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Margaret Rose Lester, Steve Martinez and Chandus Jackson

Talent Talent

2019 Directors Initiative

Parisa Barani (AFI Directing Workshop for Women)

Parisa Barani is an Iranian American film director. Born and raised in Tehran, she immigrated to Vancouver at the age of 16, and eventually settled in Los Angeles. As a 2019 fellow of AFI Directing Workshop for Women, she recently completed her short film Human Terrain which stars Maggie Siff and Sarita Choudhury and was distributed by Refinery29/Shatterbox – a creative launch pad and development platform for female voices.  Barani’s short was produced in association with Level Forward, a new studio founded by Abigail Disney and Adrienne Becker - a new entertainment company focused on mainstream inclusion and social impact. In 2016, Parisa received the Tribeca Film Institute Sloan Grant, as well as a grant from the Neda Nobari Foundation. Parisa began her creative career working at the John Anson Ford Theatres in Los Angeles and the Arts Club Theatre Company in Vancouver. She was mentored by Anne Bogart at SITI’s Theatre Intensive Training at Skidmore College. Shortly thereafter, Parisa’s award-winning short film Ablution (Wuzuscreened at festivals worldwide, including the 38th Annual Mill Valley Film Festival, Palm Springs International ShortFest and Diversity in Cannes Short Film Showcase. An advocate for diversity and radically authentic storytelling, she curated and spoken on panels such as a SXSW panel in 2017 titled “Authentic Muslim Voices Tell Their Stories” and at San Francisco State University’s the Iranian Diaspora Studies conference in 2019 titled “How Iranian- American Filmmakers Change the Dialogue.” Before venturing into directing, she earned an MBA and worked in distribution for Film and TV at numerous companies as the Director of International Sales. She is fluent in English and Farsi. 

Jose Maria Cabral (New York Latino Film Festival)

José María Cabral is a Dominican film director, screenwriter, and producer. His desire was to be an actor, so he began filming short films in which he acted, with the purpose of being the main actor. But his work behind the camera caught him, then began his journey as director. He started financing his short films by having showings for each film in a movie theatre, renting the theatre for an hour and selling tickets, with the intention of getting a better budget for his next short. Jose started making feature films when he was 19 years old, one of them Excexos got national distribution in 2008. His first feature film, Jaque Mate (2011), was screened at a high number of film festivals and selected as the Dominican entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards, but it did not make the final shortlist. Arrobá and Despertar followed in 2013 and 2014, also making it into the festival circuits. In 2015 he released Detective Willy a comedy adventure film. Jose premiered his last film, Carpinteros (Woodpeckers), in January at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, the first Dominican to be selected by the Festival. His recent film, The Projectionist was premiered in Miami Film Festival and is the Dominican entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar 2020.

Gabriela Calvache (New York Latino Film Festival)

Gabriela Calvache is a narrative and documentary filmmaker from Ecuador. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Contemporary Arts with a specialization in Cinema (University of San Francisco USFQ, Quito, Ecuador) and a post-graduate degree in Screenwriting (Cinema and Audiovisual School of Catalonia ESCAC, Barcelona, Spain). Gabriela’s short film On Hold (En Espera) premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR, 2011) and received awards at festivals in Japan, France, Chile, Ecuador, Argentina, and Brazil. It was also the first Ecuadorian short ever to be selected to screen at the Berlin International Film Festival (2015), International Short Film Festival Oberhausen (2011), and the Kawasaki City Museum in Japan (2012). To date, it is the most awarded short film in the history of Ecuador. During 2006 Calvache’s short film Things You Never Say (Hay Cosas Que No Se Dicen) was selected at numerous festivals including Mar del Plata (Argentina), Guadalajara (México), Cinema Jove (Spain), and São Paulo (Brazil), and it was exhibited at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC, USA (2007). Her feature documentary film The Silent Walls (Labranza Oculta) was aired on Televisió de Catalunya (TVC, 2011) and premiered at the Pan-American Biennale of Architecture of Quito (BAQ, 2010). She recently completed her directorial debut feature film La Mala Noche (The Longest Night), which premiered at SXSW (2019) and was selected as the Ecuadorian entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar 2020. 

her usual share. An unexpected event will give her the opportunity to stop obeying and take justice into her own hands.

