In-person at the Music Box Theatre and online April 26 – May 2, 2024

Submissions open 11/1/23!

The 6th annual Cinema Femme Short Film Fest runs from April 26 – May 2, 2024. This one-of-a-kind festival emphasizes the importance of supporting emerging female and non-binary filmmakers by connecting them to seasoned industry members through the Breaking Down Walls mentorship program. (information about our 2024 mentorship program coming soon!)

Twenty short films will be selected to screen across four programs. Four of those filmmakers will then be awarded a six-month mentorship with a seasoned filmmaker. Last year our mentors were filmmaker Isabel Sandoval (LINGUA FRANCA), actress Melora Walters (MAGNOLIA, COLD MOUNTAIN, PEN15), TV/film editor Stephanie Filo (A Black Lady Sketch Show), and producer Julie Keck.

This will be the festival’s second year as a hybrid event, combining four in-person screenings with the option to view films virtually.


SHORTS PROGRAM 1: Let’s Chicago

Caroline, dir. Juli Del Prete

In-Person: 7 PM + Q&A | Sunday, April 30, 2023



SHORTS PROGRAM 2: Before Midnight (Part One)

Albion Rose, dir. Tiffany Tenille 

In-Person: 9:30 PM + Q&A | Sunday, April 30, 2023



SHORTS PROGRAM 3: Breaking Down Walls

Julia, dir. by Emma Duvall

In-Person: 7 PM + Q&A | Wednesday, May 3, 2023



SHORTS PROGRAM 4: Before Midnight (Part Two)

Helium, dir. Annika Chavez

In-Person: 9:30 PM + Q&A | Wednesday, May 3, 2023



Music Box Theatre

SPOTLIGHT FILM – “Regenerate Ojai”

REGENERATE OJAI – dir. Rebecca Tickell, Josh Tickell (Online Only)


Q&A with filmmaker Rebecca Tickell on May 1, 2023, 6:30 PM Central on our YouTube Channel and Eventive.


The extraordinary career of writer/director Emily Hagins will be celebrated in a tribute event moderated by Cinema Femme contributor and Literary Editor Matt Fagerholm. From the age of 12, Hagins has proven herself to be a born filmmaker, from her remarkable 2006 debut feature “Pathogen,” to her most recent horror/comedy gem on Shudder, “Sorry About the Demon.” This conversation will encompass all of Hagins’ key directorial efforts while exploring how she continues to subvert tropes regarding teenagers, young adults and her own unwanted nickname of “Zombie Girl.”

Emily Hagins wrote and directed her first feature at the age of 12 in her hometown of Austin, TX – a zombie movie, Pathogen. The documentary Zombie Girl: The Movie chronicled her process from start to finish. Pathogen was restored and distributed by the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) and Bleeding Skull! in March 2022. Emily made her second feature, The Retelling, at the age of 14. At 17, she wrote and directed her third feature – My Sucky Teen Romance (SXSW 2011, Dark Sky Films).  She also wrote and directed a coming of age Halloween dramedy— Grow Up, Tony Phillips (SXSW 2013), and an adaptation of a YA teen heist novel, Coin Heist (2017, Netflix Original Film). Her most recent feature film is the haunted house break-up horror romantic comedy, Sorry About the Demon (2023 Shudder Original Film). 

She wrote/directed segments in two horror anthologies: “Touch” for ChillerTV’s Chilling Visions: The Five Senses of Fear, and “Cold Open” for Shudder’s horror/comedy anthology Scare Package. She also completed the six-episode digital series Hold To Your Best Self (SXSW 2018) and the horror short First Kiss” for Snapchat’s V/H/S branded series (SXSW 2019). 


IFA Chicago – Fiscal Sponsor

Cinema Femme Short Film Festival is excited to announce we are fiscally sponsored by Independent Film Alliance, so all your contributions are tax-deductible!

Independent Film Alliance (IFA) is a non-profit organization that provides the community and resources needed to build a diverse and sustainable industry of independent content creators.

