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2024 Festival Jury

Best Feature

Cara Warwick

For over 20 years producer Cara Warwick has been on the forefront of producing the world’s most engaging programming for such networks as the BBC, Disney, Netfllix and Discovery. Through her hands on experience with roles anywhere from casting, development, and in her current role as producer, she has the knowledge to identify a great idea and craft it into compelling programming. Through her producing work with the BBC, she was an integral part of the team who was nominated for an international Emmy for the music documentary, Queen – Days Of Our Lives.

Marlene Forte

Marlene Forte is a Cuban American actor and a founding member of LAByrinth Theater Company in NYC where she started her career. Today, Forte makes her home and living in Los Angeles, and has been working on TV and film for over 25 years with over 110 TV and film credits. Most recently seen on Netflix’s Griselda and Lincoln Lawyer, ABC’s The Rookie, and Aristotle; Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe on Amazon Prime. Some of her stage credits include: Mrs. Brady in Inherit The Wind at Pasadena Playhouse; Sarita in Members Only at LATC; Jocasta in Oedipus El Ray at Boston Court, and Armida in Mojada: A Media In Los Angeles at the Getty.

Tenia Watson

Tenia Watson is a three-time Daytime Emmy Award-nominated and two-time NAACP Image Award-winning former executive producer of the Emmy-winning daytime talk show, The Real.

Originally from Chicago, Watson obtained her BA in Communications with a double minor in Journalism and African American Studies from Western Illinois University. TV/Broadcasting was never on Watson’s career radar until friends prompted her to attend an audition at a local news station for on-air talent on a student-operated newscast. Much to her surprise, she was offered a news anchor position for the broadcast, began to acquire behind-the-scenes experience, and quickly fell in love with the industry. She later received an internship at “Chicago’s Very Own” WGN-TV Channel 9 that evolved into a full-time position as a production assistant. Watson also freelanced as a junior reporter for the local radio station WVON 1450 AM. Realizing that she wanted to have more creative control of content and the ability to tell and write the story instead of just reporting it, she turned her attention to working behind the camera as a producer.

Watson is a seasoned TV producer with over two decades of experience in crafting compelling & award-winning content. She has a diverse range of successful docuseries, unscripted, reality, court, and daytime talk shows. Watson’s producing credits include Black Pop, Judge Mathis, Chicagolicious, Jerry Springer, The Test, Lauren Lake’s Paternity Court, MTV’s FriendZone and Just Keke, to name a few. In 2013, she joined The Real as a producer and worked her way up to supervising producer, and then was named co-executive producer in 2020. In 2021, Watson was even featured in a Forbes BLK article celebrating her accomplishment of being the first Black woman to become Executive Producer of the Emmy winning daytime talk show, The Real. 

Watson has received an American Legion Award for Courage, Honor, Leadership, Patriotism, Scholarship and Service. When not in the studio, Watson loves being outdoors, reading, meditating, and going to the theater.

Best Documentary

Binnur Karaevli

Binnur Karaevli is an international writer, director and showrunner known for creating global, multilingual content with emphasis on stories from the Middle East and Southern Europe. She divides her time between Istanbul and Los Angeles, and created and executive produced The Protector, the first Turkish Netflix International Originals series. It remains one of Netflix’s most watched international shows. Binnur worked on the upcoming Paramount + crime drama series The Turkish Detective, which will be released in the UK in 2024. She’s directed numerous award-winning feature documentaries including the upcoming epic refugee story, Seize the Summit, and the highly acclaimed biopic The Eye of Istanbul. She’s written for companies in the UK, Turkey and Greece including Eleventh Hour Films, BKM and Imaj Studios.

Binnur is also a published author. Her novel “Miras” is picked up to be developed as a Turkish series. Her most recent project “The Emperor” is in development at Future Shack. With her strong background in the American Regional Theatre as a director and with years spent in the entertainment industry in Europe, Binnur brings an international flair to her character-driven stories. She’s committed to creating multi-cultural and diverse content that captivates audiences worldwide.

Yangzom Brauen

Yangzom (pronounced YANG-zom) is an award winning Film and TV Director. With her short film, Born in Battle, about child soldiers, she received the well-known CICT-UNESCO Enrico Fulchignoni Award as well as the UNESCO Gandhi Medal. The film was shown during the UN committee meeting in Geneva and won the audience award at the prestigious Max Ophüls Preis 2016, a leading festival in the European film festival world for new emerging talents among others.