Laure De Clermont-Tonnerre (Sundance Institute’s FilmTwo Fellowship)

Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre is a French actress, producer, director living in Los Angeles. After graduating with a Master of History at La Sorbonne, Laure moved to NY to study acting with Susan Batson. She worked as an actress with Raoul Ruiz, Luc Besson, Julian Schnabel to name a few of them. The first short film that she directed was Atlantic Avenue. The film was selected by major festivals including Tribeca, Clermont-Ferrand, Palm Springs, and went on to winning Best Actress in Milwaukee Film festival, Best Cinematography in Nantucket, Jury Prize in Tenerife, Best Film in Bordeaux. Her second short film, Rabbit, was premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in the US narrative competition. The Mustang, her first feature film, won the NHK Award for the screenplay and was developed with the help of the Sundance Institute. The film starred Matthias Schoenaerts, Bruce Dern and Jason Mitchell and was released theatrically in the US on March 15th 2019. The film was produced by Alain Goldman and executive produced by Robert Redford.  The film was distributed internationally by Focus Features.

Rhys Ernst (Sundance Institute’s FilmTwo Fellowship)

Rhys Ernst is a filmmaker and artist. He was a Producer and Director on Amazon’s Transparent and created the title sequence for the series. He was nominated for a 2015 Emmy Award for directing and producing the web-series Transparent: This Is Me, which won a Special Recognition GLAAD Award. In 2016 he teamed up with Focus Features to create the online series, We’ve Been Around. In addition to the 2014 Whitney Biennial, Ernst has shown work at Sundance, Oberhausen, and The Hammer Museum; he has won awards at Outfest, Chicago International Film Festival and the LA Transgender Film Festival; and he was a Point Scholar, a Project Involve Fellow, and was awarded with the 2015 Point Foundation Horizon Award and the ACLU Liberty Award for his work on transgender representation in the media. He received a BA from Hampshire College and an MFA from CalArts. His first feature film, Adam, produced by James Schamus and Howard Gertler, was an official selection for the Sundance 2019 Film Festival.

Atsuko Hirayanagi (Sundance Institute’s FilmTwo Fellowship)

Atsuko Hirayanagi was born in Nagano and raised in Chiba, Japan. She is a graduate of NYU Tisch School of The Arts with an MFA in Filmmaking, where she was granted a 3-year full merit scholarship. Her second-year film at NYU won the Grand Prix at Tokyo Short Shorts Film Festival. Her thesis short film, Oh Lucy!, received the1st Prize Wasserman Award and won more than 30 awards around the globe, including prizes at Sundance (Jury Award), Cannes, and Toronto film festivals. Atsuko turned her short film Oh Lucy! into a feature-length film. The screenplay was the recipient of the Sundance Institute / NHK Award in 2016. The Oh Lucy! feature was Atsuko’s debut film, and after premiering at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival in the Critics' Week section, went on to receive numerous awards at film festivals worldwide. The film was released in theaters in US and internationally. The film was also nominated in the Best First Feature and Best Female Lead categories at the 33rd Independent Spirit Awards, and she was named one of 20 Rising Female Filmmakers You Need to Know by IndieWire. Atsuko resides in San Francisco, California.

