Announcing the 2022 BAVC MediaMaker Fellows

Published On: May 4, 2022 |

BAVC Media is proud to welcome an exemplary group of 9 new Fellows for the 2022 year – a group of filmmakers who are working in realms beyond the traditional bounds of documentary form to ask urgent questions in captivating new ways.

BAVC MediaMaker Fellowship is an artist development program that provides nonfiction filmmakers with critical mentorship, access to industry contacts, and structure for workshopping projects in an inclusive and collaborative environment. For the 2022 Fellowship, BAVC Media is awarding $10,000 in unrestricted funding to 9 filmmakers in addition to an immersive 8-month experience that includes intimate feedback sessions, workshops with seasoned experts in the field, a built-in support network, two intensive convenings in San Francisco, and all-access travel to the Camden International Film Festival in Maine and the New Orleans Film Festival in Louisiana. 

Established through a grant from National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in 1991— and currently supported by grants  from NEA, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and Kenneth Rainin Foundation — the MediaMaker Fellowship program invests in independent, emerging and mid-career artists working on social-issue documentary projects. The program is known for betting on artists and projects as a “first-in” supporter. 

Here is a statement from the 2022 BAVC MediaMaker Fellowship Co-Directors, Dawn Valadez and Rodrigo Reyes: 

As the field of documentary comes under scrutiny, as we try to find our way between the needs of the industry, strong artistic practice, and the ethics of the craft, we choose to respond to this challenge by centering our values of diversity, quality and brilliance. Listening to the field, especially those calling for increased diversity in front and behind the camera with accountability and transparency, BAVC MediaMaker Fellowship works with field leaders to select projects and directors that take risks, ask difficult questions, and propel us forward. At BAVC Media, we stand by the filmmakers at the forefront of the art of nonfiction, those who are tenacious and brave enough to follow their truth. 

The BAVC MediaMaker Fellowship invests in underrepresented directors, emphasizing BIPOC, queer, low-income, people with disabilities and those whom often go unrecognized in the mainstream media. We boldly support fiercely independent artists who dare to tell stories about their communities that viewers otherwise might never see. We ensure that the participants who go through this national program feel supported by the BAVC Media community long after the fellowship ends.

BAVC MediaMaker Fellowship selects and supports projects on the precipice of greatness. While we know we are just one set of hands supporting artists as they set forth on their journey, we hope that through each of these voices we will contribute to the deep and urgent transformation of our industry at large.

We are honored to announce to the world the 2022 cohort of MediaMaker Fellows.

Rodrigo Reyes & Dawn Valadez

Co-Directors of the MediaMaker Fellowship

Over the last two years, despite facing additional obstacles due to the pandemic, films that were supported by the MediaMaker Fellowship have premiered at renowned international film festivals, been acquired for theatrical and streaming distribution, won prestigious awards, broadcast on public television, garnered acclaim from critics, and made a measurable impact in the world. Here are just a few recent success stories: 

  • 2011 Fellow, and 2018 MediaMaker Alumni Award Winner, Jackie Olive received a 2022 Peabody Award for Always in Season Island, an interactive project developed at BAVC Media.
  • 2020 Fellow Reid Davenport won the U.S. Documentary Directing Award at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival for his debut feature I Didn’t See You There, which also won the Grand Jury Award at the 25th annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. 
  • Free Chol Soo Lee, a film first supported by BAVC Media in 2017 when Co-Director Eugene Yee was a Fellow, has been acquired by global distributor, streamer, and production company MUBI, after first premiering at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. BAVC Preservation also digitized archival media for Free Chol Soo Lee.
  • North By Current, directed by 2020 BAVC MediaMaker Fellow A. Madsen Minax, was acquired by Grasshopper in North America and Journeyman Pictures internationally and is now streaming on iTunes in the USA and Amazon in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and South America. After premiering at the Berlinale, where it was nominated for both the Teddy Award and Best Documentary, North By Current played extensively at festivals around the world, wrapping up 2021 with a POV/PBS television broadcast. The film racked up 9 festival awards, and was nominated for four industry awards, winning Best Writing from the International Documentary Association and the Spotlight Award from Cinema Eye Honors. North By Current also scored a New York Times Critics Pick in November 2021 and was included in some admirable “best films of 2021” lists, including Filmmaker Magazine, Paste Magazine, Them, and Rolling Stone, who called it “a beautiful, complex, wonder of a film.”
  • Belly of the Beast, which was part of the Fellowship with Director Erika Cohn in 2016, won a 2021 Emmy for Outstanding Current Affairs Documentary. It was also nominated for a Best Documentary, Outstanding Direction: Documentary Emmy, and an Outstanding Editing: Documentary Emmy. Since its release in 2020, Belly of the Beast, has been an instrumental tool in the fight against forced sterilization in prisons, and on July 12, 2021, reparations for survivors of forced sterilization was included in the approved state budget for California.

