About Us

Mission statement / ABout US

NewFilmmakers Los Angeles (NFMLA) is a non-profit 501(c) 3 organization that champions emerging and diverse filmmakers and storytellers from around the world and provides a forum where filmmakers can be recognized for their contributions, have open audience discussions about their work and connect with industry professionals for insight on distribution, production and representation.

In an effort to showcase, support, educate and build relationships for next-gen filmmakers, NFMLA has rapidly expanded beyond the NFMLA Monthly Film Festival to host an array of workshops, panels, competitions and networking programs, including the InFocus initiative which combats the lack of diversity in media by celebrating underrepresented voices.

  • NFMLA Monthly Film Festival – NFMLA’s core program is its monthly film festival. Each festival presents screenings of shorts, documentaries and feature films that have been submitted from all over the world. All of the programs are followed by a Q&A with each filmmaker. The program also offers a special reception so the audience can meet the filmmakers and incredible talent involved, while also networking with industry professionals.
  • STARZ #TakeTheLead Writers’ Intensive – NALIP and NFMLA have teamed together with STARZ to create the STARZ #TakeThe Lead Writers’ Intensive for emerging Writers who are looking to break into a career in TV writing for premium cable. The STARZ #TaketheLead Writers’ Intensive creates an opportunity for writers to develop a spec script alongside key mentors, executives, and writers. The program selects 10 writers to participate in phase one of the program where writers will be mentored by industry professionals to hone their understanding of TV writing and develop an episode treatment and pitch. Following phase one, select writers will be identified by a Jury to move forward to phase two of the intensive where they will write a full episode spec script, receiving support from creatives and executives.
  • InFocus Series – NFMLA’s InFocus diversity initiative seeks to combat the lack of diversity in the film industry by giving underrepresented groups of filmmakers (i.e. race, gender, sexual identity, region and socioeconomic background) the opportunity to showcase their work on a large, public platform during our monthly festival.
  • DocuSlate – The program dedicates an entire day of programming focused on documentary filmmaking that represents new stories and unique voices from around the globe.
  • Best of NFMLA Awards – Each year, NFMLA presents awards for the best films shown in the previous year’s NFMLA Monthly Film Festivals. The Awards program enlists leaders in the entertainment industry to connect with and review work created by emerging filmmakers who have been part of NFMLA Monthly Film Festivals.
  • Stage 5 (On-Camera Interview Series) – All filmmakers featured in each NFMLA Monthly Film Festival are invited to participate in on-camera interviews published by MovieMaker Magazine.
  • NewFilmmakers Los Angeles (NFMLA) Interview Series – An ongoing program that hosts virtual discussions with accomplished film and television professionals. These candid conversations provide resources and insight to those who want to evolve their craft and advance their career in the entertainment industry.
  • Special Events and Programs – Year round, NFMLA partners with universities, high schools, studios, guilds, government entities and others to host a wide variety of educational programs and special opportunities for emerging storytellers and aspiring film professionals. This includes an accessibility partnership with TeenTix LA to support LA based youth with low-cost access to any program that is fee based.
  • CineSessions High School Mentorship Program – This program is a workforce development initiative that recruits and hosts Los Angeles based High School Students for on-set film production and entertainment career mentorships. Each session hosts a small number of students (less than 12) in an effort to provide an intimate, focused environment for the students. Each student is paired with a media professional based on their career interests or receives presentations from working professionals on various careers in entertainment. In 2023, NFMLA expanded the program from serving 78 students annually to over 220 students annually. This growth was thanks to partial funding from the CA State Senate, the Bridges/Larson Foundation, Snap Foundation and NBCU Academy. Comcast NBCUniversal will now host 144 of the over 220 students on the NBCUniversal lot each year.
  • NewNarratives – In 2021, NFMLA and Warner Bros. Discovery 150 partnered to launch the inaugural edition of NewNarratives. This initiative identifies exciting new global storytellers by accessing NFMLA’s extensive pool of artistic talent. The program advances, funds and amplifies unique new voices whose narratives, stories and characters transcend borders and dismantle convention. The NewNarratives program continues to provide annual grants that support short, feature and episodic series, documentary, experimental and/or animation projects in any stage of production. This includes concept, early development, pre-production, production, post-production and/or audience strategy.
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Staff

Larry Laboe
Executive Director

A member of the Producers Guild of America (PGA), Larry is the President of Production at international digital production house SXM, where he has produced numerous digital properties. The first series was NBC’s ‘Ctrl’ starring Tony Hale and Steve Howey. Since, Larry has produced for top networks and brands including Disney, NBC, CBS, VEVO, Dailymotion, MTV, Break Media (now DEFY Media), Comedy Central, IKEA, Samsung, Coca-Cola and Smuckers.

These series have been viewed more than 1 billion times over both traditional and new media, and have garnered multiple awards at BANFF, SXSW, NATPE, MIPTV, Cannes and The Webbys. The series have been covered by media outlets worldwide and SXM has been profiled by publications such as Fast Company, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. Larry has produced projects directed by James Franco and Joseph Gordon Levitt. Notable titles produced include Fact Checkers Unit, Easy to Assemble, Armed Response, SOS Island, Matumbo Goldberg, The Comment Show, Kitchen Jam, Diagnosis Stories, Jump Outs, In a City and Extreme Retreat among others.

In addition to his work at SXM, Larry also serves as Co-Founder and Executive Director of NewFilmmakers Los Angeles (NFMLA).

Bojana Sandic
Programming Director

Bojana Sandic is a film festival programmer with an enthusiasm for emerging and unique voices. As the Programming Director for NewFilmmakers Los Angeles, she is focused on connecting diverse perspectives with new audiences and opportunities. 

Formerly the Director of Short Film Programming at the Newport Beach Film Festival, she maintains a love of short film as a medium for storytelling, and has served on a number of short film juries including those of Slamdance, Outfest, New Orleans Film Festival and Palm Springs Shortfest.