Jessica Kaye (AFI Directing Workshop for Women)

Jessica Kaye was born in South Africa and raised in Minneapolis. After studying Literature and Performance Studies at Harvard, she earned her MFA in Acting at Columbia. While in New York, she starred in plays and feature films, produced and performed in ribald performance-art parties, and played a soap opera villain on television's One Life to Live. In 2008, she produced and starred in Gargoyle, a SAFTAnominated short film shot in Johannesburg. In 2013, she received an MFA in Film Production from USC. Her short films Angel and Fabian Debora, A Life for Art, screened at numerous festivals. Her short film Shortage was executive produced by James Franco.  Kaye is the cowriter/director and lead actor of the feature film Inheritance, shot on location in Belize. Inheritance premiered at SXSW in 2017 and released theatrically and on VOD. She is a 2019 Participant in the AFI Director’s Workshop for Women where she wrote and directed the short film Skater, inspired by her experiences as a young competitive figure skater.  Currently, she is working as co-creator and lead actor of Everyone Together, a 30-minute dramedy pilot and writing the feature film Skater, inspired by her AFI DWW short.

Numa Perrier (American Black Film Festival)

Numa Perrier was born in Haiti and raised in Washington state in a family of eight children. She moved to Las Vegas in late adolescence and then with her savings she moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in visual art. Perrier co-founded Black&Sexy TV, a network of several shows created for Black American audiences, with former partner Dennis Dortch in 2008. Their first production was a film called A Good Day to Be Black and Sexy, which premiered at Sundance and was picked up by Magnolia Pictures. Beginning in 2011 they used YouTube to post their content. Notable shows include The Couple, The NumberHello Cupid and RoomieLoverFriendsNuma directed her first feature film Jezebel, starring Tiffany Tenille, in Las Vegas in 2017. The film is semi-autobiographical and draws on her experience as an online sex worker; Perrier also plays a supporting role in the film. Jezebel premiered at SXSW in March 2019. The film has received positive critical reviews. THR selected Jezebel as one of its "Best of SXSW 2019" picks. Perrier played a supporting role on HBO's SMILF prior to its cancellation. She also directed an episode of the fourth season of Queen Sugar. She has a production company called House of Numa.

Shilpi Roy (AFI Directing Workshop for Women)

Hailing from North Carolina, Shilpi Roy comes from a traditional Indian family and grew up watching only the song-and-dance numbers from Bollywood movies. In 2018, Shilpi sold her first television show, Brown Girls, to Freeform TV. Working with Aaron Kaplan of Kapital Entertainment (American Housewife), Nastaran Dibai (Dear White People) and Mark Cendrowski (The Big Bang Theory), Shilpi co-wrote and co-executive-produced the pilot. She was also the showrunner of Machelorette, a CMT pilot for SoulPancake (a division of Participant Media). She currently writes on the Netflix Original Series Team Kaylie. Shilpi began her career working for Warren Littlefield, and then attended the USC School of Cinematic Arts and received an MFA in Film Production. After USC, Shilpi wrote and directed the award-winning web series Hipsterhood, which won multiple awards across two seasons. She then produced and directed the magician-comedy series Disillusioned, which garnered a Best Comedy Web Series Award from the HollyWeb Festival. She has also directed episodes of the Emmy-winning web series Emma Approved. Her digital content success led her to a Development Consultant position at ABC Digital. In 2019 Roy was selected to participate in AFI’s Director Workshop for Women, where she produced her short film Stalled. She has also participated in Sony's Diverse Directors Program for TV directing, and Film Independent’s Project Involve. Shilpi has several TV and feature film projects in development.

Amber Sealey (AFI Directing Workshop for Women)

Amber Sealey is an award-winning filmmaker. She has been supported as an artist by Sundance, Film Independent, Women In Film, and is a fellow of the prestigious AFI Directing Workshop for Women. She was selected for the WeForShe DirectHer program, Film Independent’s Directing Lab, and their Fast Track program. Her short film, How Does It Start, world premiered at Sundance in 2019 and is currently on the festival circuit. Her feature film No Light & No Land Anywhere was theatrically released by Factory 25 and won a Special Jury Award at the LA Film Festival. Her second feature, How to Cheat, won Best Performance at the LA Film Festival, and won both Best Narrative Film and Best Acting at BendFilm Festival, and was released by FilmBuff 


Amber has directed content for AOL, Yahoo, and Oath, among others, as well as the abortion-themed music video, Voicemail for Jill, from celebrated artist Amanda Palmer. She has a BA in Theatre Arts and Modern Dance from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an MA from The Central School of Speech and Drama in London, as well as studying Shakespeare at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, also in London. She is currently writing and directing a film for Duplass Brothers Productions, as well as in development on three other features and a comedy pilot she wrote. She lives in Los Angeles with her family.