The announcement of this year’s MediaMaker Fellowship cohort comes on the heels of the expansion of three additional national programs for filmmakers at BAVC Media. 

In 2022, thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, BAVC Media has the opportunity to provide free and reduced digitization services to documentary filmmakers associated with the BAVC MediaMaker Fellowship, helping to fund the preservation of archival materials for distinctive and impactful nonfiction films. Since 1994, BAVC Media has preserved thousands of hours of at-risk video and audio recordings, including recently preserving footage for the documentary films Crip Camp, Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, Music Box: Jagged, and Free Chol Soo Lee. 

After receiving a generous American Rescue Plan grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, BAVC Media is set to launch a 2-year initiative called “MediaMaker Versed”. The funds will be used to hire teaching artists from diverse backgrounds and expand learning opportunities for media makers to connect, skill up, launch and sustain careers in the media arts on a free or below-market basis. 

Lastly, BAVC will once again offer one-on-one mentorship to 25 filmmakers as part of the MediaMaker Connect Mentorship Program. In 2020 BAVC piloted this program to help Fellows overcome stumbling blocks to complete their projects, to forge connections between filmmakers at different stages of their careers, and to help emerging filmmakers get the support that they need to compete for grants and labs. 

All of these programs invest in artists and organizations that have been historically underrepresented in film and media, including those who identify as BIPOC, low-income, queer, trans, non-binary, women or femme, and those with disabilities. 

And now, here are the 2022 BAVC MediaMaker Fellows:

Ameha Molla

Headshot of Filmmaker Ameha Molla from the shoulders up backlit with blue light

Ameha Molla is a creative and marketing professional with experience across production, advertising and brand strategy. Ameha directed six short films while working in marketing at Genentech, a biotechnology company. In this role, Ameha led the creative and production teams for an award-winning brand agency, developing and producing content focused on the stories of patients with cancer. Ameha was responsible for creating story concepts, directing animation and motion graphics teams, and managing on set cast and crew. In February 2020, Ameha joined Apple’s marketing team where he works to create content for one of the world’s most respected brands. Ameha is a Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program | Stars Collective grantee and a Fellow of the Black Public Media 360 Incubator Program.

Higher 15 – HIGHER 15 is the deeply personal story about the secrets one family was forced to keep as a result of their experiences during Ethiopia’s period of government sponsored genocide in the 1970’s. Director Ameha Molla’s investigation into his family’s past is ignited by his uncle Kiflu, a idealist revolutionary fighting against this brutal regime, who is imprisoned and tortured at the notoriously dangerous Higher 15 prison in Addis Ababa. Kiflu ultimately escapes and is smuggled into the United States. Far from his past in Ethiopia, Kiflu settles into a new life in the suburbs of Denver, working at the US postal service and raising a family – until one day, 33 years after his arrival in America, he comes face to face with the same prison guard who tortured him, and others decades earlier. This deeply buried secret opens up new questions about the family’s experiences in Ethiopia as survivors of war and violence, and the legacy of trauma. As Ameha investigates his family’s past, he also embarks on a hunt to access the prison guard – now in prison himself outside of Denver.

Gabriela Díaz Arp

Gabriela Díaz Arp is a documentary producer and director who is passionate about re-imagining the documentary space through hybrid, immersive and participatory filmmaking. She has produced films and interactive experiences for news organizations, non-profits, cultural spaces and commercial clients. Some of her clients include New York Times, CNN International, Univision, International Rescue Committee, the United Nations and The New Museum. Her most recent virtual reality film, Meeting a Monster, exploring the memories and motivations of former white supremacist Angela King, premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival and Cannes and over 20+ film festivals around the world.