After the screening of the film in 2018 in a Los Angeles movie theater, she was instantly offered her first TV directing gig for NCIS LA, which led to recurring work for several more episodes and new shows such as Hawaii five-0, Station 19, Magnum P.I., and MacGyver as well as first season shows such as Republic of Sarah for the CW and Rebel for ABC and for Hulu, Death and Other Details with Mandy Patinkin. She has been steadily working for the past 5 years and has over 30 hours of TV work under her belt.

Past credits include: Sweet Magnolias for Netflix, American Horror Stories for FX, Walker Independence for CW, FBI and Law & Order for CBS and NBC among others.

Yangzom’s filmmaking vocation aside, she has always been extremely active and vocal in the Tibetan Freedom movement.

In 2009, she wrote her first book, “Across Many Mountains,” which became an instant European Bestseller and has been translated into 12 languages so far. “Across Many Mountains” is a memoir about three generations of Tibetan women: Yangzom’s grandmother a Tibetan nun, her mother and her own story. The book is now turned into a film.

Yangzom was born and raised in Bern, the capital of Switzerland. Her Swiss anthropologist father and Tibetan artist mother ignited her passion for the arts but also contributed to her appreciation and understanding of her Tibetan roots, not just from a cultural but a very deep personal perspective. Completing her studies in Europe’s prestigious University of Theater and Music in Bern, she started working in theater projects in Switzerland and Germany. Shortly thereafter, she was cast and guest-starred in the well-known Swiss sitcom for National Swiss Television Network. Yangzom’s career would take off establishing her as a well-known actress starring in many Swiss and German TV Shows as well as in movies. She received her Hollywood breakthrough when she won the role of “Inari” in the Sci Fi film, Aeon Flux, starring Charlize Theron.

Yangzom lives in Los Angeles. She speaks five languages fluently: Tibetan, Swiss German, German, English and French.

She has a EU and US passport and is a DGA and SAG member.

Georges Chamchoum

Georges Chamchoum is an Emmy (Hashim’s Story, ABC TV) and multiple award-winning film director and producer born in Niger, West Africa of Lebanese origin. He entered the film industry in 1968 after graduating from Conservatoire du Cinema Francais (Paris). He has directed and produced over 40 features between Africa, Middle East, Europe, and the USA. He directed his first feature, Salam, After Death, at age 21 and the landmark Lebanon…. Why? His movies have always been socially and politically minded with a Hollywood flair. In addition to his many awards in 2017, he was named one of the 100 most influential Lebanese in the world, being honored in a special commemorative publication to mark the occasion. Quoted in The Oxford History of the World Cinema, the definitive history of cinema world-wide, Oxford University (p.665): “…It was not until the 1970’s that a number of talented western-trained Lebanese filmmakers- Georges Chamchoum, Jocelyne Saab, Heiny Srour; Borhan Alaouya-emerged and began to treat social and political problems of their country in a number of features strongly influenced by documentary techniques.”

Georges was jury delegate all through the 80’s for Le Festival du Film Fantastique et de Science Fiction de Paris, (Horror an Science Fiction Films), France, which is a leading Festival in the genre, where such directors as Steven Spielberg, Sam Raimi, Joe Dante and many other leading directors were first discovered. He is a board member of Francophone Film Festival (Los Angeles) and PPFF (Pan Pacific Film Festival) Los Angeles. From 2007-2013 he was the Executive & Program Director of The Monaco Charity Film Festival. He is currently the International Director of the Yakutsk International Film Festival (Yakutia, Sakha Republic) in August as well as the International Relations Executive for Notre Dame University International Film Festival (Beirut Film Festival), (Lebanon). Finally, he is Executive Director and Program Director of AWFF (Asian World Film Festival) in Los Angeles, November 8-17, 2023.

He makes sure that his festivals champion the unsung heroes of the movies. He loves to discover cinema that nobody is aware of. He was the first to screen movies from Yakutia (Sakha Republic) in the West. His mission is to put Asian cinema in the Hollywood spotlight.

He is the co-founder of Film Festivals Cinergy (a union of film festivals around the world to promote talents in filmmaking). He attended schools in Lebanon, France and Germany. He studied at the university in Wales then went on to study filmmaking in France. He is trained in Poland, Russia and England.

