Cara Lawson is a writer, film director, and artist from Chicago, Illinois. Her multi-racial background inspires her to carve out new spaces for representation in an innovative, female-centric, multi-ethnic approach to the stories of old. Within this space, she weaves myths that foster compassion and empathy, often building vibrant worlds inspired by her passion for history, politics, social justice, and folklore. After graduating summa cum laude with a B.A. in Cinema Art + Science from Columbia College, Lawson moved to Los Angeles, where she attended the prestigious American Film Institute and received a full-tuition scholarship to study Directing. Lawson devotes most of her time to years of extensive research for each project, believing quality comes from a thoughtful and anthropological approach. No matter the country, world, planet, or time period, she aims to create emotional stories rooted in character.
Justin is an Afro-Latin writer and director focused on telling indie-commercial driven stories. His short film, THE CENTER, landed him on stage at the Academy Awards in 2015 as part of “Team Oscar”. He is also a 2016 Sundance Ignite Fellow. In 2017, Justin Floyd was named a Warner Bros. Emerging Film Director and his short film, RESURRECT was acquired by HBO. In 2018, he co-founded the SFS Film Festival, which has supported over a hundred emerging filmmakers.
Justin was declared a 2019 STATE SENATE and CONGRESSIONAL RECIPIENT. Recently, he is a 2021 LATINO FILM INSTITUTE / NETFLIX FELLOW through his award winning short QUINCEAÑERO.
Writer/Director Jalmer Caceres was born in El Salvador, without a television in his home. After arriving in the U.S. at the age of five and growing up in Los Angeles as a latchkey child, he fell in love with Movies and American Television through countless hours of unsupervised viewing. Jalmer became the first in his family to graduate from college and recently attained his M.F.A. from the American Film Institute. He is dedicated to exploring the Latinx diaspora through themes of family, national identity, belonging, and displacement in his work.
Travis Wood is a director from Minneapolis. He experiments with storytelling in its many forms, utilizing the power of truth to guide his process. His short films have been selected for multiple Vimeo Staff Picks, SXSW film festival, Rooftop films, an NY EMMY award, and featured on NoBudge, Booooooom and Directors Notes.
Urvashi Pathania is a writer/director based in Brooklyn. She received her B.A. with Honors in Film Studies from Columbia University and her M.F.A. in Film Production from USC. Her films explore gender, sexuality and decolonization. In 2021, Urvashi was selected for the Google Assistant Storytelling Fellowship in partnership with The Black List and wrote a pilot for Lena Waithe’s Writers’ Lab. Her short film, UNMOTHERED, is available on HBO Max. She is repped at Echo Lake.
Writer/director Shanrica Evans was raised in Decatur, GA, by her great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother. She received her MFA in Film/TV production from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts where she received the prestigious James Bridges scholarship for directing. As a writer, Shanrica’s scripts have received recognition from the Bluecat Screenplay Competition, Sundance, and the Nicholl Fellowship in screenwriting. As a director Shanrica’s short films have screened on HBO, Starz, and other digital platforms. Shanrica is dedicated to intimately and honestly exploring the lives of people in underrepresented communities, particularly people of color, women, and members of the LGBTQIA community. She hopes to use her art to create complex, nuanced stories about southern black women.
Tara Motamedi is a first generation American. Born in the U.S. and raised in a liberal Kurdish/ Azeri household in Iran, she speaks three languages. Growing up, she was always taking bold strides in fascinating directions, whether in art, sports, or in opposition to the Iranian Moral Police. Wishing to pursue a film career without the constraints of any government, Tara moved to Southern California. Five years later, she graduated with a BA in Film Production and an MFA in Screenwriting from Brooks Institute.
Her thesis film “For The Birds” was accepted into forty film festivals worldwide and won a dozen awards including Best Female Director from the DGA, student Emmy from the TV Academy Foundation, and an Oscar qualifying award from the Cleveland International Film Festival. Her feature screenplay “Under an Olive Tree” influenced by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was honored by the WGA’s Inclusion and Equity department in 2018, and became a semi-finalist at the Academy Nicholl Fellowship in 2019. Tara’s most recent recognition is Indeed Hillman Grad Production’s Rising Voices. She was chosen as one of ten filmmakers to participate in the 2022 initiative.