Matininó – Thirty years ago, Idaliz Villanueva fled with her two daughters from a violent marriage. While much time has passed, the effects of violence still reverberate throughout their lives and in their home of Puerto Rico, where a state of emergency was called amid a massive rise in domestic and gender-based violence. In search of meaning within their family narrative and an openness to creatively reframe the traumas of their past, the women of the Villanueva-Rodriguez family come together to hold space for their experiences, crafting a science fiction script that reimagines themselves in an alternative world where women hold the power.  As the plot of the science fiction film unfolds in parallel with the family’s creative process for creating it, we watch the family journey together to navigate their own personal grief, the narrative challenges of creating a film, and the fantastical demands of the world they have created. 

How will the Villanueva-Rodriguez family respond? Will they seek justice or revenge? Are they willing to sacrifice a man for freedom and enter Matininó participating in the same sequence of violence that they fled? Can machismo, misogyny and violence be erased or does it live on in the women in subtle ways? By asking these complex questions through the lens of a created work, we are able to tie the story this family has lived to the stories they tell. Matininó will move seamlessly between fantasy and fact, the myth and the mundane, and levity and gravity as the family presents an alternative world intrinsically wrapped into their own. Through re-imagining the hierarchical structures of power and the ways culture weaponizes gender, the family offers both a challenge to the current patriarchal landscape and an invitation to liberation through collective power and imagination; that we may become the stories we have the courage to reimagine.

Jason Fitzroy Jeffers

Jason Fitzroy Jeffers is a filmmaker from Barbados whose work focuses on giving rooted and nuanced voice to the Caribbean, pockets of subtropical Black life across the American South, and other marginalized, equatorial, Afro-diasporic spaces. As a filmmaker, he has produced award-winning shorts such as “Papa Machete” and “Swimming in Your Skin Again” that have screened at film festivals such as Sundance, BlackStar, TIFF, Sheffield and more. More recently, he co-directed the short film “Drowning by Sunrise” for The Intercept, and produced “T”, the 2020 winner of the Golden Bear for Best Short Film at Berlinale. Prior to this, Jeffers was a journalist with The Miami Herald whose writing has also appeared in outlets such as American Way and Ocean Drive.

In addition to his filmmaking, Jeffers is also a co-founder of the Miami-based Caribbean filmmaking collective Third Horizon, which stages the annual Third Horizon Film Festival, a showcase of cinema from the Caribbean, its diaspora, and other underrepresented spaces in the Global South. It was named one of the “25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World” in 2019 and 2021 by MovieMaker Magazine. For his work at the intersection of filmmaking, community building and social justice, Jeffers was named a 2019 Ford Foundation / Rockwood Leadership Institute JustFilms fellow. For his work on his upcoming feature-length documentary debut, “The First Plantation” (working title), he was named a 2021 Doc Society New Perspectives fellow.

The First Plantation – The island of Barbados, one of the most stunning and popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean, is the birthplace of many things: possibly rum, definitely Rihanna, and sadly, many of the modalities and codifications of and around plantation slavery which spread throughout the wider Caribbean and the southern United States, setting the stage for much of what we know of white supremacy as we know it today. Directed by Barbadian filmmaker Jason Fitzroy Jeffers, “The First Plantation” is a spiritual and deeply personal investigation into the haunted and often-overlooked legacy of the 13th smallest country in the world—once Britain’s favorite colony; now proudly navigating the struggles of what it means to be truly independent—and its oversized impact on modern history.

Kevin Truong

Kevin Truong is a documentary filmmaker, photographer and journalist. He first received recognition for his work with The Gay Men Project, a photo project in which he has documented the lives of gay and queer men across 37 countries. As a journalist, he has worked for NBC Digital at NBC News, Motherboard Tech by VICE,  and Student Reporting Labs at PBS NewsHour. His work often explores the LGBTQ and Asian American experiences. Kevin is currently working on his first feature length film, a personal documentary about his mother and her experiences with the War in Vietnam. Although this is Kevin’s first time working as a director, he brings to it over ten years of experience in visual storytelling and five years of experience in journalistic practice. Kevin has a B.S. in Economics from Portland State University, a B.F.A. in Photography from Pratt Institute and a M.A. in Journalism with a specialization in documentary filmmaking from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. 