He now resides in Los Angeles, California for the past 32 years.

Best Short Fiction

Dunya Djordjevic

Dunya Merell Djordjevic is the founder and executive director of the all-girl filmmaking non-profit, Girls IN Focus (GIF),, where girls 12-18 make their own films with guidance from film industry pros. and the annual GIF Film FEST. She is a 20+year veteran of film and theatre. Her work spans both the stage and film as an award winning actor/director/producer/writer. Dunya attended the American International Schools in her hometown Belgrade, Serbia and then in Vienna, Austria before immigrating to California at 12. She attended the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.), studied with Sanford Meisner and received her Bachelor of Arts in Theater Arts & Film from UCSC. In addition to writing/producing both scripted and unscripted feature films, she runs film production company Focus50 with 50% women both in front of and behind the camera. She is part of the Steering Committee of the LA STEM Collective and sits on the Board of Directors for the Living Beauty Foundation. 

Tonatzin Mondragon

Tonatzin Mondragon is an independent filmmaker with over 20 years of industry experience working with high-profile companies and people. Some include Sony, Nickelodeon, NBC/Universal and Stan Lee.

Shelby Baldock

Growing up in Memphis, TN, Shelby Baldock was raised to believe in three things: the transformative power of cinema, Bruce Hornsby, and where to find the best meat-and-three in town. After countless home movies and funk rock shows fueled a career with The Grammys and the renowned band North Mississippi Allstars, Shelby gained over 15 years experience editing and directing across multiple genres, subjects, and formats – from documentary and narrative to virtual reality and music videos. His work has appeared in national television campaigns with Major League Baseball, EMMY-winning The Messy Truth VR, feature documentary, Bombie, Bowery award-winning animated film, We Got a Problem with Groundwater, and Web award honoree, Clash of Trades. Collaborators have included Gibson Guitars and the Special Olympics, with support by brands such as Huawei and National Geographic. He continues to seek new and inspiring methods of storytelling across a variety of media.

Best Short Documentary

Jean Chapiro

Jean Chapiro is a Student Academy Award-winning filmmaker and journalist from Mexico City. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2021 with a major in Cinema Studies, Communication, and Visual Studies. Jean holds an M.S. in Documentary Journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and is currently completing an MFA in Creative Producing at Columbia University Film School. Through filmmaking, Jean seeks to bridge the gap between entertainment and journalism. Jean believes that storytelling is at the core of human existence and has the power to cut across political, cultural, and geographical borders.

Carlo Siliotto

Carlo Siliotto is a Golden Globe nominated Film composer and an HMMA winner.

Since 1984, he has written music for over a hundred projects, ranging from theatrical features to documentaries and television series. Carlo’s ability to blend modern sonorities with the melodic traditions of Italian film music and the sounds of the traditional music of the peoples has been a passport for working alongside many established directors and producers.

In 2007, Carlo received a Golden Globe nomination for his work on Nomad: The Warrior (Bodrov-Passer), and in 2011 he was nominated by the Italian critics for the “Nastro d’Argento” for the music of Il Padre e lo Straniero (Tognazzi). In 2004, he was nominated for Best Music by the International Film Music Critics Association (IFMCA) for The Punisher. Other accolades include Best Music for comedy by the IFMCA (2014), and the “Colonne Sonore” award for Best Original Score for a foreign film, both for Instruction Not Included (No Se Aceptan Devoluciones) and Miracles From Heaven (P. Riggen). In 2021, he was nominated by HMMA for Qazaq (Lopatonok-Stone) and in 2022 received the HMMA Award for Cuando Sea Joven (Martinez).  

In addition to his work for the silver screen, Carlo is a prolific composer of concert music. His latest suite O’ Patrone d’o Cane was released in the U.S. by La-La Land Records, and abroad by Cinéfonia Records (FR) and Deltadischi (IT). Carlo currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California. He is a proud member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and of The SCL.

Inbal Lessner

Inbal B. Lesnner, ACE is an Emmy-nominated and Eddie-winning producer/editor who most recently cut together Sarah Gibson’s Stormy, the explosive documentary recounting the scandal that surrounded Stormy Daniels and former President Donald Trump. As lead editor on the project, Inbal combed through hundreds of hours of footage from 2018, helping to reframe the story from Stormy’s perspective. Executive-produced by Judd Apatow, Stormy will debut at SXSW on March 8th, and then stream on Peacock beginning March 18th.

