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In June 2019, the gender-parity industry coalition ReFrame unveiled Rise, its two-year program to support the continuation of mid-level female directors’ careers. After a slight pandemic-affected delay, ReFrame Rise has now returned with its second cohort, which expands to include cinematographers.
Each woman will be matched with a career coach and a team of industry professionals to sponsor them (a relationship that involves a more committed level of participation than mentorship).
“We have learned firsthand 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,” Sundance Institute founding senior director of Artist Programs and ReFrame Leadership Council member Michelle Satter said in a statement. (ReFrame is a collaboration between the institute and Women in Film.)
“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,” ReFrame director Andria Wilson Mirza added 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.”
The Netflix Fund for Creative Equity will support Rise (Hulu previously co-sponsored the career accelerator with a three-year commitment) as well as a new initiative: the WIF Directors and Cinematographers Fellowship. This yearlong mentorship program will start up in 2023, with more details to be announced this fall, and will be distinguished from Rise by its focus on collaboration across experience levels. “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,” WIF director of programs Maikiko James said in a statement.
“As ReFrame’s research shows, there continues to be great need to elevate more women as cinematographers and directors in film and television,” Netflix vp of film and WIF board member Niija Kuykendall said in a statement. “We are thrilled to support Women in Film’s innovative approach to elevating women in these positions through different stages of their careers.”
ReFrame’s inaugural class of eight has steadily worked behind the camera during its two-plus years of sponsorship. The alumnae and some of their recent credits include: Desiree Akhavan (HBO’s Hacks and Showtime’s I Love That for You), Haifaa al-Mansour (AMC’s Tales of the Walking Dead and Netflix’s upcoming Florida Man), Patricia Cardoso (Amazon’s Shelter and OWN’s Queen Sugar), Hanelle Culpepper (Paramount+’s Star Trek: Discovery and Amazon’s upcoming Anansi Boys), Sydney Freeland (Hulu’s Reservation Dogs and Disney+’s upcoming Echo), Zetna Fuentes (NBC’s This is Us and Showtime’s Super Pumped), Tina Mabry (FX’s Pose and ABC’s Women of the Movement) and Meera Menon (Apple TV+’s For All Mankind and Disney +’s Ms. Marvel).
The 2022-2024 Rise cohort features seven directors and four cinematographers:
Ally Pankiw has directed episodes of Hulu’s Shrill and The Great, commercials for Amazon, adidads, Pepsi, Chanel and Nylon and music videos for Phoebe Bridgers, MUNA, Janelle Monae and Lil Jon. A former Schitt’s Creek writer, she is now developing a Hulu and 20th Century Fox animated series and c-writing a Universal feature with Dan Levy.
Angel Kristi Williams won an NAACP Image Award for her episodic directorial debut in Netflix’s Colin in Black and White. Her other directing credits include The CW’s Naomi and the upcoming second season premiere of OWN’s Cherish the Day. A Sundance Institute Momentum Fellow and Film Independent Project Involve Directing Fellow (through which she received the Sony Pictures Diversity Fellowship), MACRO produced her first feature, Really Love, in 2020.
Ekwa Msangi‘s acclaimed feature Farewell Amor won the 2020 Sundance Amazon Producer’s Award, the NYWIFT Directing Award and Best Screenplay at the Durban International Film Festival, and earned the director herself the Independent Spirit Award for Someone to Watch in 2021. Having written and directed for multiple drama series in Kenya, she was also a 2020 Sundance Momentum Fellow and 2020 BAFTA Breakthrough artist recipient.
Mounia Akl splits her time between Beirut in her native Lebanon and New York. Her 2016 short Submarine was an official selection at Cannes and TIFF and inspired her debut feature, Costa Brava Lebanon, which she developed both in Sundance labs and a Cannes Residency. The film premiered last year at Venice.
Nijla Mu’min won a special jury recognition award at SXSW in 2018 for her screenplay for her debut feature, Jinn, which also was a New York Times Critics’ Pick and earned her the Shadow & Act Rising Award, the MPAC Media Award for Courage and Conscience and an invitation to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Her television credits include Queen Sugar, HBO’s Insecure and Hulu’s Wu-Tang: An American Saga for directing, Starz’s Blindspotting for writing and Apple TV+’s Swagger for both.
Terrie Samundra released her debut feature, Kaali Khuhi, on Netflix in 2020. An alumna of the Sundance Institute International Screenwriters Lab, the SFFILM/Kenneth Rainin Screenwriting Fellowship and the Sundance WIF Finance Intensive, she currently serves as a mentor for Sundance’s Uprise program and is in development on her original series The Ballad of Pooja (a U.S.-India co-production) and recently wrapped the writers room on an undisclosed series for Netflix.
Yoko Okumura has directed episodes of Freeform’s Good Trouble and The Bold Type as well as Sam Raimi’s Quibi/Roku horror anthology 50 States of Fright, for which she sold a story pitch. She is now in post-production on her debut feature, Blumhouse and Epix’s Unseen.
Ava Benjamin Shorr lensed Netflix’s Disclosure and HBO Max’s Equal. She was mentored by Oscar winner Rachel Morrison via the American Society of Cinematographers’ Vision program and was subject and co-DP of the documentary short Ava & Bianca, about her friendship with fellow trans cinematographer Bianca Cline.
Barbie Leung‘s credits include the documentaries Battleground, Unladylike and Sh*tshow: The Rise and Fall of HQ Trivia, as well as the narrative feature Left With Only Rain. She also has been selected for ASC’s Vision Mentorship as well as AFI Conservatory’s Cinematography Intensive Workshop.
Laura Merians Gonçalves became the first woman ever to receive a jury prize for best cinematography at the San Sebastián International Film Festival for her work on the Darren Aronofsky-produced drama Pacificado, which also won the Cinematographers’ Debut Competition at the Camerimage Film Festival. One of the ASC’s Rising Stars of 2020, her other credits include Beyonce’s Black is King and Netflix and A24’s John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch.
Mariscela Méndez‘s work has been seen at Slamdance and on Amazon Prime and Tubi. Another ASC Vision mentee, she received The Peregrine Collective’s cinematographer’s grant this year for her project Mal de Amores.
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