Born in Belgrade and raised in Southern California, she has a degree in Literary Journalism and Psychology & Social Behavior from UCI, where her honors thesis was about the relationship between 70’s and 80’s Yugoslavian rock and roll and Yugonostalgia. In the past, she has worked with Lexus Short Films, LAIKA and Music in Press, an online magazine with an experiential approach to music writing that incorporates elements of creative nonfiction.

Bojana is always looking for ways to share great storytelling and has an abiding fascination with the ways the stories we tell mediate our experience of the world and how we relate to one another.

George Gomez
Programs Coordinator

A Southern California Native, George Gomez is a Mexican American (with Indigenous roots) writer/filmmaker who has always been passionate about the arts even as a child. He graduated from California State University, Los Angeles in 2020 with a B.A. degree in Television, Film and Media Studies. In the years since then, he has been involved in the filmmaking process in numerous departments and has worked on projects for companies such as NBC, Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video.  He has honed his skills in departments such as casting, post production, production management, camera and much more.

As the Programs Coordinator, George works to provide the best represenation of NewFilmmakers, both online and in person. Understanding his own ambition to create impactful works of media, George is now steadfast in his drive to assist underrepresented and arising filmmakers in their own journey.

Yuliana Franco
Programming Assistant

Yuliana Franco is an emerging Latina filmmaker born and raised in Toluca, Mexico and currently resides in Los Angeles. As a recent graduate of California State University, Long Beach, her attention is focused on nonfiction filmmaking. Yuliana’s passion for filmmaking began in her homeland where she had the opportunity to co-manage a production company that films and photographs life events, music videos, and sports events. While attending university, she was the Outreach Coordinator & Panel Moderator of CSULB Doc Club; and she connected with national and international filmmakers to be guest speakers and share their experience with students.

Prior to finding her passion for filmmaking, Yuliana was a professional Mexican folklorico dancer for twenty years and served as an instructor at Grupo Folklorico Mexica de CSULB for the intermediate and advanced students. She co-produced and co-directed over five shows, and choreographed over twenty songs. Folklorico has always been a way for her to learn and stay connected with her culture and country’s traditions.

As an aspiring Latina filmmaker, she is seeking to create documentaries that bring awareness to Mexico’s extensive culture and give a voice and exposure to its communities. Yuliana will continue to follow her passion for dancing through her lenses as she captures the craft and stories that are brought to life through the movement of the dancers.

Emma Hughes
Education & Special Programs Manager

Emma Hughes is an experienced non-profit arts professional who is dedicated to supporting film and media and sharing stories across audiences. She holds an M.A. degree in Cinema & Media Studies from the University of Southern California, and a B.A. degree from Carleton College in the same field. She has worked at film festivals and museums across the country, including the Sundance Film Festival, Tribeca, NYFF, and the Museum of the Moving Image, and her academic work has been published in the journal Film Matters.

She is passionate about education and research, having worked as a Teaching Assistant at USC teaching undergraduate students during her time in graduate school. In particular, through her work she hopes to support the use of education and programming in film and media to create dialogue and inspire new storytellers, as well as to connect diverse perspectives and underrepresented voices to new audiences.

At NewFilmmakers Los Angeles, she works to connect emerging and underrepresented filmmakers to resources, programs, and education so that they have every opportunity to tell their stories.

Lauren Muniz
Programs Assistant

Lauren Muniz has been in the role of programs assistant at NewFilmmakers Los Angeles since joining the organization in 2022. Hailing from Whittier, CA, she completed her studies in the CSUDH film program. As a devoted Chicana, she takes immense pride in discovering stories within her community that authentically capture the multifaceted essence of the Latinx diaspora.

Before changing her career aspirations, she pursued a degree in Sociology and gained experience in diverse child and youth care environments. While working as a behavioral therapist, she realized the significant impact of media on her clients’ progress. This realization motivated her to venture into a fresh career journey within the realms of film, television, and media.

Francesca Escarraga
Event and Program Manager

Francesca Escarraga is an award-winning producer and writer who utilizes the visual medium and the written word to empower the voiceless and create meaningful stories that induce positive change in society.

She majored in Film and TV Development at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Screenwriting at New York Film Academy – Los Angeles, and Organizational Communication at De La Salle University.

As a professional screenwriter and script consultant, she specializes in writing original screenplays, providing development notes, script coverages, and designing creative solutions that transform stories into award-winning masterpieces. She has worked on award-winning international films and her screenplay ‘Leo Child’ placed as a semifinalist in the Coverfly-qualifying 2020 Scriptapalooza Screenwriting competition in Los Angeles and in the 2023 Outstanding Screenplays competition in London, UK. She is also responsible for crafting feature, opinion, and review pieces relevant to film, TV, and pop culture for top global media and entertainment companies and independent clients from New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and Rome as well as interviewing Hollywood A-List actors, directors, producers, and writers.

As a producer, she oversees all aspects of film, TV, and event production, securing funding, hiring and supervising cast and crew members, creative direction, managing the budget, and developing an effective marketing and distribution strategy. She has brought to life Academy Award-qualifying and award-winning films and series namely Sing (to me), Piece of Me, Collab, Stage 5, And We’ll Be Okay, and a European feature documentary entitled Radio Europe.