Currently living in Los Angeles, Tara writes, directs and edits her own projects. Having a multicultural background has allowed her to recognize differences, but more importantly, similarities between people around the world. Tara takes pride in her ability to emotionally connect with audiences through character driven work and wishes to make a positive impact through her storytelling.
Georgia Fu is a Taiwanese American filmmaker, interested in unusual connections and the ephemeral quality of life. She received her BFA from NYU in Cinema Studies and East Asian Studies. After college, she worked at the photo desk of the International Herald Tribune in Paris and Hong Kong. She then completed her MFA in Film at NYU’s Tisch Asia in Singapore. Her shorts include: Gigantic (Slamdance, Chicago International Film Festival) and Miss World (Jury Prize at New Orleans Film Festival, Best Editing at Hollyshorts). With Miss World, she received the Linda Mabalot New Directors/New Vision award at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Georgia participated in AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women, completing another short titled, You Win USA Vacation Resort (Best Short at Los Angeles Pacific Film Festival). She also participated in Universal’s Director Initiative, and TIFF’s Filmmaker Lab, where she went on to win the HFPA/Film Independent Residency award. Up next, she is developing her first feature, Approximate Joy. (georgiafu.com)
Gbenga Komolafe (they/he) is a Nigerian filmmaker and multimedia artist currently based in Los Angeles. They draw inspiration from the parallels between African art traditions and the innovative craftsmanship of mid-20th-century queer and black American communities. Komolafe’s work stitches together personal memories with greater universal motifs to explore the possibilities of a collectively imagined future where queer, black, and marginalized bodies are not only seen but celebrated. Their work has previously been exhibited at Slamdance, Ghost Gallery LA, and Felix Art Fair, among others.
Born and raised in Singapore, Leon Cheo is the creator, writer and director of the 2020 International Emmy®-nominated short form series “People Like Us”. His short film “SIN-SFO” premiered in-competition at the Academy-qualifying 25th Austin Film Festival, and won Best Live Action and Best Director at the 2019 National Youth Film Awards in Singapore. Other highlights include “The Three Sisters” which won ‘Best Short Film’ at the 2012 NETPAC-Jogja Asian Film Festival and “Nuts”, which received honourable mention for the YOMYOMF Interpretations 2.0 competition, founded by Justin Lin. Leon graduated from Chapman University with a BFA in Creative Producing, and Ngee Ann Polytechnic with a diploma in Film, Sound & Video. He is also an alumnus of Outfest InFusion (2016), Berlinale Talents (2014), Asian Film Academy (2013) and Talents Tokyo (2012).
Meet the Advisory Panel
Each filmmaker selected to be in the program will have access to mentorship and advice from the Rising Voices advisory panel.
Emmy Award-winning writer, creator and actor, Lena Waithe, has established herself as talent to be reckoned with, Waithe and her production company, Hillman Grad Productions, have become champions of spotlighting unrepresented voices, and in a short time, they have produced groundbreaking pieces of art such as the critically acclaimed debut film from Radha Blank, THE FORTY YEAR OLD VERSION, For her success and massive efforts to elevate marginalized POC and LGBTQIA storytellers, Waithe was presented with Variety’s 2020 “Creative Impact in Producing Award” and The Hollywood Reporter’s 2020 “TV Producer of the Year,” making her the youngest to receive the honor.
Hillman Grad Sponsor
Born in London, raised in upstate New York and Portland, Oregon, Rishi Rajani discovered his love for producing while attending NYU. He went on to work for 20th Century Fox, UTA, Paradigm, and Studio 8 where he rose through the ranks to become a Development Executive working in both film and TV. Rishi joined Hllman Grad productions in June 2018 and currently serves as president of production and development. Since then he has been an Executive Producer on the shows Boomerang and Twenties, and continues to manage Hillman Grad’s ever-growing slate of films, TV shows, commercials, and music videos. As a passionate advocate for diversity in storytelling, he could not be more excited to be working for a company that continues to provide opportunities, break down barriers, and push the culture forward.
Raised in South Central, Los Angeles, Calmatic is a self-taught filmmaker who discovered his passion for telling stories at a young age. Calmatic’s video collaborations span some of music’s most influential artists, including Donald Glover, Kendrick Lamar, Lizzo, Anderson. Paak, and more. Perhaps his most well-known project to date is Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road (Official Video) ft. Billy Ray Cyrus”, which won the Grand Prix Entertainment Lions for Music at the 2020/2021 Cannes Lions as well as a VMA for Best Director. The video currently has over 845 million views. In the Spring of 2020, Ad Age named Calmatic the “Director of the Year.” He is currently in post-production on his feature directorial debut– the remake of the 90s cult classic film “House Party” for New Line.
