Film Independent Selects 13 Fellows for 2019 Documentary Lab

Contact: Melanie Bates, Film Independent
Tel: 323 556 9338 or

Seanna Hore, Ginsberg/Libby
Tel: 323 645 6800 or


Alexandra Johnes, Greg Finton, Elisa Bonora, Rahdi Taylor and more
to mentor and speak

LOS ANGELES (April 16, 2019) — Film Independent, the nonprofit arts organization that produces the Spirit Awards, announced the 13 filmmakers and eight projects selected for its 2019 Documentary Lab. The Lab is an intensive two-week program designed to help filmmakers who are currently in post-production on their feature-length documentary films.

Film Independent is excited to present the Susan Murdy Documentary Film Fellowship, awarding a $10,000 grant to Documentary Lab Fellow Maya Cueva. In addition, Sara Abdallah and Mayye Zayed are recipients of the Global Media Makers Fellowship, sponsored through a partnership between Film Independent and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, making their travel and participation in the Documentary Lab possible.

“The 13 Fellows in this year’s Documentary Lab bring us singular visions and unique vantage points, from Alexandria, Egypt to the US/Mexico border and many places in between, sharing nuanced stories about the most critical issues of our time,” said Jennifer Kushner, Director of Artist Development. “Each project takes us on a different journey in the most creative and innovative ways. We couldn’t be happier to support these filmmakers in the program and through their careers.”

Through a series of meetings and workshops, the Documentary Lab provides creative feedback and story notes to participating filmmakers, while helping them strategize for the completion, distribution and marketing of their films. During the lab, filmmakers will work with Lead Creative Mentor Alexandra Johnes and Editing Mentors Elisa Bonora and Greg Finton in addition to being introduced to celebrated film professionals who advise on both the craft and business of documentary filmmaking. Lab Fellows attend multiple guest speaker and creative workshopping sessions with established documentary directors, institutional funders, legal professionals, festival programmers and distributors as the Fellows ready their projects for release.

This year’s Documentary Lab Mentors and Guest Speakers include Elisa Bonora (Editor, David Crosby: Remember My Name), Greg Finton (Editor, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind), Alexandra Johnes (EP,The Square, Producer, Holy Hell), Matthew Radecki (Founder, Different By Design), Sandi Tan (Director/Writer/Producer, Shirkers), Rhadi Taylor (Executive, Concordia Studios) and Dyana Winkler (Director/Producer, United Skates), among others.

Film Independent Artist Development programs promote unique independent voices by helping filmmakers create and advance new work through Project Involve, Filmmaker Labs (Directing, Documentary, Episodic, Producing and Screenwriting), Fast Track finance market, Fiscal Sponsorship, and our Grants and Awards, which provide over one million dollars annually to visual storytellers.

The Documentary Lab is supported by Artist Development Lead Funder Time Warner Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional funding is provided by Susan Murdy. Documentary Lab industry partners include and the UCLA Documentary Law Clinic.

Notable past Documentary Lab supported projects include Academy Award nominated and Spirit Award winning Minding the Gap from Fellows Bing Liu and Diane Quon; Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palmero’s Rich Hill; Sarita Khurana and Smriti Mundhra’s A Suitable Girl and Dustin Nakao Haider, Daniel Dewes and Derek Doneen’s Shot in the Dark.

For more information on the Documentary Lab and the projects supported through the program, please contact Lisa Hasko, Manager of Documentary Programs and Fiscal Sponsorship, at 323 556 9392. Additional information and an application form can be found at

The 2019 Documentary Lab projects and Fellows are:

Title: After Antarctica
Director: Tasha Van Zandt
Producer: Sebastian Zech
Logline: After Antarctica is a feature-length documentary that follows the life of one of National Geographic’s most celebrated polar explorers, Will Steger. The film offers an intimate portrait of Steger’s life journey as an eyewitness to climate change as he returns to Antarctica thirty years after his treacherous seven-month journey across the coldest continent on Earth. This legendary story is unlike any other; not only were Steger and his team of renegade explorers the first to complete this historic feat, but due to unprecedented changes to the continent since their expedition, they were also the last.

Title: Ahead of the Curve
Director: Jen Rainin
Producer: Rivkah Beth Medow
Logline: With a fist full of credit cards, a lucky run at the horse track, and a title that called to mind a certain French film star, Franco Stevens launched the best-selling lesbian lifestyle magazine ever published, making lesbians more visible both to each other and to the mainstream. Ahead of the Curve draws a through-line from the launch of Curve magazine in the early 90s to the vibrant creative visibility and intersectional community-building work within the lesbian and queer women’s community today.

Title: Duty Free
Director: Sian-Pierre Regis
Producer: Meredith Chin
Logline: After a 75-year-old immigrant mother gets fired from her job, her son takes her on a bucket-list adventure to reclaim her life. As she struggles to find work, he documents a journey that uncovers the betrayals plaguing her past and the economic insecurity shaping not only her future, but that of an entire generation.

Title: Lift Like a Girl
Director/Producer: Mayye Zayed
Editor: Sara Abdallah
Logline: A coming of age story about Zebiba; a young Egyptian girl who wants to be a world champion weightlifter. With the help of her loving coach, backbone and father-figure Captain Ramadan, she tries to pursue this unusual dream against all odds, as she trains daily in the dusty streets of the bustling city of Alexandria.

Title: Mars
Director/Producer: Dea Gjinovci
Logline: Furkan, 10, is the youngest in his family. His sisters, Ibadeta and Djeneta have been in a coma for several years, victims of the “syndrome of resignation.” Traumatized, their minds and bodies mysteriously went to sleep. In central Sweden, his whole family is trying to rebuild a normal life, far from their native Kosovo. But so far, their asylum applications have been refused one after the other. Furkan tries to escape this situation by building his own spaceship to fulfill his dream: to go live on Mars and save his sisters.

Title: On the Divide
Director: Maya Cueva
Director: Leah Galant
Logline: On the Divide follows three Latinx people living in McAllen, Texas – a heavily Catholic community torn by conservative politics and policies. Each find purpose in an unlikely place: the last abortion clinic on the border, but none fit neatly on either side of the divide.

Title: True Believer
Director: Kristen Irving-Jordan
Logline: Following the 2016 election, an evangelical pastor spirals into crisis. As he confronts his faith, he uncovers a decades-old political conspiracy enacted by the religious right — a shocking scheme that threatens to undermine America’s democracy.

Title: Untitled Race and Criminal Justice Project
Director: Ursula Liang
Logline: A nuanced look at how two communities of color navigate an uneven criminal justice system, anchored by one polarizing New York City case.


Film Independent is the nonprofit arts organization that champions creative independence in visual storytelling and supports a community of artists who embody diversity, innovation and uniqueness of vision. Film Independent helps filmmakers make their movies, builds an audience for their projects, and works to diversify the film industry. Film Independent’s Board of Directors, filmmakers, staff and constituents is comprised of an inclusive community of individuals across ability, age, ethnicity, gender, race and sexual orientation. Anyone passionate about film can become a Member, whether you are a filmmaker, industry professional or a film lover.

In addition to producing the Spirit Awards, Film Independent produces Film Independent Presents, a year-round screening series for its members that offers unique cinematic experiences for the Los Angeles creative community and the general public.

Through annual screenings and events, Film Independent provides access to a network of like-minded artists who are driving creativity in the film industry. Film Independent’s Artist Development program offers free labs for selected writers, directors, producers and documentary filmmakers and presents year-round networking opportunities. Project Involve is Film Independent’s signature program dedicated to fostering the careers of talented filmmakers from communities traditionally underrepresented in the film industry.

For more information or to become a Member, visit