Neon Heart Productions – Producer

Founded by filmmaker Rhianon Jones, Neon Heart Productions is an independent film production company providing mentorship and limited financing for female filmmakers. Joined in 2022 by her producing partner, Tristan Scott- Behrends, Neon Heart Productions has continued to work closely with filmmakers early on in their careers. Selected highlights include Circus of Books (Netflix), Emma Seligman’s feature film Shiva Baby (HBO, John Cassavetes Award Winner), Jessica Beshir’s feature documentary Faya Daya (Criterion), Jamie Dack’s Palm Trees and Powerlines (winner of Best Director and Best Screenwriter at Sundance Film Festival ’22, Independent Spirit Award Nominee), and Amanda Kramer’s Give Me Pity! (IFFR). Upcoming films include the Rhianon Jones-penned and Hannah Pearl Utt-directed Cora Bora (SWSW ’23), Kit Zahaur’s This Closeness (SXSW ’23), Alexandria Bombach’s It’s Only Life After All (Sundance ’23), Chestnut (Starring Natalia Dyer) and Monica Sorelle’s Mountains.

Prysm Studios – Co- Producer

” As new platforms emerge and our industry continues to evolve, efficiency is more crucial than ever. At Prysm Studios, we take an all-in-one approach to Post-Production. Our streamlined business model lets us embrace quick turnarounds and tight deadlines without sacrificing value. In short, we offer the full spectrum of creative services.”

Noisefloor – Co-Producer

We are a post production audio facility located in the River North neighborhood of Chicago, on West Ohio Street. We are sound specialists for commercials, film, TV, radio, web, video games, and interactive projects. We’ve been creating sound for more than 30 years. From footsteps made with baking soda to enhance your favorite creepy movie, to layering the right number of explosives to create a classic BOOM in your video game, we create those sounds and feelings. There is no medium we don’t work on.

At Noisefloor, our goal is to tell your story through the use of sound. We do that through conventional methods like mixing, recording, and sound design. Of course, we’ve also been known to smash random objects just to get that perfect sound.

Hike Creative – Co-Producer

As an award-winning, woman-owned, full-service video production company, we partner with global brands and small businesses alike to create content for commercials, digital campaigns, brand films, social media, fundraising, education, documentaries and more.

We believe in authenticity and we infuse it into the work we do. Teaming up with an ever-growing network of collaborators and artists, we tell your story in a way that generates awareness and engagement.

Whether you need help with creative development, production coordination, or post-production management, our team’s got you covered.

DONORS – $100+



Erica Duffy

Oluwaseun Babalola

Kate Hackett

Julie Keck

Natasha Parker

Media Partners:

The Light Leaks (LLC) is a community hub that supports, empowers and educates female and gender non-conforming (GNC) filmmakers, aiming to foster intersectionality in the film and television industries. Through our live and digital events, editorial content, online shop, and more, we provide filmmakers across the world (and web) with opportunities to connect with each other, learn new skills, spark crucial media discourse, and showcase their work. Ultimately, we strive to ensure a more equitable media landscape in the future.

Founded in 2014 by Erica Duffy, Camera Ambassador is one of only three equipment rental houses nationwide owned and operated by a woman. Her vision was to create a vibrant community of artists by providing high-quality film equipment and top-notch service paired with genuine support of their productions.
Camera Ambassador is a one-stop shop, carrying everything from cameras and lenses to grip trucks and production supplies. Their equipment roster includes high-end brands such as Arri, Red, Canon, Cooke, Zeiss, O’Connor, Small HD, Teradek, and more. They’ve also got you covered with specialty items such as anamorphic lenses, gimbals, and grip trucks. 

While supporting clients through equipment rentals is their main focus, Camera Ambassador is much more than that. They offer monthly workshops & feedback sessions, host screenings, promote filmmakers, provide internships, and fund the annual Community Builders Grant. When walking into the shop, you can often be greeted by the shop dog, met with a warm smile, and take a moment to kick back at their snack bar before prepping your rental. Camera Ambassador loves getting to know their clients and supporting them in all areas of development and creation. 

Mezcla Media Collective is a Chicago-based non-profit arts organization providing resources and equity to women and non-binary filmmakers of color. Founded as an informal collective in 2017 by filmmakers Colette Ghunim and Elena Valentine who saw a need for a centralized community, we work to develop career pathways, provide educational programming, and build access to industry leaders nationwide, all while cultivating a tight-knit support system for one another.



Photography by Sally Blood

Rebecca Martin Fagerholm – Festival Director

Rebecca Martin is the Managing Editor of Cinema Femme magazine and the Festival Director of Cinema Femme Short Film Fest. She founded her publication in 2018 because she wanted to create a platform for female and non-binary voices in the film community. She has hosted film screenings in Chicago, led virtual panel discussions, Q&As, and has covered festivals like the Chicago International Film Festival, Sundance, Tribeca, and the Bentonville Film Festival.

