Last Wednesday at the Women In Film Annual Gala, ReFrame Rise was unveiled by presenter Kyra Sedgwick—heralding this unique two-year pilot program developed by ReFrame partners Sundance Institute and Women In Film, that provides high-level endorsement and career acceleration for eight female directors as selected by ReFrame Ambassadors from a curated pool of 80 candidates. The goal of ReFrame Rise is to support each director with three high-level sponsors to propel them to the next stage of their career where they will apply their impressive skills as storytellers to reach wider audiences through access to more robust production budgets, marketing and awards campaigns, and distribution on par with their male counterparts. Research shows that access to financial networks and making it onto “the lists” are critical to sustainable careers for women in film, TV, and media. We are thrilled to present the inaugural class of ReFrame Rise. These women are ready for the spotlight!
Meet Our ReFrame Rise Directors
US/Iranian filmmaker Desiree Akhavan’s THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize in 2018. The film shone a light on the story of a queer teenager who confronts her sexual identity at a gay conversion camp in the 1990s—a deeply moving tale of adolescent self-identity, culture clash, and intimate human connection. Akhavan seeks to create mainstream queer films that are authentic and genuine, as well as films with broad appeal that avoid cliché, caricature, and that are refreshingly human.
Haifaa al-Mansour’s groundbreaking work sprang from illegal shoots as the first Saudi Arabian female filmmaker. Her debut feature, Oscar-nominated WADJDA, explores the tale of a 10-year-old girl growing up in the Saudi Arabian suburbs, who dreams of owning a bicycle. At its heart it is a harsh, yet hopeful, story of perseverance, rebellion, and complex family dynamics. As a follow-up to her most recent films, MARY SHELLEY and NAPPILY EVER AFTER, al-Mansour wants to tell more expansive and further-reaching stories about strong women from around the world.
Patricia Cardoso is the first Latina to win the Sundance Film Festival Dramatic Audience Award. She credits her academic work in anthropology as inspiration for creating characters that are multi-dimensional, complex, and human. Patricia directed REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES, which launched the career of America Ferrera and celebrates a first-generation Mexican-American woman’s passage to adulthood. Cardoso wants to continue making commercial films about Latinx and Latin-American communities that portray complex characters with dimensionality and dignity.
Hanelle Culpepper is a well-known voice in television, having directed numerous shows including “90210,” “Criminal Minds,” “How to Get Away With Murder,” and “The Flash,” and she is the first woman to launch a Star Trek series with “Star Trek: Picard.” “Star Trek” Executive Producer Alex Kurtzman praises her for being a “gifted and dynamic filmmaker whose directorial choices are always deeply rooted in character.” Within the next two years, Culpepper plans on making a feature that truly shows who she is as a director—as well as pilots and limited series television.
Growing up on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico, Sydney Freeland learned that art is what connects us to each other, and to something bigger than ourselves. Storytelling is in her DNA. She first caught the attention of the film world with her feature DRUNKTOWN’S FINEST, which explores the hardship and hope of three young Navajo Native Americans, each with their own complex history and identity. Freeland’s goal is to direct her first studio feature, while also using filmmaking as a bridge to connect her artistic and Indigenous lives.
Emmy Award-nominated Zetna Fuentes fell in love with stories from a young age, watching gangster movies with her father and telenovelas with her grandmother—but never imagined her path would lead to directing. Now, with credits on hit television shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “This Is Us,” “Scandal,” and “Jessica Jones,” Fuentes can’t imagine doing anything else. Her goal is to tell stories in both film and television that not only entertain, but also help to change the narrative of how people of color and women are represented on screen.
Tina Mabry’s breakthrough film MISSISSIPPI DAMNED was informed by her childhood in rural Tupelo, MS. She has been practicing her craft for 16 years, but it’s only in the last three years that her work has broken through to share meaningful stories with broad audience appeal. Most recently she directed her first studio feature for Fox Searchlight, THE SUPREMES AT EARL’S ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT, written by Gina Prince-Bythewood. As she continues to carve a distinctive path in the industry, it is her goal to bring marginalized voices into our industry at all levels of production.
Indian-American director and writer Meera Menon made a name for herself with her debut feature film FARAH GOES BANG. The road trip comedy won the Nora Ephron Prize at the Tribeca Film Festival for its heartwarming tale of female best friends who navigate adulthood and sexuality across America. Menon is also prolific in the television world, having directed episodes of “Glow,” “The Walking Dead,” and “The Magicians.” She wants to continue making commercially accessible films that provide platforms for marginalized talent, and is currently looking to direct her third feature film.
Keep an eye on these talented ReFrame Rise Directors coming to a big or small screen near you!
— Alison Emilio