She works with studio executives from NewFilmmakers Los Angeles (NFMLA), Warner Bros., Disney, Fox, NBC, Netflix, Amazon, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and has worked on notable Hollywood projects namely Netflix’s Bridgerton (Season 2 & 3), Queen Charlotte, The Witcher (Season 3), All The Light We Cannot See, Netflix Upfront, Warner Media Upfront, Legend of Vox Machina, Disney’s Kiff, Disney’s SuperKitties, Westward Walt, XBOX Fan Fest Live, Taco Bell Live Mas Live, The Kansas City Chiefs, and Amazon’s Saltburn. She won Best Producer at the 2022 Oniros Film Awards in New York City and was recognized by the City of Los Angeles Mayor’s Office for fostering the future generation of entertainment professionals through NFMLA’s Stage 5 CineSessions mentorship program.
Philip Huynh
Web Developer & Designer
Product Designer @ Groovetime

Philip is both a full stack designer and entrepreneur, who has dedicated his time and space within the digital arts of the 21st century. He holds a B.A. degree in Cinema & Television Arts from California State University, Northridge. Prior to becoming a full stack designer, he was looking to contribute to the film industry through pre-production, production, and post-production.

Eventually, Philip pivoted roles from a film artisan to development & design through NewFilmmakers Los Angeles. He landed his first job a Jr. Web Developer at a local film e-commerce company before transitioning to UI/UX Design work. He currently works at a Silicon Valley startup, Groovetime, as a product designer and is helping build a product that teaches people how to dance.

Additionally, Phillip is passionate about giving back to his community. During high school, he joined a service club to help local schools and organizations with the community-driven efforts. On top of that, he was part of a tutor program to help elementary and high schoolers with their academics. In college, he joined the Vietnamese Student Association, which drove high community engagement with the Vietnamese population in the Southern California region. Today, he works with small businesses and non-profits with their digital needs.

Board of Directors

Danny De Lillo
Board Chair

Danny is an NFMLA Alumni that’s journey with the organization has spanned over a decade.

Serving on the board of NFMLA is one of Danny’s greatest life passions. Supporting the organization’s mission to celebrate local and global storytellers and the dedication for all voices to be heard as well as building the NFMLA family worldwide.

He is Founder and CEO of Sweet Humans, a production company dedicated to nurturing voices, creating safe spaces and building filmmaking families for humble humans.

As part of the LGBTQ+ community, he produces content in this area for festivals, public speaking, serves on juries and committees, passionately making a conscious effort to support gender equality and diversity in his roles in entertainment.

He also is a founding board member of Cures of Colors which embarks important conversations aiming at a younger audience through the art of coloring.

If you have any questions related to NFMLA or beyond you can email him at chair@nfmla.org or on Instagram/Twitter @dannydelillo

Kim Williams
Co-Chair

Kim most recently served as Vice President, Casting at Disney Television Studios, a post she held from October 2019 – April 2023. Kim served as casting director for season 4 the critically acclaimed series Genius, this iteration called Genius: MLK/AND highlighting lives of the leaders of the civil rights movement Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. She cast the lead in Lee Daniels’ upcoming limited series for Hulu, Sammy Davis Jr. She also cast the teen leads Disney+ series The Crossover as well as the pilot and first season of Freeform’s hit series Single Drunk Female.  She oversaw the casting for Onyx’s new series Deli Boys, Lee Daniels’ The Spook Who Sat by the Door for FX, Showtime’sThe Chi. She was instrumental in shaping the casts and overseeing and the FX series The Old Man starring Jeff Bridges and the Emmy-nominated season 3 Genius: Aretha. Kim joined ABC as director of casting in early 2019, working on projects for the network, Disney+ and ABC Studios, including the critically acclaimed For Life. Kim is passionate about diversity, belonging, inclusion and equity and was actively involved in several projects and initiatives across The Walt Disney Company.

As an independent casting director, Kim worked on Greg Berlanti’s All American, Narcos, The Bernie Mac Show and Martin, and several Tyler Perry movies and series including Diary of a Mad Black Woman and feature films including My Little One and Payment Received. Williams worked on The HBO Access Project, allowing her to guide casting while mentoring creative minds from diverse backgrounds over eight projects. Previously, at Paramount Pictures and Television, Williams oversaw the casting for Annihilation, Looking for Alaska, Jack Reacher: Never Look Back, Baywatch starring Zac Efron and Dwayne Johnson, Shooter, The Alienist and Grease: Live! While at Fox, Williams served as director of casting on shows including Prison Break, Glee, and Sarah Conner Chronicles. Prior to that, Williams spent close to a decade at HBO as a director of casting.

Georgina González Rodríguez
Secretary
Universal International Studios

Georgina currently serves as VP, Global Scripted Series at Universal International Studios in the Los Angeles office. She was recently Director of International Originals at HBO Max, home of shows such as BAFTA winner “Starstruck”, the Peabody award-winning series “Sort Of”, as well as hit shows “The Girl Before”, “I Hate Suzie” and “The Tourist”. Before that, she was Director of Development in the SPLATAM team at Gaumont Television (home of “El Presidente” for Amazon, and the hit series “Narcos”, “Arsène Lupin” & “Barbarians” for Netflix, etc.), working on a slate of shows in development and production. Previously, in Mexico, she launched the film development department for Cinépolis, the second-largest theater chain worldwide, shepherding various films into production. Georgina started her career at Fox, Universal, MGM and the Univision-Netflix joint venture, Story House Entertainment on series such as “El Chapo” and “Tijuana”. In parallel, through her production company, Off-Hollywood Films, she was a producer on movies such as “The Reports on Sarah & Saleem” (International Film Festival Rotterdam 2018 audience and jury awards),”Finding the Werewolf” (PGA Diversity master class and IFP fellow 2018), “Sanctorum” (Venice International Film Festival closing film 2019), “Martinez” (San Francisco International Film Festival, Miami Film Festival 2023, etc.), Midday Cowboy (Mexican Academy Award nomination for best feature documentary 2020, now on Netflix), amongst others. She graduated from CUEC-UNAM & USC’s Peter Stark film producing program as a Fulbright, FONCA & HBO scholar.