Rebecca is the editor in chief for THE CALL SHEET, a magazine that launched in January 2023, a collaboration between Cinema Femme and Camera Ambassador. Newcity’s Chicago Top 50 Screen Gems in 2022.

Sofia JoAnna – Creative Director

Sofia JoAnna (she/her) is an actor/dancer/collaborator especially passionate about coming-of-age film and television. She is a young artist trying on lots of different creative hats in the realm of film, theatre, dance, choreography, and more! Sofia starred in “Monkey Bars“, a short film by Jacqueline Xerri that premiered in the Cinema Femme 2021 festival, streamed on NoBudge, and has since had multiple festival screenings around the country. She has also collaborated with “See Humans” on multiple theatrical productions in New York (Off-Broadway), LA, and Boston as a choreographer, performer, and creative team member. She is currently in LA immersing herself in the worlds of film and commercial dance. Sofia is thrilled to be on the Cinema Femme team and holds the mission of this organization extremely close to her heart.

Carolann Cohen Grzybowski – Social Media and Operations Assistant

Carolann Cohen Grzybowski (b. 2000, BFA, she/her) is a filmmaker, programmer and graphic designer currently residing in Milwaukee, WI. She is the founder of Cactus Club Independent Film Festival, and co-programs Moving Image at queer artist collective, Cactus Club. Her work has been screened through Seen MKE, Milwaukee Underground Film Festival and at local independent screenings. She is the recipient of the SURF Grant for Undergraduate Documentary Research in which she animated for the Medical College of Wisconsin. Carolann received her BFA in Film, Video, Animation and New Genres with a minor in Theatre from University of Wisconsin Milwaukee in 2022

Jill McKeown – Event Planner

Meet Jill McKeown! She has joined our team as our event planner. She has been getting some amazing women-owned businesses to support our fest. We are grateful for her hard work.

Fun fact: Jill is a librarian and she has a cameo in her husband, Michael Smith’s film “Relative”, see if you can spot her!

Follow Jill on instagram @jillie__mae

Emily Robinson – Programmer

Emily Robinson is an actor/writer/director, as well as a special Drama Desk recipient and SAG Award nominee for her acting work. Her credits include Eighth Grade, The Year Between, Transparent, and Private Life. Behind the camera, Emily’s first short film, VIRGIN TERRITORY, premiered at LA Film Festival + screened at Outfest and Frameline among other festivals and was later optioned by Universal Cable Productions. Her second short film, HEARSAY, premiered at Lone Star Film Festival this past year. Emily studied Creative Writing at Columbia and is represented by UTA and Foundation Media Partners. 

Peyton Robinson – Programmer

Peyton Robinson is a Chicago-based writer and critic. She has bylines with numerous online publications such as Cinema Femme, Film School Rejects, JumpcutOnline, on Her long-held, formative passion for horror has been the kickstarter for her career in film journalism, but she also loves writing about cult movies and stories of the Black experience. Some of her favorite films include “Inherent Vice”, “The Double”, and “Psycho”.

Ashley Shelton – Programmer

Ashley Shelton’s acting debut was the leading role of Margaret in the critically-acclaimed SOMETHING, ANYTHING (2015 NYT Critics’ Pick, The Dissolve’s “Essential Viewing”). It screened at several film festivals including Edinburgh and BAMcinemaFest before being released commercially in New York via IFP Screen Forward and in the USA & UK through Sundance #ArtistServices and IFP. She was featured on IndieWire’s 2015 Year-End Critics Poll as Best Lead Actress. Since, she has starred in numerous films including, THE EVENING HOUR (Sundance, 2019), THE GIANT (Toronto International Film Festival, 2019), WILD ROSE (Toronto International Film Festival, 2018), SOLLERS POINT (San Sebastian International Film Festival, 2016) and Riley Keough’s WAR PONY (Cannes 2022 & SXSW 2023). She can currently be seen in Ethan Hawke’s series THE GOOD LORD BIRD (Showtime) and the upcoming feature A LITTLE PRAYER which premiered at Sundance 2023. Her awarding-winning short film MAGNOLIA & CLEMENTINE was picked to participate in AMAZON’S 2019 All Voices Film Festival which celebrated diversity behind the camera. Her directorial feature film debut BEST CLOWNS, distributed by 1091 Pictures, will be released Summer 2023.


Hannah Beachler

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.