Inbal is most well-known for such true crime hits as Starz’ Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult and Netflix’s Escaping Twin Flames, both of which she co-created alongside her filmmaking partner Cecila Peck. As executive producer, showrunner, and editor, Inbal steered both shows towards nominations for Best Edited Documentary (Non-Theatrical) at the ACE Eddie Awards, nabbing a win for the latter. She was previously Eddie-nominated for her work on the “Can We All Get Along” episode of CNN’s The Nineties. Her five-year partnership with CNN culminated in a dream collaboration with executive producer Tom Hanks on the “The Golden Age” episode of The Movies.

Inbal has worked in the cutting rooms of directors such as Davis Guggenheim, Nancy Schwartzman, R.J. Cutler, Kelly Duane, Tricia Regan, Jeremy Simmons, and Tracy Droz Tragos, as well as Natalie Portman’s feature directorial debut. A member of the AFI Conservatory faculty, she has also been a Visiting Professor of Film Editing at UNCSA Film School and is a mentor in the Karen Schmeer Diversity in the Edit Room Program. She currently resides in Los Angeles, CA.

Best Short Animation

Vani Saraswathi Balgam

Vani Saraswathi Balgam’s passion for filmmaking and animation began at age 8 when her father set up an animation studio showcasing Indian stories to the world in 1985. Today, she carries on her father’s artistic vision through her studio, Dancing Atoms LLC. She is a self-taught filmmaker who started working in Bollywood films at just 16.

Professional Achievements:
Founder, CEO, Writer, and Director at Dancing Atoms, where she has partnered with top studios from all around the world.

Co-founder of Rhythm & Hues in Asia, she played a crucial role in setting up a studio in India for Rhythm & Hues from her apartment in Mumbai, later expanding to Hyderabad, Malaysia, and Taiwan. Managed teams for Academy Award-winning films like Life of Pi, The Golden Compass, and Chronicles of Narnia.

Creative Head of Visual Development and Story Board Training and Management at Dreamworks- Los Angeles and Shanghai.

Creative Director for the Women Creators Program, championing women and supporting their film-making endeavours in Unreal – Epic Games in India, Pakistan and Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Mentor for over 120 films from around the world in Epic Games’ Fellowship program.

Associate Producer for the Tribeca Writing for Unreal Program, managing top-class teams to deliver previsualization for Tribeca filmmakers.

Advisor for FMX Stuttgart, one of the best VFX and Animation events in Europe.

President of the Women in Animation India Collective, actively promoting community building and empowering women in the industry.

President of ASIFA India for 15 years and currently serves as President Emeritus since 2022.

Vani’s passion for film-making, animation, and community building has made her a prominent figure in the animation industry in India and beyond. Her dedication to nurturing and empowering Indian creative talent has earned her recognition and respect, making her a role model for aspiring animators and filmmakers.

Khalid Farquharson

Khalid Farquharson is an accomplished illustrator and photographer with a passion for storytelling through visual art. He has been working in the animation industry since 2014. Throughout his career, he has collaborated with various clients such as FOX, the NFL, and Atlantic Records, contributing his artistic talents to a diverse range of projects.

Ryan Rosendal

Ryan Rosendal is a storyboard artist in the Los Angeles animation industry. He has worked for Threshold Animation Studios, Rough Draft Studios and 20th Television Animation. He currently works on American Dad.

Best Cinematography in a Feature Film

Hana Kitasei

Hana Kitasei is a Japanese and American cinematographer who grew up in New York, DC and Tokyo. She graduated with a BA in mathematics from Harvard and an MFA in cinematography from the American Film Institute. She assisted Ellen Kuras, ASC, while cutting her teeth on a wide range of narrative, documentary, and experimental projects before relocating to Los Angeles to focus on feature films and commercial work. She is particularly keen on capturing and creating human connection in her work. In 2017, she was selected for the Fox Development Lab. When not shooting, she mentors and teaches Visual Storytelling at the American Film Institute. She is a member of Local 600 and is represented by Danica Pupa (Features) and Michael Kirschner (Commercials) at Intrinsic LA.

