Meet the Experts 2024

ONE ON ONE MONIQUE AVILA

MONIQUE AVILA (ONE-ON-ONE MEETINGS) is a Mexican-american producer from Los Angeles. She currently manages the Sundance Institute’s Catalyst Program, the institute’s film financing lab that aims to build a culture of partnership between independent investors and filmmakers; to unlock funding for ambitious new independent films; and to engage our community in supporting the independent film ecosystem. She produces the annual Catalyst Forum, the program’s premiere pitch event, and prepares Catalyst filmmakers to present their projects for production financing. Previously, for three years she helped bring filmmaking to underserved classrooms throughout California via the Youth Cinema Project, resulting in hundreds of completed shorts that premiered at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival. She is passionate about the power of story, and dedicated to contributing to the sustainable evolution of independent film.

AMBER BENSON (SCREENPLAY FEEDBACK) is a novelist and screenwriter. She co-directed the Slamdance feature film DRONES and co-wrote and directed the Audible original series SLAYERS. In her previous incarnation as an actor, she spent three years as ‘Tara Maclay’ on the cult television series BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.

SCREENPLAY FEEDBACK Amber Benson
SCREENPLAY FEEDBACK Ersi Danou

ERSI DANOU (SCREENPLAY FEEDBACK) co-founded Los Angeles Greek Film Festival (LAGFF) in 2006. A Tisch School of at the Arts (NYU) and American Film Institute graduate, a filmmaker and an entertainment writer, Ersi has served LAGFF in various roles, including Director of Programming, Artistic Director, Director of Development, and Development Consultant. in 2013, she helped establish Discovery Days (formerly known as International Project Discovery Forum – IPDF) with the idea to nurture international film exchange and offer screenplay development opportunities to international filmmakers. She recently collaborated on the initiation of Global Greek Film Initiative (GGFI) in order to further cultural exchange, bilateral collaborations and the promotion of Greek film and culture in Los Angeles, the US and the Hellenic Diaspora. Ersi has been a member of Golden Globes Foundation (formerly known as Hollywood Foreign Press Association) for two decades and has been an active member in several committees including the Non-English Language Film Committee and the International Festivals Committee. Currently, she has several creative projects in development.

JASON JAKAITIS (SCREENPLAY FEEDBACK) is an Associate Professor in the Media Production Program at Saint Mary’s College of California, where he teaches filmmaking and community storytelling. A creator of augmented reality and personal documentaries, much of his work explores themes of family and disability. Jason’s documentary Mothersbane won the Jury prize at the 2011 South by Southwest Film Festival. Jason also served as Director of Independent Media at the Bay Area Video Coalition, where he supervised numerous community media programs, including San Francisco’s Public Access Television Station and the National Media Maker Fellowship. Jason lives in Oakland, California with his wife and two daughters.

SCREENPLAY FEEDBACK Jason Jakaitis
SCREENPLAY FEEDBACK Harrison James

HARRISON JAMES (SCREENPLAY FEEDBACK) is a writer and director, born in Chicago and living and working in Los Angeles. Recent directing credits include: Cowboy Mouth, Savage Love, and Fool for Love, a series of Sam Shepard plays, and THE DREAMER EXAMINES HIS PILLOW by John Patrick Shanley. Currently writing and directing BIG GIRLS a television series, and SHOOTING STAR, a feature film, she has written for producers (Heather Graham) and directors (Julian Goldberger, Autumn DeWilde, and Melodie McDaniel). Her spots for SPIES TRAVEL, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, won the Bronze Lion at Cannes. She founded Girl Trip, a production company, panel series and film festival to advance emerging women and nonbinary filmmakers. She is on the Directing faculty at the AFI Conservatory as well as Sundance Co//ab, and is a mentor at CineStory. Harrison studied directing at Boston University, where she received the Dean’s Grant for Filmmaking, and attended the AFI Conservatory as both a Screenwriting and Directing Fellow. Devoted to being an actor’s director, Harrison has been studying with Nancy Banks for over 10 years. She is represented by Anonymous Content.

