Women in Film and Netflix’s ReFrame Rise accelerator elevating women directors and cinematographers

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The directors and cinematographers selected for the Reframe Rise accelerator are, from left, Ally Pankiw, Angel Kristi Williams, Ava Benjamin Shorr, Barbie Leung, Ekwa Msangi, Laura Merians Gonçalves, Mariscela Méndez, Mounia Akl, Nijla Mu’min, Terrie Samundra and Yoko Okumura. [Courtesy photo]

Women in Film is expanding its offerings to help elevate women directors and cinematographers at multiple stages of their careers through a newly expanded ReFrame Rise accelerator and an upcoming Women in Film Directors and Cinematographers Fellowship.

These programs are made possible by support from the Netflix Fund for Creative Equity, an initiative to build new opportunities for underrepresented communities within entertainment, according to a news release.

ReFrame Rise is a comprehensive and customized two-year program designed by ReFrame, a Women in Film and Sundance Institute collaboration, to accelerate high-level, sustainable advancement for mid-career talent.

Building off the success of the inaugural ReFrame Rise class, the program is now expanding to support cinematographers as well as directors.

“We are very excited to support this supremely talented cohort of directors and cinematographers as a partnership between Women in Film and the Sundance Institute’s Women at Sundance Program,” said Michelle Satter, Sundance Institute’s founding senior director of artist programs and a member of ReFrame Leadership Council.

“We have learned first hand the value of the sponsorship opportunity for women artists and look forward to supporting this next group as they level up and find sustainability in their careers.”

ReFrame recently announced the new ReFrame Rise class, which includes seven mid-career directors – Ally Pankiw, Angel Kristi Williams, Ekwa Msangi, Mounia Akl, Nijla Mu’min, Terrie Samundra and Yoko Okumura – and four cinematographers – Ava Benjamin Shorr, Barbie Leung, Laura Merians Gonsalves and Mariscela Mendez – who will each be matched with a mentorship team of industry professionals and a career coach.

Each year, ReFrame reviews the top 100 feature films and top 200 TV series as part of its ReFrame Stamp Program, releasing annual reports on gender equity in hiring. Through this research, it became clear that there was a significant gap in representation of women directors of photography.

“The numbers of women cinematographers hired on our industry’s largest projects remains stagnant – only seven films in the Top 100 releases last year were lensed by women,” said Andria Wilson Mirza, ReFrame’s director, in a statement.

“Through applying our career acceleration model – which has proven to be successful for directors – to this talented group of DPs as well, we aim to demonstrate our commitment to developing both above and below-the-line talent, and the urgent need for a cross-industry investment in these roles in which women remain underrepresented.”

With support from Netflix, Women in Film also will launch a new Women in Film Directors and Cinematographers Fellowship in 2023. This initiative will provide participants with a year of mentorship from entertainment leaders, collaboration with the Rise class through advice and shadowing on their projects, and access to industry experts and special events.

“This program will build critical relationships between people across different stages of their careers. As we intentionally deepen the community of women and gender non-conforming creatives we see opportunities grow, so we must nurture these connections,” said Women In Film Director of Programs Maikiko James in a statement.

More information and dates for this program will be announced in the fall.

“As ReFrame’s research shows, there continues to be great need to elevate more women as cinematographers and directors in film and television. We are thrilled to support Women in Film’s innovative approach to elevating women in these positions through different stages of their careers,” said Niija Kuykendall, Netflix vice president of film and Women in Film board member.

The inaugural class of ReFrame Rise,which ran from 2019 to early 2022, supported acclaimed directors Desiree Akhavan (“Hacks,” HBO), Haifaa al-Mansour (“Tales of the Walking Dead,” AMC), Patricia Cardoso (“Shelter,” Amazon), Hanelle Culpepper (“Anansi Boys,” Amazon), Sydney Freeland (“Echo,” Marvel Studios), Zetna Fuentes (“This Is Us,” NBC), Tina Mabry (“Pose,” FX) and Meera Menon (“Ms. Marvel,” Marvel Studios).

