editor, such as the 2020 Sundance Special Prize winner The Fight and the Amazon limited series, The Underground Railroad.
Xueyi “Shay” Yang
Xueyi “Shay” Yang is an LA-based editor/assistant editor. She was raised in Beijing and earned her MFA in Film from Emerson College. Her first feature, The Little Shrimp, premiered as the opening film at the 2019 Mulan International Film Festival and won the Best Narrative Feature at the Los Angeles Chinese Film Festival and South Taiwan Film Festival. Her recent work, the mockumentary feature Maximum Truth, had its theatrical release in June 2023. Her other shorts have been selected for film festivals such as the Boston International Film Festival, NYC Independent Film Festival and Massachusetts Independent Film Festival.
Brandon Diep Bui
Brandon Diep Bui was born in Los Angeles and is a proud child of Vietnamese refugees. From a young age he recognized the powerful impact of storytelling, particularly its ability to transcend language and build universal connection. After earning his Bachelor’s in Sociology from UCLA, he worked at The Walt Disney Studios, NBCUniversal and Netflix. Currently, Bui serves as an Associate Creative Executive at Walt Disney Animation Studios, where he nurtures stories that instill wonder and inspiration across the globe. He is eager to guide the next generation of filmmakers who will continue to elevate authentic, inclusive and impactful narratives.
Since early childhood, Shakera Robinson had an innate passion for storytelling. She graduated from Hofstra University with a BA in Film Studies and Production, starting her career in the Big Apple producing short form content and music videos. Her goal is to develop compelling character-driven dramas and dark comedies centering moral ambiguity. Currently based in Los Angeles, she works at Amazon Studios as a Creative Assistant on the Drama Series team.
Xinyu “Ciao” Zhao
Xinyu “Ciao” Zhao is an aspiring creative executive currently on the film team at Rideback. Hailing from Shanghai, she moved to LA in 2018 to study Communication and Jewish Studies at USC. Her producing career began at the Chinese video brand DxChannel, where her works have garnered over one million views online. Collaborating with predominantly female and AAPI filmmakers, her narrative shorts earned acclaim at festivals, including Palm Springs International Shortfest and LA Shorts. Having spent her teens reading detective novels and sci-fi novellas, she is dedicated to telling female-centric genre stories with an emotional impact that transcends cultural borders.
Fabiola Andrade is a queer, Honduran-born, US–based filmmaker inspired by her multicultural heritage and interdisciplinary background. Through drama, sci-fi, fantasy and horror, the themes in her projects explore the coming of self and how it flows into day-to-day, yet surreal settings. She is a Telluride Film Festival Cinephile mentee, Tomorrow Filmmakers Today’s Producer fellow and a New Orleans Film Society’s Emerging Voices’ Director Lab alumna. She has collaborated in various production roles with Netflix, Disney, Universal and Paramount Pictures. Andrade believes in the infinite power of storytelling and is committed to discovering its reach throughout her lifetime, project by project.
Philip Yuzhong Ge
Philip Yuzhong Ge is a Chinese producer based in LA who uses his multicultural sensibility to tell authentic and unique stories of underrepresented communities. A graduate of the AFI Producing program, Ge produced 30+ short films, music videos and commercials. These works have been featured by platforms like 88rising and Nowness China. His narrative and documentary works were selected by and won awards at multiple Oscar-qualified festivals including Palm Springs, Santa Barbara, Charlotte, Shorts Shorts and deadCenter. Ge’s most recent producing credits include Fishtank (Tribeca/Chanel ‘Through Her Lens’), Worthy (LALIFF/Netflix Inclusion Fellowship) and Gungnir (Sundance TAAF AAPI Collab).
Lauren Lukow is a producer based in LA. Her latest film, Mara Has Three Jobs in San Juan, Puerto Rico, premiered at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival as part of Indeed’s and Hillman Grad’s Rising Voices initiative. For five years, Lukow worked for the Sundance Feature Film Program, recently as their Manager of Producing & Artist Support. In this role she oversaw the Producers Track, while providing support to 40+ artists/projects in fiction features annually. Before Sundance, Lukow worked in development at Pixar Animation Studios where she assisted their in-house filmmakers in the earliest phases of their creative process.
Nigerian filmmaker Josh Olaoluwa is an award-winning producer keen on telling authentic African stories. His most recent works have been featured on Netflix, MTV Base, Smithsonian Institute and Amazon Prime Video. He most recently worked at Ebonylife Studios, where he produced the Netflix series Oloture 2. Josh also worked as showrunner of Grind, a limited series that debuted at the top spot on Amazon Prime’s most-streamed shows in Nigeria. His most recent short, Naked Woman, was selected by the Smithsonian Museum to commemorate Nigeria’s 62nd Independence. Josh is a fellow at the Red Sea Labs Saudi Arabia and Torino Film Lab.