PAVEL JECH (SCREENPLAY FEEDBACK) is a graduate of the Columbia University Film Division as well as of FAMU, The Film and Television School of the Academy of the Performing Arts in Prague, where he served two terms as dean from 2008 to 2016. During his terms, FAMU was ranked among the top film schools in the world, and student films met great success at some of the world’s top festivals. Previously, Jech was the founding chair of FAMU International, a department for English speaking students, and also the faculty liaison for NYU-Tisch, American University, Yale and other programs for American students visiting Prague. He is an active instructor of screenwriting and script analysis, and works as an expert advisor for Sundance Labs, Berlinale Talents, the Mediterranean Film Institute and for the Midpoint Center, which he co-founded and serves as head of studies. Jech lectures internationally, and his manual on dramaturgy for short films, The Seven Minute Screenplay is used by film students around the world. He also worked in over ten countries as a screenwriter and script editor, including for the feature film GRANTHOTEL (Berlinale premiere 2007), has worked as a creative collaborator on some of the most recent films of Jan Nemec, and has directed a short film presented at the European Film Academy Award ceremony.

SCREENPLAY FEEDBACK Pavel Jech
ONE ON ONE Jesse Knight

JESSE KNIGHT (ONE-ON-ONE MEETINGS) is a seasoned film programmer, curator, writer, producer and script consultant based in Los Angeles. With over a decade of experience, he has lent his expertise to the Palm Springs International Film Festival, Palm Springs International ShortFest, Seattle International Film Festival, AFI Fest, Frameline, SFFILM, and the Sundance Institute. He has curated and hosted events at The Royal Cinema in Toronto and The Capitol Theater in Olympia, WA, and has served on numerous festival juries. A dedicated mentor, he is passionate about guiding filmmakers toward fostering their singularity to stand out among a crowded and competitive landscape.

JASON LEW (WORKSHOP) is a Chinese-American filmmaker based out of Los Angeles. He wrote and directed THE FREE WORLD, which premiered in Dramatic Competition at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. The film stars Elisabeth Moss, Boyd Holbrook & Octavia Spencer and was distributed by IFC. His first screenplay, RESTLESS was directed by Gus Van Sant and produced by Ron Howard. Recently, Lew has been writing/producing on multiple TV projects (INSECURE, BALLERS) for HBO, including an original pilot developed for Lebron James’ banner, Springhill. Current: a scripted podcast for Qcode, a western feature currently in development, a drama series with Tessa Thompson’s VIVA MAUDE and writing/producing credits on Damon Lindelof’s latest show for Peacock. Jason was a Cinereach fellow and is a grad of NYU, where he studied acting, directing and design for theater. He is currently developing projects for Netflix, Monkey Paw, Get Lifted, UCP, and UTV.

ONE ON ONE Jason Lew
SCREENPLAY FEEDBACK Rosita Lama Muvdi

ROSITA LAMA MUVDI (SCREENPLAY FEEDBACK) is a Palestinian-Colombian director/screenwriter whose visceral films explore the monster within all of us and what happens when it finally comes out to play. After working in Colombia’s film industry for several years, Rosita attended the American Film Institute Conservatory where she graduated with an M.F.A. in Directing in 2016. Since then, her psychosexual fairy tale LA SIRENA has won Best Horror at multiple festivals, including the Grand Jury Award at Dances With Films and the Mary Shelly Award at Other Worlds Austin, given to a female filmmaker whose film furthers the representation of women in genre. Currently, Rosita lives in Los Angeles where she teaches directing at AFI and is repped by Luber Roklin Entertainment.

MO PERKINS (JURY) is a writer and director who has worked in almost every genre. Her MFA UCLA thesis film was nominated for a Student Academy Award. Her first feature, A QUIET LITTLE MARRIAGE, which she wrote and directed, won the jury prize at Slamdance and was distributed by IFC. Her second feature, THE LAST TIME YOU HAD FUN, premiered at LAFF and was distributed by Gravitas. Mo directed an episode of the sci-fi show, MANIFEST, for NBC and all of season 2 of the musical comedy, I SHIP IT, for the CW. Mo developed a series with Amber Benson based on Amber’s books THE WITCHES OF ECHO PARK, which was developed by AGC Studios. She’s an alumnus of the Ryan Murphy Half Initiative, WeForShe, WB TV Workshop, Sony TV Directors’ Program, the Film Independent Labs and the DGA WSC Squad Mentorship Program. Currently Mo’s developing THE FARM, a drama series inspired by the commune where she grew up, with Soto Productions. She’s also preparing to direct a new comedy feature, THE WIDOWER, which she wrote and is being produced by Jersey 2nd Ave.