Ally Pankiw [Courtesy photo]

DIRECTORS

Ally Pankiw

Writer/director Ally Pankiw’s accomplishments in TV include directing and executive producing the first season of the Netflix comedy series, “Feel Good” (which stars Mae Martin and Lisa Kudrow), and blocks of episodes on Hulu’s “Shrill” and “The Great.” Pankiw recently completed her first feature film, a dark dramedy which she wrote and directed, called “I Used to Be Funny.” It stars Rachel Sennott (“Shiva Baby,” “Bodies Bodies Bodies”) and Jason Jones (“The Daily Show,” “The Detour”). Previously, Pankiw served as a writer on “Schitt’s Creek,” and she is now developing an original comedy series with its star and creator, Dan Levy, for Hulu and 20th Century Animation. The duo are also co-writing a feature for Universal Pictures. She has directed commercials for brands like Amazon, adidas, Pepsi, Chanel and Nylon, and music videos for artists like Phoebe Bridgers, MUNA, Janelle Monae, and Lil Jon.

Angel Kristi Williams

Angel Kristi Williams is an award winning filmmaker born and raised in West Baltimore, Maryland. Her feature directorial debut “Really Love,” produced by MACRO, won the Special Jury Recognition for Acting for co-stars Kofi Siriboe and Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing at SXSW. The film then played as part of AFI Fest’s Special Presentations to much acclaim. Williams is a Sundance Institute Momentum Fellow as well as a Film Independent Project Involve Directing Fellow, where she was the recipient of their Sony Pictures Diversity Fellowship. Williams won an NAACP Image Award for directing “Colin in Black and White,” her first episode of television. She directed an episode of “Naomi” for CW and will later helm the Season 2 opener of “Cherish the Day” for OWN.

Ekwa Msangi

Ekwa Msangi’s award-winning and critically acclaimed feature film “Farewell Amor” premiered in competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, garnering 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film won the Sundance Amazon Producer’s Award, the NYWIFT Directing Award, the 2020 Durban International Film Festival award for Best Screenplay, and Msangi was awarded the 2021 Indie Spirit “Someone To Watch” award. The film is distributed by IFC Films for North America, MUBI and Netflix for Worldwide. Msangi has also written and directed drama series for broadcasters in Kenya including “The Agency,” MNET’s first-ever original hour-long Kenyan drama series. She is both a 2020 Sundance Momentum Fellow as well as a 2020 BAFTA Breakthrough. One of Msangi’s key goals as an artist is to transform our society’s images and relationships with African cultures, and to empower African filmmakers in telling their stories.

Mounia Akl

Mounia Akl is a director and writer from Lebanon living between Beirut and New York. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Architecture from ALBA and an MFA in Directing from Columbia University and is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Her first feature film, “Costa Brava Lebanon” (Sundance Labs, Cannes Residency), premiered in 2021 at the Venice Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival (Netpac Award) and BFI London Film Festival (Audience Award) amongst others. It was inspired by her short film “Submarine” (an official selection at the 69th Cannes Film Festival, TIFF 2016). Akl is currently developing new projects (TV and Film) between Paris, Beirut and L.A., where she also was recently a Ted Talk Women speaker.

Nijla Mu’min

Nijla Mu’min is a writer and filmmaker from the East Bay Area. Her work is informed by poetry, photography, fiction, and dance. Her debut feature film, “Jinn,” premiered at SXSW 2018, where she won the Special Jury Recognition Award for Screenwriting. “Jinn,” a New York Times Critics pick, was released by Orion Classics, and is currently streaming on Amazon. She received the Shadow & Act Rising Award, the MPAC Media Award for Courage and Conscience, and was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. For television, she has directed on “Queen Sugar,” HBO’s “Insecure” and Hulu’s “Wu-Tang: An American Saga.” She wrote for the Starz series “Blindspotting,” and both wrote and directed an episode of the Apple series “Swagger,” a rare accomplishment in television. She also wrote and directed a short film for Netflix titled “Black Prom.” She is currently developing her second feature film, “Mosswood Park.”