Margaret Wu
Board Member
Founder at 3 Dots Entertainment

Margaret Wu has over 30 years of experience in the cultural sector in the U.S. and Asia. She was an award-winning advertising executive who became an entrepreneur and founded 3 Dots Entertainment which focuses on improving the understanding between East and West through the power of art. 3 Dots Entertainment has three main businesses; film development, film education and acquisition of intellectual properties. Margaret became a board member of NewFilmmakers LA in 2015 and has been an advocate of bridging emerging Chinese filmmakers with the Los Angeles film community through the NFMLA platform which has been effective in creating real impact.

David Quan
Board Member

David is a Texas-born screenwriter who moonlights as a Production Supervisor for an LA-based online education company. He enjoys Tolkien, saltwater aquariums, and potatoes in their many forms. David graduated from the University of North Texas with a Bachelor of Arts, Radio, Television and Film. David enjoys giving back to young filmmakers and has taught all aspects of video production to aspiring filmmakers.

Divya D’Souza
Board Member
Senior VP, Invention Studios

Divya D’Souza is Invention Studios, Senior VP of Development and Production and a veteran producer with over 20 years’ experience in the business. D’Souza previously worked at On the Day Productions, Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone’s production banner, from 2016 to early 2023, where she developed and produced features including action-comedy Thunder Force for Netflix, Superintelligence for HBO Max, Life of the Party, and The Happytime Murders, as well as the Netflix documentary Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed. Among her TV credits are the limited series God’s Favorite Idiot, the second season of TV Land’s Nobodies, and NBC’s Little Big Shots. D’Souza, before On The Day Productions, worked at Adam Sandler’s production banner, Happy Madison and was an Assistant Director in the Director’s Guild of Canada for a decade. D’Souza currently resides in Los Angeles , CA.

Screening Committee

David Quan
Board Member

David is a Texas-born screenwriter who moonlights as a Production Supervisor for an LA-based online education company. He enjoys Tolkien, saltwater aquariums, and potatoes in their many forms. David graduated from the University of North Texas with a Bachelor of Arts, Radio, Television and Film. David enjoys giving back to young filmmakers and has taught all aspects of video production to aspiring filmmakers.

Alexandra Diantgikis
Screening Committee Member
Marketing Manager, Scriptation

Alex is a writer, television addict, and semi-professional dog belly-scratcher. She has a strong passion for storytelling and aims to advance the careers of underrepresented talent in the industry. Alex currently serves as the Marketing Manager of Scriptation, a PDF annotator app specifically designed for film and television professionals and created by the script coordinator of ABC’s Black-ish. Alex is also a Script Reader for the International Screenwriter’s Association (ISA)’s myriad of screenplay contests, where she reviews, scores, and crafts feedback for script submissions of various genres.

Formerly the Outreach Director of NewFilmmakers Los Angeles (NFMLA), Alex managed the operation of NFMLA’s Monthly Film Festival, co-curated an array of special screening events, and pursued development and partnership opportunities to better advance the careers of indie filmmakers.

A Boston native, she is a graduate of Boston University, and has previously worked on E! Entertainment’s The Soup and the PBS cooking show, Simply Ming.

Melissa Azizi
Screening Committee Member

Until 2018, Melissa Azizi worked closely with critically acclaimed US Producer, Gail Mutrux to help produce Academy-Award winning THE DANISH GIRL, the Golden Globe winning SHOW ME A HERO mini-series (for HBO) and iBOY (UK’s first Netflix Original).

Melissa has since formed Sparkwood Films and has several feature projects in development, including an adaptation of the PEN/Faulkner nominated book, THREATS by Amelia Gray; a road trip dramedy about grief called SCATTERING JAKE with MXN Entertainment (TULLY, YOUNG ADULT, JUNO); a documentary about the first African-American rhythmic gymnast poised for 2020 Olympics called BREAKING BOUNDARIES; and a biopic on Elise Cowen, a beat poet whose legacy has long been defined by a colleague she dated briefly, Allen Ginsberg.

Melissa produced the short films, THE DISTANCE BETWEEN through Screen NSW’s Young Filmmakers Fund and SHOPPING, in association with Metro Screen and the Australian Cultural Fund. Both films have screened in over one hundred film festivals worldwide, including major gay and lesbian film festivals. They have both been nominated for City of Sydney and City of Melbourne awards and between them, collected Best Achievement in Sound for a Short Film at the 2009 Australian Screen Sound Guild Awards, nominated for an Australian Screen Music Award and collected Best Original Song for a Short Film at Long Island.

Melissa is on the judging panel for the scriptwriting contest, WeScreenplay; the programming panel for New Filmmakers LA, Outfest Los Angeles and NewFest NY; and is a mentor for the Young Storytellers Program, a non-profit that inspires low-income students to learn how to write original stories and see them brought to life on stage and film. Melissa is also an alumni mentor for students of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.

Melissa earned a Bachelor of Arts Hons I (Performance Studies and Art History & Theory) at The University of Sydney followed by a Masters in Media Arts and Production at The University of Technology, Sydney. She also graduated from UCLA’s Professional Producing Program.

In 2019, Melissa co-founded the IN DREAMS fellowship which is designed to connect unrepresented Australian screenwriters with the Hollywood industry.

Melissa is Australian and based in Los Angeles.

Lohanne Cook
Screening Committee Member

Lohanne Cook is currently the Manager, Public Engagement at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Prior to joining the museum, Cook found joy curating film-focused conversations through an internship, where she later served as the Director of Seminars, Honors Awards, and Industry Relations. Since then, she has collaborated with film organizations and festivals to produce engaging, inclusive, and diverse educational programs included: American Cinema Editors (ACE), The Chimaera Project, New Filmmakers Los Angeles (NFMLA), Newport Beach Film Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival (SFFILM), and Variety magazine’s 10 Cinematographers to Watch and Billion Dollar Cinematographer series. She holds a BA in Communications – Entertainment Studies from California State University, Fullerton. Through her work, Cook seeks to bring filmmakers and film enthusiasts together to learn, create dialogue, and celebrate the art and craft of film.