Destin Daniel Cretton
Originally from Hawaii, Destin Daniel Cretton’s work seeks to empathize with his characters rather than judge them. In college, he wrote the short film Short Term 12 that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Based on its success, he adapted Short Term 12 into a feature-length film of the same name that also garnered critical acclaim. The film has had a second life that’s been unprecedented in its influence, helping launch careers of esteemed actors Brie Larson, LaKeith Stanfield, Rami Malek, and Kaitlyn Dever. In the following years, Destin adapted and directed The Glass Castle and Just Mercy, based on the NY Times best-selling memoir by civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson. Off of the strength of his features, Destin was brought on to direct Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the first Marvel film with a lead of Asian-descent. The film was released in Fall 2021 and has since made history as the first pandemic-era film to pass $200 million at the US box office.
Melina Matsoukas is a filmmaker whose brand of provocation comes from a unique, inherently multicultural point of view focused on diverse storytelling. Matsoukas made her powerful feature directorial debut with QUEEN & SLIM, which she also produced. Matsoukas began her television career as an executive producer and director of the critically acclaimed HBO series INSECURE. She went on to direct MASTER OF NONE’s Emmy-winning “Thanksgiving” episode. She has also brought her singular vision to music videos for Beyoncé, Jay-Z,Rihanna, Snoop Dogg, Lady Gaga and for global campaigns of major commercial clients such as Nike, Beats, and Calvin Klein.
Justin Chon is an American writer, director, and actor. As a filmmaker, Chon burst onto the scene with his film Gook, which he wrote, directed, and starred in. The film won the NEXT Audience Award at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, and Chon was awarded the Kiehl’s Someone to Watch Award at the 2018 Film Independent Spirit Awards. His 2019 film, Ms. Purple, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Dramatic Competition and was released by Oscilloscope Laboratories. As an actor, Chon is known worldwide for playing Eric Yorkie in all five installments of the Twilight franchise. Most recently, Chon wrote, directed, produced Blue Bayou, in which he also stars opposite Alicia Vikander. The film premiered at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival to critical acclaim.
Rayka Zehtabchi is an Oscar-winning Iranian-American director based in Los Angeles, whose passion lies in telling human stories that bring awareness and action to little-known social causes. Her Oscar-winning short, Period. End of Sentence. is about a group of village women in Northern India who start a sanitary pad-making business in an effort to improve feminine hygiene and de-stigmatize menstruation. Rayka has also directed multiple branded documentary shorts, including A Woman’s Place, which was an official selection of Tribeca X and most recently won Gold at the 2021 Effie Awards in the Positive Change – Social Good: Brands category. Outside of branded work, Rayka’s films (SHn(y)o͞of), Just Hold On, and Are You Still There? have all received Vimeo Staff Picks and have screened and won Jury awards at prestigious festivals such as SXSW and AFI Fest.
LaFawn Davis is SVP of Environmental, Social & Governance at Indeed. She leads teams that focus on Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, Product Inclusion and Accessibility, Social Impact, AI Ethics and Environmental Sustainability. Indeed’s long-term ESG commitments are to close the opportunity gap, use technology to break down bias and barriers, reduce and prevent algorithmic bias and conserve the environment. LaFawn has spent more than 15 years serving in leadership roles at innovative global technology companies like Google, Yahoo, PayPal and Twilio. Leveraging this experience, she brings deep expertise for transforming companies through driving results, creating a culture of psychological safety and belonging, and building high-performing teams to her role at Indeed.
Chris Hyams is CEO of Indeed, leading the company’s mission to help people get jobs. He has worked in various tech companies in Austin, TX for 25 years. Chris joined Indeed in 2010 as VP of Product, responsible for technology strategy and innovation, and was appointed CEO in 2019. Before Indeed, Chris was Founder of B-Side Entertainment, a technology platform for the discovery and distribution of independent films. After 10 years of helping people get jobs with Indeed, Chris believes that talent is universal, but opportunity is not. He is committed to building technology to help level the playing field.