Kirsten Tan (Sundance Institute’s FilmTwo Fellowship)

Kirsten Tan is a versatile filmmaker born and raised in Singapore but has lived in South Korea and Thailand and currently resides in New York City. She recently completed her debut feature – Pop Aye which made its World Premiere in competition as the Opening Night film at Sundance Film Festival 2017 and went on to receive a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, the VPRO Big Screen Award at Rotterdam International Film Festival and the Best International Film Award at Zurich Film Festival. To date, it has screened at over 50 film festivals including BFI London, Melbourne, Munich and Busan and was theatrically released globally. Pop Aye was also selected to represent Singapore in the Foreign Film Category at the 2018 Oscars. Prior to completing Pop Aye, she has made a series of short films. Her shorts – 10 Minutes LaterFonziSinkCold Noodles and Dahdi – have collectively received over ten international awards and screened at over 60 international film festivals including Toronto, Busan, Munich, Hawaii and Tampere. In 2015 she was accorded the Young Artist Award by the National Arts Council of Singapore, one of the highest accolades for the arts in Singapore. Other personal honors include the Young Woman Achiever Award at Her World Magazine and a Great Women of Our Time Nomination at Women’s Weekly in 2017. She is represented in Film/TV by CAA.

Siyou Tan (AFI Directing Workshop for Women)

Siyou Tan is a Chinese-Singaporean filmmaker based in Los Angeles. One of eight directors at the 2018-19 AFI Directing Workshop for Women, she completed Hello Ahma, which will world premiere at TIFF ‘19 in the fall. Her short film 2200 Volts (2017) was mentioned in Variety and premiered at the Singapore International Film Festival in 2018. She is developing her first feature, Amoeba. Siyou is also a visual artist with a printmaking background. Previously, she was the Art Director at Wondros. In her role, she combined fine art and film for locally and internationally based commercials, music videos, documentaries, VR pieces, and campaigns for non-profit organizations. Her work garnered numerous awards, including a Cannes Lion, two AICP awards, a Ciclope Award (for first ever live music video "Make Me Like You” by Gwen Stefani) and the Jury Award at SXSW (Second Hand Lovers by Oren Lavie). She has worked closely with Francis Lawrence, Lee Daniels, Antoine Fuqua, Peter Berg and Sophie Muller. She’s a film graduate of Wesleyan University, and is fluent in English, Mandarin and Singlish.

Dinh Thai (2019 NBCUniversal Short Film Festival)

Dinh Thai is an Asian-American writer/director by way of commercial directing based in Los Angeles. Born in Vietnam, fled to France, and finally settling in Los Angeles. His work blends visual style with realism, focusing on social media influencers, dialogue, comedy, celebrities, and storytelling — all with strong musical influences. His commercial clients include Adidas, T-Mobile, Toyota, and the US Navy.  

Dinh’s narrative work has aired on HBO and Cinemax. Specifically, Monday, a short film he wrote and directed has garnished over 50 festival awards and nominations, including first place in the inaugural HBO Asian Pacific American Visionaries competition, Outstanding Director, Outstanding Actor and Next Generation Filmmaker Award at the prestigious NBCU Shorts Festival, Best Direction at the New York Television Festival, Best Short Film at ITVFest, and Best New Filmmaker of the Year at NFMLA. Along with being in the Disney|ABC Director Program, Dinh has shadowed on American Horror Story (Ryan Murphy's Half-Initiative), MAYANS M.C. (Fox 21 TV), and he’ll be directing an episode of New Amsterdam through NBC’s Emerging Director Program. Dinh is also actively pursuing film and TV directing assignments as well as developing a show based on his short film and other multicultural ideas. 