Sunny Vachher
Screening Committee Member
Producer, TED

Sunny Vachher is an international award-winning South Asian (Indian American) Producer, Executive Producer, and Creative Executive in Film, TV, and Digital Media. As Producer at TED Conferences, Sunny creates prestigious TEDTalks presented by influential and inspiring individuals from around the world sparking global change. A purpose-driven visionary entrepreneur bridging technology and entertainment, Sunny is the Founder of Hollywood Casting and Film—a leading digital casting platform for the entertainment industry connecting emerging talent with emerging filmmakers across America. As a Head Mentor and Motivational Speaker for Young Storytellers Foundation, Sunny helps raise diverse, inclusive, and emerging creative voices.

Ana Laura Echenique
Screening Committee Member

With two decades’ experience in cinematic production, Ana has collaborated on several documentary, fiction and advertising projects. Graduated of the Cinematography Program, she worked at National Institutions, production companies and national Film Festivals as BAFICI. After settling in Mexico, she co-founded OaxacaFilmFest; being the Executive Director/Head of Industry for 10 years, connecting new filmmakers with big companies. She participated as jury member or speaker at various festivals, including BIFF(Korea), Montería(Colombia), Indie Grits(USA) and Pacific-Meridian (Russia).

Adriana Frausto
Screening Committee Member

Born & raised in San Diego, Adriana worked in the medical field before deciding to finish her college degree. Putting the dream to work after graduation, she made the move in 2013 to L.A. She worked her way around temp gigs in the biz, then landing at Annapurna in November 2014. She has recently started writing, seeing to where this will lead her next.

Nidhin Patel
Screening Committee Member

Born and raised in India, Nidhin Patel is an educator and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. He started his career as an entertainment journalist, and then worked as a creative writer, before moving to the US to pursue his MFA in TV, Film and Theater production. He is an award-winning film instructor, and also works as a freelancer in various production departments, having been a part of numerous film projects that have reached audiences through national/international film festivals and platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Jonathan Hammond
Screening Committee Member

Jonathan Hammond is a two-time Emmy-nominated writer/director. He is the co-recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Justice and Peace, and a San Diego Film Award for Best Writing. He is also a two-time recipient of the KPBS Explorer Program, winner of Best Writing for the 2016 San Diego International Fringe Festival, and his work was selected for the New Playwrights Festival at The Old Globe in San Diego. He attended the University of Illinois and NYU Tisch School of the Arts before moving to Los Angeles with his puppy, Dashiell Hammond.

Zekun Mao
Screening Committee Member

Zekun Mao graduated from American Film Institute Conservatory. She has recently worked on Everything Everywhere all at Once, Devotion and Let the Right One In as assistant editors. She also edited American Girl, which is currently streaming on Netflix.

Aashish D’Mello
Screening Committee Member

Aashish D’Mello is an editor/assistant editor from Mumbai, India. Since graduating from the American Film Institute Conservatory in 2017, he has worked on a variety of projects . Most recently, he was assistant editor on A24’s Everything Everywhere All At Once, HBO’s The Rehearsal, and the upcoming A24/Showtime series The Curse. He was additional editor on the 2020 film Sanzaru and the 2021 film American Girl, currently streaming on Netflix. He was editor on the 2021 film A Nomad River, currently available on major streaming platforms.

Guido Segal
Screening Committee Member

Born in Argentina, Segal moved to Los Angeles to study Screenwriting at UCLA. He was a juror at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. He was a documentary filmmaker for History and Discovery Channel and co-wrote the films Leones and Kékzsakállú, and the TV shows Zamba and Siesta Z, nominated for Emmy awards. Segal has taught Screenwriting at Universidad del Cine (Argentina), UPF (Spain), TAMK (Finland), UFM (Guatemala) and UCLA. He was a fellow at the Tomorrow’s Filmmakers Today program and a finalist for NBC’s Writers on the Verge. He has worked for Disney, Marvista, 30 West and Anonymous Content.

Neyom Friday
Screening Committee Member
Estarlyn Hiraldo
Screening Committee Member

Dominican Director & Producer Estarlyn Hiraldo delves into the immigrant experience and identity quest, reshaping the Hollywood narrative on Latin-American encounters. With over 6 films and studio-level features, Hiraldo’s films HERITAGE (2018), INTO THE FRAME (2020), & JUNE 22ND (2022) have earned accolades globally. Armed with a B.A. in Film Production and a Television Academy Foundation alum, he empowers Afro-Caribbean voices. Hiraldo is finalizing post-production for BAILANDO, a romantic Bachata-themed coming-of-age tale exploring the intricacies of young love within Dominican culture.

Ruben Peralta Rigaud
Screening Committee Member

Rubén Peralta Rigaud was born in Santo Domingo in 1980. A medical doctor by profession and a film critic, he hosted a daily radio program called Cineasta Radio for three years with Don Armando Almanzar, a pioneer of film critique in Latin America.

Silvia Bizio
Screening Committee Member

Writer, producer, Golden Globes Associate, with a doctorate from the University of Rome and a Master from UCLA. Among her books is “Cinema Italian Style” , a history of Italian Cinema at the Academy Awards. She was the co-director of TaorminaFilmFest  and is the artistic director of Ora!Fest, international film festival  in Puglia.  Her short movie “The Night Shift Belongs to the Stars” was shortlisted for the Academy Awards.  She produced the documentary “You Never Had It: An Evening with Bukowski”, directed by Matteo Borgardt and “Camp Monticello: A forgotten History”.

Joanna Chacon
Screening Committee Member

Skilled in identifying original voices, TV/Film production + development, and negotiations; Joanna most recently oversaw TV Development + Production at Brooklyn based Coed Studios, Film development + production on International Video Game IP such as Sony’s “LittleBigPlanet”, Quantic Dream’s “Heavy Rain”, Gearbox’s “Brothers in Arms” and “Duke Nukem” for Marla Studios, managing A-list artists at Management 360, and started her career representing actors at Paradigm Talent Agency. Currently she is an executive at Gravitas Ventures focusing on International Film Sales.