JURY Mo Perkins
JURY Orly Ravid

ORLY RAVID (JURY) is the Founder and Co-Executive Director of The Film Collaborative, and the Associate Dean of the Biederman Entertainment & Media Law Institute at Southwestern Law School. Orly has over 20 years of experience in independent film as an acquisitions and business affairs executive. She’s served as a Documentary Programming Associate at Sundance Film Festival and a programming consultant at Palm Springs International and the Middle East Film Festival. A regular panelist, educator, and blogger about digital distributing, splitting rights, and distribution in general at film festivals worldwide, Orly has also contributed to indieWIRE, TFC’s blog, and Sundance’s Artists Services. Orly launched TFC’s Digital Distribution Guide and other distribution related educational initiatives as part of TFC’s free resource, DistripediaTM. is the Founder and Co-Executive Director of The Film Collaborative, and the Associate Dean of the Biederman Entertainment & Media Law Institute at Southwestern Law School. Orly has over 20 years of experience in independent film as an acquisitions and business affairs executive. She’s served as a Documentary Programming Associate at Sundance Film Festival and a programming consultant at Palm Springs International and the Middle East Film Festival. A regular panelist, educator, and blogger about digital distributing, splitting rights, and distribution in general at film festivals worldwide, Orly has also contributed to indieWIRE, TFC’s blog, and Sundance’s Artists Services. Orly launched TFC’s Digital Distribution Guide and other distribution related educational initiatives as part of TFC’s free resource, DistripediaTM.

JEFF STOCKWELL (GROUP INTRO) is a screenwriter whose produced credits include Sundance film THE DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTAR BOYS (dir. Peter Care), BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA (dir. Gabor Csupo) and A WRINKLE IN TIME (dir. Ava DuVernay) for Disney, Writers Guild Award- nominated WILDER DAYS (dir. David Mickey Evans) for TNT and, most recently, IVY & BEAN (dir. Elissa Down) for Netflix. He has done uncredited work on a range of films including ARTEMIS FOWL and PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF. Jeff has worked as a consulting writer for major animation companies, including a year’s residence at Pixar. He has a range of unproduced projects in various stages of development – from “happening soon – we promise!” to “stored in that warehouse somewhere next to the Lost Ark.” Jeff is a longtime active instructor/mentor for labs and programs sponsored by Film Independent, Global Media Makers, USC’s American Film Showcase and the Writers Guild of America.

GROUP INTRO Jeff Stockwell
ONE ON ONE Matthew Takata

MATTHEW TAKATA (ONE-ON-ONE MEETINGS) is the Assistant Director for the Feature Film Program’s international work at the Sundance Institute. His focus is on international outreach and selection for the Institute’s Screenwriters and Directors Labs in Utah, FFP’s international labs, which have included India, Jordan, Greece, Mexico and Cuba, and the annual Sundance/NHK Award. Previously, Takata worked in development at GK Films, following a stint at Key Creatives and International Creative Management. Takata attended the University of California, Los Angeles, and is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area.

ELIA URQUIZA (SCREENPLAY FEEDBACK) is one of the founding partners of La Panda Productions, a creative collective company formed by a group of Spanish filmmakers and] producers in Los Angeles in 2012. After operating in the US for four years, La Panda opened offices in Spain in 2016 to help breach the gap between Hollywood and their native country. The company offers production services in both countries and specializes in developing international independent co-productions focusing on the Spanish speaking market. As such, La Panda has co-produced such acclaimed films as Carlos Marques Marcet ́s 10,000 KM and ANCHOR AND HOPE, Julia Solomonof’s NOBODY’S WATCHING, Koldo Serra’s 70 BINLADENS, or Lila Aviles LA CAMARISTA, selected by Mexico as their last year’s Oscars contender.

SCREENPLAY FEEDBACK Elia Urquiza
JURY Dea Vazquez

DEA VAZQUEZ (JURY) joined Film Independent in 2014 and currently serves as the Associate Director of Fiction Programs, overseeing Film Independent’s slate of fiction labs and programs, including the Producing Lab, Episodic Lab, Screenwriting Lab, Episodic Directing Intensive and the fiction slate for the Fast Track finance market. Prior to that, she served as the Project Involve Senior Manager, co-running Film Independent’s signature mentoring program that fosters the future generations of visual storytellers from underrepresented communities with the goal of a more inclusive industry. Before joining Film Independent, Dea worked at The Murtha Skouras Agency, a top Below-the-Line talent agency, and prior to that, at Colibri Films, a commercial production company for the Hispanic Market. She holds a BA in English Literature from Boston University.