Terrie Samundra

Terrie Samundra is a director and screenwriter whose debut feature, the Netflix Original film “Kaali Khuhi,” was released internationally in October 2020. Samundra is currently in development of her original series “The Ballad of Pooja,” an international co-production with U.S. and Indian studios, and has recently wrapped a writer’s room on an undisclosed Netflix series. She is an alumna of the Sundance Institute International Screenwriters Lab, the SFFILM/Kenneth Rainin Screenwriting Fellowship and the Sundance Women in Film Finance Intensive. Samundra is currently a mentor for the Sundance Uprise program for BIPOC artists. A multicultural artist, Samundra grew up between a rural village in India, a small farming town in Missouri and along the coast of California. She is represented by the Gersh Agency and Circle of Confusion.

Yoko Okumura

Yoko Okumura is a genre-fluid writer, director and performer. Born in a Buddhist temple in Japan and raised in Minneapolis, she now lives and works in Los Angeles. Okumura is currently in post for her directorial debut feature for Blumhouse and Epix. The thriller, titled “Unseen,” stars Jolene Purdy (“The White Lotus,” “Wandavision”) and Midori Francis (“Dash & Lily,” “The Sex Lives of College Girls”). She also sold a story pitch to Sam Raimi’s Quibi/Roku horror anthology “50 States of Fright” and directed the episode titled “America’s Largest Ball of Twine” starring Ming-Na Wen (“The Mandalorian”) and Karen Allen (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”). She has also directed episodes of the one-hour drama “Good Trouble” and a block of two episodes for “The Bold Type.”

Ava Benjamin Shorr [Courtesy photo]

CINEMATOGRAPHERS

Ava Benjamin Shorr

Ava Benjamin Shorr is a Los Angeles-based director of photography raised in Portland, Oregon. Some of her most lauded work includes “Disclosure,” which premiered at Sundance in 2020 and was released by Netflix; “Framing Agnes,” which won multiple awards at Sundance in 2022; and “Equal,” a four-part series she shot for HBO Max. Shorr was included on a list of “Mind Blowing Women Cinematographers” by actor and director Emmy Rossum and was awarded an ASC Vision Mentorship with Rachel Morrison, cinematographer of “Black Panther” and “Mudbound.” She was also the subject, and co-DP of the documentary short “Ava & Bianca,” about her special connection to fellow trans cinematographer Bianca Cline.

Barbie Leung

Barbie Leung is a New York-based cinematographer with a dark lyrical visual style, as showcased in Todd Bogin’s feature “Left with Only Rain” and Cynthia Lowen’s “Battleground” (Tribeca Film Festival 2022). She is a recipient of The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Vision Mentorship Program and AFI Conservatory’s Cinematography Intensive Workshop. She’s an associate of the Society of Camera Operators (SOC), and a member of the International Cinematographers Guild (ICG Local 600). Other notable features include “Unladylike,” which world-premiered at AFI Docs 2020, and “Sh*tshow: The Rise and Fall of HQ Trivia” for CNN Films. Her work has screened at Sundance, SXSW, Fantasia and Outfest.

Laura Merians Gonçalves

Laura Merians Gonçalves is an award-winning cinematographer behind the Darren Aronofsky produced drama “Pacified” (aka “Pacificado”), which won the Golden Seashell for Best Film at the San Sebastián International Film Festival as well as the Jury Prize for Best Cinematography, resulting in Gonçalves being the first woman in the history of the festival to ever win this award. “Pacified” then went on to win the Cinematographers’ Debut Competition at the prestigious Camerimage Film Festival. Goncalves was a cinematographer for Beyonce’s highly anticipated film “Black Is King.” Other credits include the musical “John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch” for Netflix and A24, and additional photography on Josephine Decker’s Sundance-winning film “Shirley.” She was selected as one of the Rising Stars of 2020 by the ASC.

Mariscela Méndez

Mariscela Beatríz Méndez was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. Méndez has shot numerous forms of media that have aired for Slamdance, Amazon Prime, and Tubi. Méndez was selected to participate in the American Society of Cinematographers Vision Mentor Program. She is also the recipient of The Peregrine Collective 2022 Cinematographer’s Grant for her project MAL DE AMORES. She has a deep connection to her Mexican-American roots and often works on projects involving LatinX identity, female-driven films and magical realism. Méndez is currently focusing on narrative feature-length and episodic projects.

-BAM

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