Carly Usdin (AFI Directing Workshop for Women)

Carly Usdin is an award-winning filmmaker based in Los Angeles. Her first feature, Suicide Kale, won the Audience Award for Best First Feature at Outfest 2016. After playing over 30 festivals worldwide the film is now available on iTunes and Amazon Prime. In 2017 Carly served as showrunner and director for the scripted series Threads, produced by New Form for Verizon’s go90 platform. The 20-episode horror and comedy anthology series brought to life outrageous stories from internet forums like Reddit. Carly is also the creator and writer of two comic book series for BOOM! Studios: Heavy Vinyl and The Avant-GuardsHeavy Vinyl was nominated for a 2018 Prism award, honoring the best in LGBTQAI+ comics.  Carly has spent years making short-form narrative and branded content for clients like Funny or Die, CollegeHumor, Amy Poehler's Smart Girls, World of Wonder, CBS, Fullscreen, Astronauts Wanted, Portal A, TruTV, Viacom and YouTube. Most notably, she directed season 3 of Awkwafina’s digital series Tawk. Her promo campaigns for RuPaul’s Drag Race have won One Show Awards and Promax BDA Awards. Carly has recently completed her first short film Misdirection, created as part of the American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women, class of 2019. Currently she is developing several projects through her production company Scheme Machine Studios, which she owns with her wife, photographer and producer Robin Roemer.

Lukas von Berg (NBCUniversal International’s Filmmaster)

Lukas von Berg was born in 1990 in Bonn, Germany and experienced his first opera Der Freischutz at age five.  He studied Design with a focus on scientific Illustration in Müenster and worked as a freelance animation artist. Since 2015, he has been studying character animation and directing at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg. His short films include I Climbed Up (2015), Daily Snout (2016), and most recently L’Aria Del Moscerino (2017). 

Marielle Woods (AFI Directing Workshop for Women)

Marielle Woods is an award-winning filmmaker who thrives in the high-stakes world of action storytelling. After receiving her BA in Visual Studies from Harvard University in 2008, she moved west and has been working as an LA-based director and producer ever since. She got her start in docudrama television, crafting shows for networks including Discovery, History, A&E and Animal Planet. Moving into the scripted world, Marielle has spent much of the last five years working with some of the best stunt coordinators and second unit directors in the business, on films including John Wick 2, Baby Driver, and Bright. She has helmed award-winning branded content as well as internationally recognized short-format narrative pieces. She flipped a car in the jungles of Puerto Rico for her short, Mi Corazon, and recreated war-torn Iraq on a soundstage in Culver City for her 2018 film, Do No Harm. Most recently, Woods turned sign-spinning into a martial art for her AFI Directing Workshop for Women film, Spin. Woods’ films have toured the festival circuit with acceptances including LA Shorts Fest, Montreal World Film Festival, Cleveland International Film Festival, Cinequest, Rhode Island Flickers, Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and NBCU Short Cuts. Marielle recently completed the AFI Directing Workshop for Women (2019).

Talia Zucker (AFI Directing Workshop for Women)

Talia Zucker is a US based filmmaker & actor originally from Melbourne, Australia. Her screenplay In Vitro was selected for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab and is also being developed with Screen Australia. Most recently Talia completed her short film Child, one of eight projects created through the Directing Workshop for Women at the American Film Institute. Her previous short film, Afterwards, screened at the 2018 St Kilda Film Festival as part of Australia’s Top 100 Short Films. Talia is currently developing and is attached to direct a new TV series with Margot Robbie’s LuckyChap Entertainment. As an actor Talia will next appear in Bradley Liew's Motel Acacia which has been picked up by XYZ Films.