In the fall of 2019, we interviewed Hannah Beachler, the Oscar-winning production designer of “Black Panther.” This interview would shape the trajectory of Cinema Femme’s evolution. Hannah said in our interview,

“We aren’t just taking down ceilings; we are busting down walls. Because you take out a ceiling, and the building will stand, but if you take out the wall, it will fall. My whole thing is to take out the wall and redesign the building. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

And that is the goal of Cinema Femme. Not only does our platform elevate underrepresented voices, but we also aim to redesign the institutions of the film industry by supporting up-and-coming filmmakers with our annual short film festival.

The hands in our 2023 poster represent the essence of our Breaking Down Walls Mentorship program, which is inspired by Beachler’s words and serves as the heart of our film festival. This program is where we award an emerging filmmaker with a six-month mentorship with a seasoned film professional. Twenty films are selected for the festival, and four filmmakers behind the selected films will be awarded the mentorship.

In the past, our esteemed mentors have been Christine Swanson, Jennifer Reeder, Lisa Robinson, Annette Davey, Kate Hackett, Cecilia Albertini, Deborah Kampmeier, Haroula Rose, Patricia Vidal Delgado, and Laura Moss. Our mentees have gone on to successful projects at Disney, HBO, and more. We are so excited about how this program is blossoming.

Our 2023 Mentors

Isabel Sandoval

Director, actress, writer, producer, and editor Isabel Sandoval is a Filipina filmmaker  who made history with Lingua Franca at the 2019 Venice International Film  Festival. Lingua Franca was nominated for the 2021 Film Independent John  Cassavetes Spirit Award. Isabel was the 21st commission of the acclaimed short-film  series Miu Miu Women’s Tales with her short, Shangri-La directed, acted, written and  edited by Isabel Sandoval. Sandoval has most recently directed the penultimate episode  of the highly anticipated FX limited series, Under the Banner of Heaven, based on the  book by Jon Krakauer and premiering on Hulu on April 28th, 2022. Sandoval can also  be seen in Elisabeth Subrin’s short film Maria Schneider, 1983 selected for the 2022  Cannes Film Festival Director’s Fortnight. 

Lingua Franca, is Sandoval’s first feature filmed in the U.S. and her third feature as  director. After Venice, Lingua Franca traveled a global film festival journey into 2020  by way of the AFI Fest, BFI London Film Festival, American Film Festival Wroclaw,  International Film Festival of India Goa, Festival International du Film de Mons, Palm  Springs Film Festival, Melbourne Queer Film Festival, Busan International Film  Festival, Hamburg International Film Festival, Vinokino Film Festival, Everybody’s  Perfect LGBT Film Festival, Gender Bender Film Festival, Slovak Queer Film  Festival, Thessaloniki Film Festival, and Bentonville Film Festival — where it won  Best Narrative Feature. Theatrical distribution, via Ava DuVernay’s Array Now  initiative followed and Lingua Franca is now available on Netflix. 

Sandoval made her directorial debut with the noir-inflected Señorita, which world premiered in competition at the Locarno Film Festival and earned her the Emerging  Director Award at the Asian American International Film Festival. Her second feature  as director was the Ferdinand Marcos-era nun drama Apparition, which won the Lotus  Audience Award at the Deauville Asian Film Festival following its world premiere at  the Busan International Film Festival. MoMA’s Department of Film  featured Apparition in its survey of new-wave Philippine filmmaking as part of the “A  New Golden Age: Contemporary Philippine Cinema” series. In May 2021 Isabel’s  early film work was featured on streaming services MUBI and The Criterion Channel  worldwide.

Sandoval’s films have also been generously supported by Frameline, Jerome  Foundation, Independent Filmmaker Project, Tribeca Film Institute, New York Film  Academy, New York Foundation for the Arts, New York City Mayor’s Office of Media  and Entertainment, and the San Francisco International Film Festival’s Westridge  Grant. The latter funds U.S.-based independent narrative feature films at the  screenwriting phase. Further, Isabel is a member of the Board of Directors for  NewFest, New York’s largest presenter of LGBTQ+ film & media, and served as Jury  President in the First Feature Competition for the BFI London Film Festival in 2021.

