- LOS ANGELES
A comprehensive and customized two-year sponsorship program has been developed to provide top-drawer support, endorsement and career acceleration to experienced female directors who are poised to take on high-profile feature and TV projects. Called ReFrame Rise, the initiative has set a lineup of eight promising women filmmakers with the intent of taking them to the upper echelon of industry opportunity. ReFrame Rise has been launched by ReFrame, a nonprofit organization founded and led by Women In Film and the Sundance Institute, and fueled by a group of active entertainment execs and artists--a total of more than 70 ambassadors, including studio heads, agency partners, senior network executives, directors, writers, actors, and guild leaders committed to increasing the number of women of all backgrounds working in film, TV, and media.
All accomplished, the eight up-and-coming directors who comprise the first ReFrame Rise class are:
--Desiree Akhavan is the director and co-writer of The Miseducation of Cameron Post starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Sasha Lane, which won the 2018 Sundance Grand Jury Prize. Her first film, Appropriate Behavior, was written as her graduate senior thesis at NYU. It premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for Best First Screenplay at the Film Independent Spirit Awards as well as Breakthrough Director at the Gotham Awards. Most recently, Akhavan created the Hulu original series The Bisexual.
--Haifaa al-Mansour is the first female filmmaker in Saudi Arabia. The success of her three short films, as well as the international acclaim of her award-winning 2005 documentary Women Without Shadows, influenced a new wave of Saudi filmmakers. her acclaimed 2012 film Wadjda received numerous awards and accolades at festivals around the world. In 2017, she released Mary Shelley, starring Elle Fanning and Douglas Booth. In 2018, she released the Netflix film Nappily Ever After starring Sanaa Lathan. She recently directed episodes of The Society for Netflix and Motherland: Fort Salem for Freeform.
--Patricia Cardoso is the first Latinx woman director to win a Sundance Audience Award, to direct a feature that was commercially successful in the U.S., and to receive a Student Academy Award®. Her first feature film, Real Women Have Curves, has become a landmark of Latinx cinema. Her directing credits include the Student Academy Award®-winning short The Water Carrier, the feature Theresa’s Journey, the TV movie Lies In Plain Sight, the web series Ro, and episodes of Queen Sugar and Tales of the City. She is a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America.
--Hanelle Culpepper’s credits range from superhero action adventures to thrillers to character-driven dramas. In 2019, she was chosen to direct the pilot for Star Trek: Picard, making her the first woman to launch a new Star Trek series in its 53-year history. Culpepper participated in the AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women. Her DWW short A Single Rose screened at film festivals worldwide, including the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. She has helmed multiple independent thrillers, including Murder On the 13th Floor starring Tessa Thompson. Participating in NBC Universal’s Directing Initiative led to an episodic directing role for Parenthood, and to subsequent television work on Counterpart, Mayans M.C., Criminal Minds, Grimm, American Crime, The Flash, Gotham and recently, the upcoming AMC series NOS4A2.
--Sydney Freeland is an Emmy-nominated film and television director. Her debut feature, Drunktown’s Finest, premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, and went on to receive the Jury Prize at Outfest Los Angeles. She directed the digital series Her Story, which received an Emmy nomination in 2016 for Short Form Series. Her second feature, the Netflix original film Deirdra and Laney Rob a Train, premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Additionally, Freeland has directed television episodes for Grey’s Anatomy, Heathers, Chambers, and Station 19. Upcoming episodic work includes Tales of the City, Impulse, and Fear the Walking Dead.
--Zetna Fuentes is a television and theater director. She most recently directed and executive produced the pilot and second episode of the new Netflix series Cursed based on the illustrated novel by Frank Miller and Thomas Wheeler. Her recent credits include The Deuce, Ray Donovan, The Chi, Jessica Jones, This is Us, Bosch, Snowfall, and Shameless. She previously directed on daytime dramas Guiding Light and One Life To Live, for which she was nominated for three Daytime Emmy Awards. She serves on the national board of the Directors Guild of America.
--Tina Mabry is a writer, director, and producer for television and film. She wrote and directed Mississippi Damned, which premiered on Showtime in 2011. Mabry was a producer, writer, and director on the first season of OWN’s Queen Sugar. She was also a co-producer, writer, and director for the second season of USA’s hit drama Queen of the South. Her other television directing credits include Pose, Dear White People, Insecure, The Mayor and Power. In 2017, she won a DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children’s Programming for her work on Amazon Studios’ Melody 1963: Love Has To Win. In 2019 she will direct her first studio feature, The Supremes At Earl’s All-You-Can Eat, written by Gina Prince-Bythewood.
--And Meera Menon whose directing credits include the feature films Equity, which competed at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, and Farah Goes Bang, which screened at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival and was awarded the Nora Ephron Prize. Menon has directed TV episodes of GLOW, Halt and Catch Fire, The Magicians, Outlander, The Terror, Man in the High Castle, The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, The Exorcist, Titans, Queen of the South, Snowfall, and the new Apple show For All Mankind. In 2016, she wrote and directed the short film Press Conference for Refinery29’s ShatterBox Anthology, a series of shorts written and directed by women. Menon is a graduate of Columbia University and USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, and was a 2014 fellow of the Fox Global Directors Initiative.
Sponsorship vs. mentorship
ReFrame cites research showing that sponsorship, as opposed to mentorship, can more greatly enhance and accelerate a person’s career trajectory. A sponsor is an advocate who can propel a candidate to the top of a hiring list and provide access to the industry’s most powerful networks. ReFrame sponsorship differs from traditional mentorship in that it depends on a cross company collaboration of industry leaders to select, guide, and ultimately endorse the director--moving beyond career advice to actively landing jobs. ReFrame Rise directors will be paired with a team of three sponsors who will provide support based on the individual goals of the filmmakers.
Sponsors in the ReFrame Rise program will be high-powered industry execs, producers, directors and other artisans who commit to at least two years of work with the promising directors assigned to them. Execs are from such roosts as HBO, Amazon, Netflix, Marvel Studios and Hulu.
Studies show that there are gender barriers at each stage of the production process causing “drop-out” patterns that hinder women filmmakers’ traction and success in Hollywood--a pattern that has not changed in the last 15 years. Findings illustrate that gender representation needs to address the barriers affecting women of all backgrounds, as only seven of the 1,200 top-grossing films from 2007-2018 were directed by women of color. Through ReFrame Rise, the hope is that inclusive representation in media and diverse storytelling will be advanced, thus allowing us to better understand and connect with one another, which in turn will positively transform the world at large.
Michelle Satter, founding director of the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program, said of ReFrame Rise, “It’s been a privilege to work with Women In Film and the team of Ambassadors to select this remarkable cohort of female directors who are ready for the next stage in their careers. These eight directors have the talent, voice, ambition and commitment needed to change the industry and expand the diversity and breadth of stories being told. This is a community wide effort, where everyone in the industry has a role to play in changing the narrative and ensuring the success of our pilot year.”