Ueli Steiger, ASC

Ueli Steiger ASC was born in Switzerland and attended the University in Zurich where he pursued English literature, linguistics and art history. After University, he turned to cinematography and studied that craft at the London Film School. Soon his work brought him to Hollywood, with Dennis Hopper’s The Hot Spot followed by Michael Hoffman’s Soapdish and Cameron Crowe’s Singles. Some of is other work includes Bowfinger, Austin Powers the Spy Who Shagged Me, Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow and 10,000 B.C. Steiger also worked extensively in Brazil, Argentina, Germany, South Africa and New Zealand. He lives with his husband in Los Angeles.

Jacek Laskus, ASC, PSC

Jacek Laskus, ASC, PSC, is a cinematographer, director and photographer born in Warsaw, Poland. After graduating from the Polish National Film Academy with a degree in Cinematography, Jacek left for the United States and made his home in New York City, where he worked for BBC TV working on many documentaries. While in New York he also worked on numerous music videos with the Academy Award-winning director Zbigniew Rybczynski, as well as for SNL with director Jonathan Demme. There he shot his first feature film, Parting Glances, directed by Bill Sherwood.

After moving to Los Angeles, he worked with directors such as Donal Petrie Sr, (Square Dance), Robert Altman (The Caine Mutiny Court Marshal), Michael Pressman, (Quick Sand, Frankie & Johnny are Married, and the series The Guardian). The Caine Mutiny Court Marshal earned Jacek the 1989 American Society of Cinematographers nomination for the Outstanding Cinematography. In 1996, Garden of Redemption directed by Tom Donnelly, a WWII drama earned Jacek his second A.S.C nomination. In 1997, Jacek co-lensed a full-length documentary, Colors Straight Up. The film was nominated for a 1998 Academy Award. In 2007 Jacek shot, Jerry was a Man directed by Academy Award nominee Michael Tolkin.

In 2000 Jacek became a member of The American Society of Cinematographers. In 2011 Jacek became a member of the Polish Society of Cinematographers. Jacek has traveled the globe, shooting films in Canada, Portugal, New Zealand, Italy, Lithuania, Japan, Nepal, India, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, and Peru. Jacek’s second passion is photography. He has participated in several group shows, among them “Still Moving” at the gallery in Los Angeles and in 2006 “Photographs by the members of the A.S.C.” at the Academy of Motion Pictures.

In April 2008 he held his first solo exhibit at the WM Gallery in Amsterdam. In 2022 he produced and directed a short film, Picnic and a Little Mutiny. Over the course of the past five years, Jacek has taught cinematography at a number of colleges. He is a senior lecturer at The American Film Institute Conservatory.

He has also taught at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, the California Institute of the Arts, and The Maine Photographic Workshop. Jacek speaks Polish, English, and French.

Best Cinematography In A Documentary Film

Paul Dokuchitz

Paul Dokuchitz is the co-producer of the Academy Award-nominated short subject documentary, Bloodties: The Life and Work of Sally Mann. He has won numerous awards at film festivals for his documentary, Memories Do Not Burn (producer/director/DP), narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker. This film chronicles the lives of Bosnian refugee children. It was nominated for “Distinguished Documentary Achievement” by the International Documentary Association (IDA) and was awarded “Best Nonfiction Film” by The American Film Institute.

Based in New York City, Paul has over 25 years of film and video production experience with an emphasis as a director of photography and has lensed a variety of projects over the years from HBO Documentary Films to PBS American Masters. Paul is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts: Undergraduate Film & TV, where he produced and directed the award-winning short film, Dead Serious.

Dallas Calkins

Dallas Calkins is an LA cinematographer and has been in the industry for over 6 years. She prides herself on being versatile with new technological advancements in the industry while also being proficient in original techniques and practices. What Dallas enjoys most about cinematography is the ability to connect with other creatives, communicating that inspiration in a way that translates thought into visual language and tone. 

Roko Belic

Roko Belic was nominated for an Academy Award® for his landmark film, Genghis Blues, which won the Sundance Audience Award and over 70 international film festival awards. He teamed up with director Tom Shadyac (Bruce Almighty, Liar Liar, The Nutty Professor), who executive produced, to direct the iTunes “all-time-bestseller,” Happy. He directed two films for Warner Bros., Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious and The Batmobile, and he most recently directed the Walter Cronkite award-winning film, Trust Me. His next film, Lun, based on an incredible, true story of an adventure at sea, is currently in development.