Alamin Yohannes
Screening Committee Member

Alamin Yohannes is an Eritrean-American entertainment journalist and film festival programmer. After being part of the team that launched NBC News’ LGBTQ news vertical NBC Out, he joined Entertainment Weekly’s social media team. He is currently their Senior Social Media Editor. Outside of his journalistic work, Alamin has done for LGBTQ+ film festivals NewFest and OutFest as a grant evaluator and shorts programmer. He has also served on the screening committee at SeriesFest.

Veronica Kompalic
Screening Committee Member

Vero Kompalic, a Venezuelan filmmaker and programmer based in Los Angeles and Chicago, currently serves as a Program Associate at the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP). In 2020, she co-founded DISCORDIA with her longtime collaborators, and their work has gained recognition from prestigious institutions like Locarno, Tribeca, Sundance, SXSW, SFILM, Film Independent, Berlinale, la Biennale, The Gotham/IFP, and more. In 2023, Vero’s debut film, PLÁSTICO, premiered at the Locarno Film Festival, where it received a special jury mention.

Shawn Gagne
Screening Committee Member

Shawn is a story development executive for film and television. Most recently, Shawn was a Creative Executive for Epic Games where he developed game properties for feature and series adaptation. Previously, Shawn supported the live-action development team at Lucasfilm on series like “The Mandalorian”, “Andor”, and “Obi-Wan Kenobi”. He also assisted development and production executives at 20th Century Fox with managing the theatrical film slate including BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, FORD V FERRARI, and THE GREATEST SHOWMAN. Shawn started his entertainment career as an assistant at United Talent Agency.

Alessandra Pasquino
Screening Committee Member

Alessandra is co-founder of GroundStorm, a company that captures stories from the frontlines of communities. She produced “Janis Ian: Breaking Silence”, a documentary on the celebrated singer-songwriter and currently is immersed in “Rewild: Chronicles Of Restoration,” exploring wildlife advocacy. With a prolific career, she is known for producing award-winning documentaries, ethnographies, and experimental shorts. Alessandra’s unwavering commitment lies in pushing the boundaries of creativity within media production.  

Advisory Board

Damien Lichtenstein
CEO of Equilibrium Entertainment

Born in 1966, Demian Lichtenstein began his career as a child actor in New York City, performing at the distinguished 18th Street Playhouse, Circle in the Square, and Joseph Papp’s Public Theatre.

Lichtenstein graduated in 1984 as the preeminent film and television student of New York City’s High School of Art & Design. A National Honor student, Regent Scholar, recipient of the New York City Media Award for excellence and achievement in cinema, upon his graduation from Carnegie Hall, he was voted the number one High School film student in NYC.

Lichtenstein received the Helena Rubenstein Scholarship to attend New York University. In his sophomore year, he was chosen by then University Chairman, Charles Milne, to be his personal Assistant Teacher and entered the senior level film production program. While in school, Lichtenstein won an MTV Award for Best Independent Music Video, and received the “Best Action Adventure Director” Award at the NYU film festival.

In 1988, Lichtenstein earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film, with a minor in Business from NYU. Upon graduating, he was immediately hired as Manager of Creative Affairs for Columbia Pictures, under the direction of Dawn Steele. He was 21 years old. Upon leaving Columbia, he became Head of Worldwide Production for General Media, then the fourth largest private entertainment company on the globe. During that time, Lichtenstein also became one of the top music video directors in the business; producing and directing videos for Warner Brothers, Sony Music, Columbia Records, Epic Records, Tommy Boy Records, Universal/MCA, and many more. To his credit, Lichtenstein produced and directed over 250 music videos for Grammy Award winning artists including Sting and Eric Clapton, as well as having achieved #1 world videos in the Pop, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Rap, and Reggae genres.

During his rise to the top of the music video industry, Lichtenstein founded Lightstone Entertainment where he partnered with Rebel Films, Psuedo Online Entertainment, and Film Inc. in NYC to produce a series of film and television projects. Tommy Mottola, former Chairman, of Sony Music hired Lichtenstein and Lightstone Entertainment as the in-house production company for Sony Music Studios in New York City. It was here that Lichtenstein forged his business partnership with Ric Wake, Head of A&R for Sony Music Worldwide. Wake, a world-renowned music producer, received several Grammy Awards for musical acts Celine Dion and Mariah Carey, as well as the soundtrack for the Academy Award winning motion picture Chicago.

As a founding partner, Lichtenstein served as Executive Producer for Film Bond International and was instrumental in securing financing on numerous feature productions, including the critically acclaimed, O, produced by his partner Anthony Rhulen (Film Engine), and distributed by Miramax and Lions Gate Entertainment. O, based on Shakespeare’s Othello, stars Martin Sheen, Josh Hartnett and Julia Stiles. After Lichtenstein and Rhulen formed Film Bond, Rhulen went on to finance The Butterfly Effect, starring Ashton Kutcher, and Lucky Number Slevin, starring Bruce Willis and Josh Hartnett. Lichtenstein has also written scripts for RKO pictures, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, Electric Entertainment, Crusader Entertainment, Constantine Films, and Warner Brothers.

In 1997, Lichtenstein made his feature directorial debut with the film Lowball which he also wrote and produced for the Showtime Network. Lowball received numerous awards on the independent film circuit.

After serving as Chairman of the New York Independent Film Coalition, Lichtenstein arrived in Hollywood where within six months, he raised $60 million dollars for 3000 Miles To Graceland, which he wrote, produced and directed for Warner Brothers. The film’s cast includes Kevin Costner, Kurt Russell, Christian Slater, Courtney Cox, Ice T, Howie Long, Jon Lovitz, Kevin Pollak, Thomas Haden Church, and David Arquette. Lichtenstein also produced the soundtrack, featuring songs by Elvis Presley, BT, Filter and The Crystal Method. Graceland has gone on to become an international cult hit in constant worldwide rotation on HBO.