Mai American – A 70-year-old Vietnamese American refugee living in Oregon confronts the traumas of her past. As she shares her story with her filmmaker son, they are both led down an emotional journey of healing that takes them to a country she hadn’t seen since fleeing as a young woman. 

Filmed over the course of ten years, “Mai American” is an exploration of intergenerational trauma within families, the mythologies that are built within family histories and the dynamics between parent and child. Told against the backdrop of the broader Asian American and immigrant experience, and nearly 50 years after the end of the War in Vietnam, the film is an intimate portrayal of an American immigrant woman, her family and the power of a woman’s story—a power that can often be forgotten or overlooked by even her own children.

Liz Roberts

Liz Roberts makes artwork that is often collaborative and rooted in moving image and sound. Her work has shown widely, and her 16mm films have screened with Ann Arbor Film Festival, Microscope Gallery, Film-makers’ Cooperative, New York Exposition of Short Film & Video, and Chicago International Film Festival. Roberts is a high school dropout who earned a BA and an MFA. After grad school she held teaching positions in higher education while simultaneously being in an anarchist art collective. She is part of The Infernal Grove, an artist group focusing on those who have a lived history of substance use and various relations to sobriety. Her most recent work, Midwaste, screens at Hot Docs in 2022.

Midwaste 2: Blood Opus – Long before the internet and social media confirmed the possibilities of video as a genuinely decentralized and vernacular medium, Liz and Bree were recording VHS video of themselves while making a documentary about transnational adoptees in Iowa. Reaching back through an extensive tape archive, Midwaste 2: Blood Opus (working title) reconstructs the project Bree and Liz were making then, chronicles a pre opioid epidemic Midwest drug scene, and traces the structural and systemic forces running through each of their lives during the decades after.

Luis Gutiérrez Arias

Luis Gutiérrez Arias makes films that explore notions of homeland and territory through human relationship to landscape, collective memory and myth making. His work has been shown at Sundance, DOK Leipzig, Full Frame, Images, Message to Man, Morelia, AFI Docs and Ambulante, among others. His short documentary, It’s Going to be Beautiful (2018), received an award for best cinematography at the Tacoma Film Festival and was curated by The Atlantic Select series. He was a fellow during the 2019 Doc’s Kingdom seminar and was part of the Berlinale Talents Guadalajara 2015. He is co-founder of Bahia Colectiva, a community of filmmakers that collaborate in process, practice and curation. Works that he has collaborated on as a producer, cinematographer or editor have been selected by Viennale, Rotterdam, Venice Critics’ Week, Curtas Vila Do Conde, Lima Alterna and FICUNAM. His feature directorial debut Todo Lo Sólido has received support from Sundance, UnionDocs and the Allan Sekula Social Documentary Fund. He is a professor in the Filmmaking Program at the Kansas City Art Institute.

Todo Lo Sólido (All That Is Solid) – Todo Lo Sólido (All That Is Solid) tells the story of an island sinking into the Caribbean Sea. As a nameless drifter searches for explanations about the island’s destiny, reality and fantasy merge to reflect on the construction of a nation and the burden of progress. This journey traversing present day Cuba explores major economic development projects, from land reforms to present-day industrial tourism.The drifter’s voice is simultaneously the voice of the filmmaker, blurring the borders between memory and official history.

Naveen Chaubal

Naveen Chaubal is a Louisville based director, producer and cinematographer. His work aims to reveal what immigrant suburbia can tell us about this country. He’s a fellow of Film Independent’s Project: Involve and Fast Track programs. His short film “Pinball” screened at the DGA,  Montana International Film Festival, KC Film Fest, Speed Art Museum and premiered online on NoBudge, where it won Audience Choice. He co-produced and co-shot Tomorrow We Disappear, a feature documentary that premiered at Tribeca, where it was named “Best of the Fest” by the Wall Street Journal. It also screened at Hot Docs and CPH:DOX. Naveen has worked for AJ+, Vice News, and Bon Appétit, and has produced music videos for Vince Staples, James Blake, and Frank Ocean. Naveen’s work has been supported by ITVS, the Southern Documentary Fund, New Orleans Film Society, and Louisville Visual Art.