 Isabel Sandoval is a graduate from the University of San Carlos in Cebu, Philippines  and earned her MBA as a graduate of NYU Stern School of Business. Ms. Sandoval is  a member of the WGA and DGA, and currently lives in New York City.

Melora Walters

Melora Walters is a world class actress best known for her stellar film and television career.  She received her pedigree at the Pratt Institute and also the infamous Actors Studio.

Melora was cast as a recurring arc in American Gigilo currently filming & starred in the first and second season of PEN15 on HULU recurring as Cathy a very dysfunctional mother to Anna. Melora was praised for her work on LAW & ORDER: SVU.  Prior she wrapped an arc on Brit Marling’s series, THE OA for Netflix. She made an impact in her on the HBO award winning drama BIG LOVE and in addition has been seen in powerful performances in numerous guest star and recurring roles.

Her film work includes Ruben Fleischer’s VENOM for Marvel Studios opposite Tom Hardy. Melora was cast in the lead role of Albert Chi’s directorial debut – a dramatic thriller called, THE AMARANTH. Melora is well known for he roles in Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA and THE MASTER. Plus she had a terrific role in the Azazel Jacobs’ four-handed romantic drama THE LOVERS from A24. Other iconic film roles include DEAD POET’S SOCIETY & COLD MOUNTAIN and quite a presence in the indie film world as well.

Melora just returned from The Rome FF and Austin FF with DROWNING a film she wrote, directed and starred in opposite Gil Bellows, Mia Sorvino and Jay Mohr.

Stephanie Filo

Stephanie Filo, ACE is a three-time Emmy and Peabody Award-winning TV/Film Editor and activist based in Los Angeles, CA and Sierra Leone, West Africa. She serves on the board for Girls Empowerment Sierra Leone, a social impact and feminist-based organization for Sierra Leonean girls aged 11-16. She is one of the co-founders of End Ebola Now, an organization created in 2014 to spread accurate information and awareness about the Ebola Virus and its impact through artistic community activism.

Aside from editing television and film, with a passion for bringing a voice to social issues and telling stories of the under-represented, Stephanie spends much of her spare time producing and editing social action campaigns and documentaries, primarily focused on the rights of women and girls worldwide. Some of her notable campaigns include her work with the United Nations, International Labour Organization, and the Obama White House Task Force’s It’s On Us campaign to combat campus sexual assault. Her charitable work has been featured in Forbes Magazine, Entertainment Tonight, Telegraph UK, Yahoo, Al Jazeera, XWhy Magazine, and various others. Her work on the news documentary series “Mental State” earned her an Emmy nomination for the episode “Aging Out” about youth aging out of the American foster care system. She earned an Emmy win for her editing on the Mental State episode “Separated” which covered ICE deportations, making herself and Nzinga Blake the first Sierra Leonean women to ever win an Emmy award. In 2021, she won a Primetime Emmy award for her work on HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show”, making her team the first all-Women of Color editing team to take home the award for Outstanding Picture Editing for Variety Programming. Most recently, she made history again as a member of the first all-black editing team to be nominated for and win an Emmy for “A Black Lady Sketch Show”.

Julie Keck is a Chicago-based filmmaker, as well as a consultant on storytelling, strategic partnerships, and impact/outreach. She is a Consulting Producer for the Storytelling initiatives of Nia Tero, a global nonprofit supporting Indigenous land guardianship, and a co-founder of Breaking Light Studio (formerly OTV Studio), an incubator for intersectional artists seeking sustainable careers in the film/tv industry. Julie has produced over two dozen web series and two features, and is the co-author of Social Media Charm School, a guide to film marketing for creative entrepreneurs, with Jess King. She studied psychology at Knox College and earned her Sustainable Innovation MBA from the University of Vermont’s Grossman School of Business.