Having worked as a producer, director, writer, with hands-on experience developing projects for all of the major studios, Lichtenstein and Wake formed Equilibrium Entertainment, a state-of-the-art independent motion picture and post production company formed to take advantage of the technological breakthroughs in motion picture, music, gaming, internet and television programming.

Currently, Ric Wake is producing the GLOBAL TOUR and Albums for renowned music star, Yanni.

Lichtenstein has completed principal photography on the international Documentary Discover The Gift, featuring the Dali Lama, Jack Canfield (author of “Chicken Soup for the Soul”), and Reverend Michael Bernard Beckwith, world leader and teacher in the New Thought-Ancient Wisdom tradition of spirituality and founder of the Agape International Spiritual Center. Equilibrium Entertainment recently finished delivery of the MGM picture Hit and Run, for director Enda McCallion, and La Linea, starring Andy Garcia and Ray Liotta for director James Cotten.

Lichtenstein credits include producing and directing the independent feature Venus And Vegas, an action comedy starring Donald Faison, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Jaime Preston, Molly Simms, Abraham Benrubi, Roselyn Sanches and Joe Rogan. He also produced The Unseen, and was Producer and Director of Photography on Love And Suicide, an inspirational character study shot entirely on location in Havana Cuba.

Lichtenstein has been mentored in 3D filming techniques by James Cameron on Avatar, to date the most expensive film in history and the highest Grossing film of all time. Lichtenstein has also been trained in 3-D techniques by James Mainard and Phil McNally of Dreamworks.

Lichtenstein has over twenty motion picture projects, five television shows, multiple music acts, and a new video gaming division in active development, in addition to running a full service production and post-production company.

Currently, he is preparing to direct BOUNTY and THE GUARDIANS, a $45 million dollar 3D action thriller with his producing partner Greg O’Connor (The Warrior, Pride and Glory, Miracle and Tumbleweed).

For the past 14 years, Lichtenstein has served as senior head coach for the Self-Expression and Leadership Program for Landmark Education, an internationally recognized seminar conglomerate specializing in transformational leadership. Lichtenstein is a member of the Director’s Guild of America, The Writer’s Guild of America and the Screen Actor’s Guild. As a founding member of the Senior Leadership Council of the Director’s Guild of America, along with Steven Spielberg and Taylor Hackford (President of the Directors Guild of America) Mr. Lichtenstein works closely with award-winning directors to protect the rights of filmmakers worldwide by having a direct influence on domestic and global politics in the entertainment world.

Lichtenstein currently serves as the CEO of Equilibrium Entertainment where he overseas all creative affairs, worldwide production and financing with his primary focus on Directing great action/adventure pictures. He maintains residences in both Los Angeles and New York City.

Franco Sama
Independent Feature Film Producer

Independent feature film producer Franco Sama boasts a remarkable and extensive history in public speaking, public relations and a decade of independent film development, production and financing.

Sama has Executive Produced an impressive array of over twenty (20) independent feature films including most notably, “Guns, Girls and Gambling” starring Gary Oldman, Christian Slater and Dane Cook which is quickly becoming a cult favorite; this film was released into theatres on December of 2012 and, in January 2013, acquired a worldwide distribution deal from Universal Pictures.

Other films Sama has produced include; “Black Limousine” starring David Arquette and Vivica Fox, “Tooth and Nail” starring Michael Madsen and Vinnie Jones, “Paid,” starring Corbin Bernsen and Tom Conti and “The Penitent Man,” starring “The Terminator’s” Lance Henriksen. Sama also serves as Executive Producer on the film festival darling “Petunia” starring Thora Birch, Brittany Snow and Academy Award winner Christine Lahti.

Samaco Films released two films in 2015, the first, “The Livingston Gardner” stars James Kyson the beloved “Ando” from the NBC television hit series “HEROS” and the second, “3 Days in Havana” starring Ally McBeal alum, Gil Bellows; both of which have been released through Samaco Films’ sister company, Synergetic Distribution and have been released via all digital and Video on Demand (VOD) platforms worldwide.

The company also released two films in 2016, the first of which is the highly-lauded WWI action thriller titled “Game of Aces” directed by Aussie Director Damien Lay and starring heartthrob and former “American Pie” star Chris Klein alongside “Transformers” Victoria Summer (Transformers: Age of Distinction”) and Werner Daehn (“Valkyrie”, xXx) which is scheduled to hit theaters early this fall.

The second, “Chimera” a Sci-Fi Thriller written and directed by first time Helmer Maurice Haeems and starring “Apollo 13” Oscar nominated actress Kathleen Quinlan, veteran “Lost” alumnus Henry Ian Cusick and the incomparable “American Horror Story” scene-stealer Erika Ervin is currently in negotiations for worldwide distribution with several high profile distribution companies.
His shingle “Samaco Films” is currently financing and producing a slate of several independent feature films, including three psychological thrillers “Stockholm”, Séance, and Alexis Colette”, all of which are projected to begin principle photography before the fall of 2017.

Volunteer Committee

Jessalyn Magana
Volunteer Member

Jessalyn Magana, a senior at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), is carving her path as an aspiring director with a passion for storytelling and film. Hailing from a vibrant Salvadoran background, she brings a unique perspective to the world of cinema. She is currently a part of the NFMLA Volunteer Committee under the umbrella of Stage5 and the student mentorship program with NBCUniversal Launch. I just completed my time as a Film Festival Coordinator Intern.

Currently, she is on the cusp of earning my B.A. in Cinema and Television Arts with a concentration in Entertainment Media Management. Her journey at CSUN has been a rich experience of exploration and learning, where she has cultivated both technical and managerial skills to navigate the dynamic landscape of entertainment.