Pinball – Pinball is a feature documentary about Yosef–a typical American college kid, who is coming of age twenty years after the U.S. invaded his home country of Iraq and displaced his family. Yosef was four years old when they fled Baghdad. Of all places, they received asylum in Louisville, Kentucky. Pinball follows Yosef as he straddles two cultures and struggles to figure out what to do after high school. 

It’s clear that becoming an adult in this country is not going to be easy. But Yosef does whatever it takes to carve a life for himself and there is a sense of triumph in the effort that ensues. A meditative film about memory and the American Dream, Pinball bears witness to Yosef’s growth; the beginning stages of understanding adulthood and the vulnerability of family structures and friendships.

Silvia Castaños

Silvia Castaños is an activist, poet, and filmmaker born and raised in Laredo, TX. Her activism and art are both grounded in community, justice, and self-determination. Silvia’s short film Ocean, a visual poem depicting a queer love story of a trans man and a cis woman, won a jury prize for documentary at the Laredo International Media & Film Festival in 2018. Silvia’s debut feature, Hummingbirds, is a uniquely collaborative autobiographical documentary directed by her and Estefanía Contreras about a summer in their lives coming of age on the Texas-Mexico border. Silvia has represented the Hummingbirds team at the 2021 Sundance/WIF Financing Intensive and 2022 Visions du Reel Works in Progress. She is a 2021 NBCU Original Voices Fellow, a 2021 CIFF LEF Fellow, and a 2022 BAVC Mediamaker Fellow. Hummingbirds is also supported by Ford Foundation/JustFilms, Field of Vision, Threshold Fund, Sundance, and Chicken & Egg Pictures. 

Hummingbirds – In this late-night summer self portrait, directors Silvia Castaños and Estefanía Contreras are best friends at a crossroads. High school graduates, technically adults, clinging to the carefree childhood neither of them actually knew as kids. They emerge after dark like vampires to wander empty streets of Laredo, their hometown on the Texas-Mexico border, in search of inspiration, adventure, and answers to all the big questions: What does the future hold? How to make peace with the past? How to make the most of these fleeting moments before they are gone? Silvia and Estefanía process pain into poetry and song and other forms of creativity. Their friendship itself is a form of artistic collaboration. The beauty they co-create, through the simplest acts of conversation and ordinary movement through the world, is a magic to behold. Hummingbirds is an ode to this relationship, to formative friendship and fast food and flights of feeling interrupted by fart noises. It’s an ode to Laredo, this place they call home, defined by proximity to a border simultaneously so absurd and so impactful to their lives. It’s an ode to this moment at the edge of the rest of their lives and the beginning of the end of the world. 

Hummingbirds is being made in a collaborative anti-hierarchical filmmaking approach, with teams of mostly first-time filmmakers sharing key roles and credits with more experienced mentor-collaborators. The goal is to simultaneously make a beautiful world-transforming film that delivers on Silvia and Estefanía’s core vision for telling their story and to establish a template for early-career development and craft training for emerging artists in all aspects of nonfiction filmmaking.

Yeelen Cohen

Yeelen is a non-binary Filmmaker, Actor, Writer, Producer and Theatre Artist based in Brooklyn. Born in Paris, France, and raised in Jacmel(Haiti), New York, Miami and the Bay Area, their multicultural upbringing deeply influences their artistic practice and view of the world. Yeelen’s work, often rooted in the personal, unfolds into larger conversations about identity, history, space, diaspora and technology. They co-founded and curated the Afrofuturism Film Festival in 2016, Assistant Directed the Haitian magical-neorealist feature Ayiti Mon Amour, and recently starred in Random Acts of Flyness on HBO. They won the mention prize award for Best Pitch at the Blackstar Film festival. They were a fellow at the 2020-2021 Black Public Media 360 incubator and as of recently a 2021 Flaherty Fellow. Their project was also selected at the 2021 Gotham Week (IFP).

Fighting For The Light – Named after the African cinema classic, Yeelen journeys to Bamako to make a movie about the enigmatic elder who inspired their name. Souleymane Cisse, director of YEELEN, readily assumes the role of godfather to the multimedia artist, but soon begins questioning the millennial’s vision. What starts as a playful personal documentary about the origin of a name, spirals into an existential interrogation of representation, collective imagination, and the power manifested through image creation.