Bofan Zhang is an LA-based bilingual film producer, born and raised in southern part of China, holding an MFA Degree in Creative Producing from Columbia University. She produces narrative films, documentaries and commercial videos in the US, China and South Korea. Zhang is also a BAFTA Newcomer talent, the recipient of Katharina Otto-Bernstein Production Grant and GiGadgets Creative Foundation Award. Her films have been awarded and screened 60+ Oscar and BAFTA Qualifying film festival worldwide. Her goal in filmmaking is not only to entertain people but to engage social consciousness and impact communities through entertainment as well.
NOVA CYPRESS BLACK
NOVA CYPRESS BLACK writes deir name in all caps. A reminder to take up space as a Black trans gender-expansive lighthouse. This proud alum of the 2021 Outfest Screenwriting Lab & 2021 Hillman Grad Mentorship Lab was a Staff Writer on season 3 of The L Word: Generation Q, BLACK was one of seven trans writers who made the 2022 GLAAD List, with deir sci-fi pilot Blackseed. This genre-defying writer, documentarian, movement artist and educator pledges allegiance to liberation and pleasure. BLACK is a kinetic quilt of deir ancestors. A collage of Midwest tranquility, Southern hospitality and East Coast grit.
Julia Elizabeth Evans
Julia Elizabeth Evans is a neurodivergent writer-producer from the American South. She earned her MFA in Film & TV Production at USC, where her limited series won Best Drama Series at the 42nd College Television Awards. Evans has received $100,000 in grants from various foundations, including The Andy Warhol Foundation and New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, among others. Being very honest and specific about place in storytelling, her work explores contemporary and future American identity. Prior to filmmaking, Evans worked at NPR and the NYTimes as a researcher. Outside of filmmaking, she studies the Japanese martial art of Aikido.
Harim Sanchez is a writer/director hailing from the dusty little hamlet of Adelanto, CA (where you take your bathroom breaks on your way to Vegas) and is presently based in Los Angeles. He was a Writer’s PA on Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches on AMC and is currently a Showrunner’s Assistant. In 2021, he conned his close friends and prior roommates to help him make a feature-length mockumentary called Bonerman (you read that right) which he directed—you can find that gold on YouTube. You can typically find him roaming the streets of LA, searching for the perfect breakfast burrito.
Kyle Selby is an Ecuadorian American screenwriter, actor, author and journalist from Riverside, California based in Los Angeles. In college, Selby studied journalism and worked as a staff writer, assistant copy editor, photographer, videographer and political cartoonist at The Valley Chronicle newspaper in Hemet, California. In 2022, Selby graduated Columbia College Hollywood with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Cinema Screenwriting. Selby debuted his first children’s book, Christmas Isn’t the Same Without You, in 2020 and co-wrote the 2023 LGBTQ short film, Mal de Amores, which screened at film festivals worldwide including the Academy Awards-qualifying Hollyshorts.
Michael Yuchen Lei is an award-winning Chinese-born filmmaker whose work has played at festivals including Tribeca, San Sebastian and CPH:DOX. He began his career as personal photographer to Joe Walsh of the Eagles and photographing musicians such as Ringo Starr, the xx and Outkast. He has been recognized as a fellow by Almanack Screenwriters, Points North, SFFilm, Swatch and Film Independent. He recently produced and edited Echo, which won the Aspen Shortfest Audience Award and premiered on the New Yorker, and is currently developing his feature narrative debut, The Rift, which won the Nantucket Film Festival Screenwriting Competition.
As part of the 2024 Project Involve program, Josh Olaoluwa is the recipient of a Global Media Makers Fellowship making his travel and participation in the program possible. Global Media Makers is an exchange program sponsored through a partnership between Film Independent and the U.S. Dept. of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
The donor-named fellowships for the 2024 Project Involve program to be awarded at a later date are: the eighth Amazon Studios Film Fellowship, the second Cayton-Goldrich Family Foundation Fellowship, the fourth Los Angeles Media Fund Fellowship and the 13th annual Sony Pictures Entertainment Fellowship.
Each Fellowship provides essential program support to Project Involve and includes a $10,000 unrestricted cash grant for a selected filmmaker participating in the program. In addition, for the fifth year, the Panavision Fellowship will provide an outstanding cinematographer in the program with a camera rental package valued at $60,000 for use on a future project produced in the US.
Film Independent’s Project Involve is made possible by Lead Sponsor Warner Bros. Motion Picture Group. Principal Sponsors are the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, Formosa Group, the Golden Globe Foundation, LAIKA, Los Angeles Media Fund, Panavision, Pearl Milling Company and Picture Shop. Supporting Sponsors are Amazon Studios, Los Angeles County Department of Arts & Culture, SAGindie and Sony Pictures Entertainment. Additional support provided by Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.
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