JONATHAN WYSOCKI (JURY) is a queer writer, director, and producer of independent films. His latest feature, the award-winning festival hit DRAMARAMA, is now streaming on Hulu and is distributed in over 20 countries. Wysocki is a Fellow of the Sundance Screenwriters and Directors Labs as well as an Advisor for Sundance Co//ab. His short, A DOLL’S EYES, screened at 50 festivals on 6 continents. The film was his 5th award-winning short. Previously, Wysocki worked as a feature programmer for the LA Film Festival, as a producer on the features THE HAMMER and THRASHER ROAD, and for major studios such as MGM and ABC. Wysocki is a UCLA alumnus, a Project Involve Fellow at Film Independent, a Berlinale Talent Campus alum, and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Production at Loyola Marymount University.

JURY Jonathan Wysocki
ONE ON ONE Diego Najera

DIEGO NÁJERA (ONE-ON-ONE MEETINGS) is a Mexican producer and film executive with over a decade of experience in story development, film financing, and curation. Most recently, he served as Director of Narrative Film at Participant, the award-winning studio that pioneered projects at the intersection of art and activism. At Participant, Nájera developed, oversaw, or acquired feature films like Mounia Akl’s COSTA BRAVA, LEBANON (Venice 2021), Christopher Zalla’s RADICAL (Sundance 2023 Festival Favorite Award), Chiwetel Ejiofor’s ROB PEACE (Sundance 2024), and the upcoming films WHITE BIRD (Lionsgate) directed by Marc Forster, and THE WAVE from Academy-Award winner Sebastian Lelio. Prior to Participant, Nájera produced the Academy Award-nominated live-action short film PLEASE HOLD from director KD Dávila, and his projects as a producer have been featured at the Berlinale, SXSW, FICG, Fantastic Fest, AFI Fest, and on HBO. He has been selected as a Creative Producing Fellow (Sundance Institute), a Project Involve and Producers Lab Fellow (Film Independent), and a Debra Hill Fellow (Producers Guild of America). Nájera began his career as a producer and film programmer for the Guadalajara International Film Festival before working for Alex Garcia’s AG Studios in its film financing arm. He has been a panelist at SXSW, Donostia San Sebastián, Los Cabos Film Festival, Palm Springs Shortfest and was named one of 2023’s 25 Rising Stars in entertainment by Business Insider. Nájera holds an MFA from USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program and lives in Los Angeles, California.

LOU PEPE and KEITH FULTON (ONE-ON-ONE MEETINGS)  have been making documentary and fiction films together for the past 30 years. They hold MFAs in Film Production from Temple University and are fellows of both the Sundance Feature Film and Documentary Film Labs. More recently, they have also been Advisors for the Sundance Documentary Labs. Their documentary feature LOST IN LA MANCHA, was shortlisted for an Academy Award, nominated for the European Film Award for Best Documentary, and won the Evening Standard’s Peter Sellers Award for Best Comedy. Their fiction film debut BROTHERS OF THE HEAD was the winner of the Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature in 2006. For AMC, they created and directed one of the network’s first original programs, the documentary special MALKOVICH’S MAIL. They are also the authors of numerous screenplays, including THE WIZARDS OF PERFIL, which made the Hollywood Black List in 2007. Their documentary THE BAD KIDS received the Special Jury Prize for Verité Filmmaking at the 2016 Sundance FF and was selected for the American Film Showcase. It was nominated for both a Peabody Award and an Emmy. Their most recent release HE DREAMS OF GIANTS, the last in their 25-year trilogy of documentaries with Terry Gilliam, won Best British Feature at the 2020 Raindance Film Festival. Fulton frequently serves as a story and editing consultant on other documentary features, including Missing in Brooks County, Singing in the Wilderness, One Bullet Afghanistan, Boulevard, Tigre Gente, A Decent Home and Wildcat. Pepe teaches filmmaking at the college level and serves as the Faculty Director of Temple University’s L.A. Study Away program.

ONE ON ONE Lou Pepe, Keith Fulton
ONE ON ONE Maja Zimmermann

MAJA ZIMMERMANN (ONE-ON-ONE MEETINGS) is a founding partner of MOTIVO FILMS USA and has been producing films in Europe, Los Angeles, and Latin America. She is Swiss-born and raised, holds a degree in Photography as well as a BA in Film (Directing and Producing), and is fluent in German, English, and French. Maja is based in L.A. where she is focusing on international narrative projects for the global audience. Her award-winning films, such as MATAR A JESUS from Colombia, AQUI NO HA PASADO NADA from Chile and LA CUARTA COMPANIA from Mexico have premiered at some of the most prestigious festivals like: Sundance, Berlin, Cartagena, San Sebastian and Toronto just to name a few. Maja is an internationally established, trusted partner who brings creative advice and value to every story she’s involved in. She is known for building bridges between cultures, attaching elements to secure cast, and finding production partners as well as finances for domestic and international projects.