Beyond academia, she has taken on the role of Marketing Coordinator for her own business. This experience has allowed her to broaden her skill set and view filmmaking through the lens of a publicist.

Maria Jose Corral
Volunteer Member

Maria Corral is a vibrant young Mexican woman who brings her passion for the arts to our NFMLA volunteer committee. Maria is an actress who holds a bachelor’s degree in performing arts, showcasing her dedication to honing her craft. Fueling her love for film, Maria pursued additional training in acting in the dynamic environment of New York City at The Barrow Group and delved into the intricacies of film project development through specialized courses.

With a fervent desire to contribute to the Hispanic community in the film industry, Maria aspires to be a driving force behind the scenes. Her goal is to immerse herself in the world of filmmaking, gaining valuable practice and experience as a Production Assistant. Maria’s journey is a testament to her commitment to the arts and her determination to make a meaningful impact within the Hispanic film community and as a woman in filmmaking.

Shirline Chaudhary
Volunteer Member
Shirline Chaudhary discovered her love for cinema from a young age. Born in Fiji, her first exposure to the film industry were the colorful Bollywood movies that dominated much of the island’s showtimes and television listings.
After moving to Los Angeles, Shirline got the opportunity to dive a little deeper into her interest after enrolling at the University of Southern California. By majoring in Business Administration and minoring in Cinematic Arts, she was able to take courses that enriched her understanding of both a practical field of study as well as satisfy her passion in the creative industry. She hopes to apply her experiences in business and cinema to pursue opportunities both on set and behind the scenes. She has been able to further immerse herself in her passion for cinema through her involvement with NFMLA. Shirline is passionate about diversity in the film industry and hopes to increase representation for South Asians in cinema.
Jenna Lee Nguo
Volunteer Member
Jenna Lee Nguo (she/her) is an aspiring writer and actor born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley of California. She graduated from UC Riverside with a bachelor of arts in psychology and a minor in education. While studying at UCR, she pursued her passion for the arts by taking various classes in theater and creative writing. She is currently working as an Administrative Assistant for the University of La Verne, but she still dreams of a life in the arts full-time. She has been writing poetry since middle school as a creative emotional outlet and has expanded into fiction, nonfiction, and screenwriting within the last five years. As an Asian-American woman, she hopes to someday be recognized as not an Asian-American female artist, but rather, just another artist like all others.
Joshua Quizon
Volunteer Member

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Joshua Quizon is a freelance graphic designer attending Woodbury University, and has been passionate about entertainment for as long as he can remember. During his time at Woodbury University he has built skills in advertising design, web design, and motion graphics. Following his graduation from Woodbury University, Joshua hopes to create bold exciting graphics with distinct iconography for the entertainment industry.

As an intern/volunteer for NFMLA, Joshua has designed the Monthly Film Festival graphics, the NFMLA letterhead, and other various graphics. Additionally, Joshua also works as the projectionist and assisting staff during monthly film festivals.

Joie Littleton
Volunteer Member

Joie Littleton is a recent graduate of the University of Oregon with a degree in Film Studies and Public Relations. Joie credits her love for film to her mother, who introduced her to the classic films on Turner Classic Movies, in which she fell in love with films like, “The Wizard of Oz,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” and “Swing Time,” to name just a few of many. After graduating high school, Joie moved to Oregon for a change of scenery, to pursue a degree in Film and Journalism.  It was there that she began to develop more technical skills in the range of video production, and is currently seeking to expand her editing chops as an assistant editor.  Joie’s passion for all things cinema wouldn’t be complete without mentioning her other love for museums and archival work. She is equally passionate about film history and how film can be used as a tool for education. Joie is not only interested in making films but keeping them alive! Volunteering with New Filmmakers LA every month has been a rewarding experience and Joie is eager to continue supporting their efforts to highlight diversity in storytelling.

Sana Ali
Volunteer Member

Sana Ali is a recent graduate of the University of California Irvine with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. Passionate about all things film, her goal is to help tell new, underrepresented, and powerful stories. She is interested in screenwriting, acting, and film production. In her time at UCI, she worked on a few short films with the school’s Film Arts Drama Alliance.

Sana has previously worked with NFMLA as an Events and Community Outreach Intern, and values their emphasis on diverse and inclusive storytelling. The world of film has always captured her interest, and she aspires to contribute to the industry she admires so deeply.

Joshua Johnson-Bolden
Volunteer Member

Joshua Johnson-Bolden is a recent undergraduate student from California State University of Long Beach with a BFA in Creative Writing. Born and raised in Long Beach, Joshua has always stayed close to the spotlights surrounding Hollywood. He plans to pursue screenwriting and directing on his career path. When the time comes to leave his mark on the world with his storytelling, he will be ready.

Fernando Ramos
Committee Member

Born and raised in LA, Fernando is an aspiring Mexican-American Producer. Fernando graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a Bachelor of Arts in Film and Digital Media and a minor in Literature.

Fernando’s filmmaking goal is to build a tight-knit community of filmmakers all seeking their passion in film. On his free time Fernando is often found volunteering at multiple festivals around LA, working on-set as a Set Dresser or supporting the work of other filmmakers.

Savian Lopez
Volunteer Member

Savian Lopez is a young filmmaker attending Arizona State University, pursuing a degree in Filmmaking Practices. His passion for filmmaking stems from a deep love of stories and crafting worlds for audiences to enjoy. As a Hispanic filmmaker, he aims to bring a diverse voice to a wide range of genres and topics, and bring a new wave of imaginative stories to life. During his time at Arizona State University, he has built skills in production, post-production, and writing. Following his graduation from Arizona State University, Savian hopes to craft new tales for audiences that inspire hope, passion, and empathy within the next generation of both storytellers and viewers alike.

As an intern/volunteer for NFMLA, Savian has worked on the Stage 5 Filmmaker interview series as both an editor and production assistant, as well as helped staff the monthly film festival.