Proof of Concept names trans, non-binary filmmakers for program

Proof of Concept USC program

Nicole Taylor-Roberts, left, Nate Gualtieri, center, and Laura Moss are among the 11 grantees in USC’s accelerator program that’s designed to support women, transgender, and non-binary filmmakers. Photo: Proof of Concept

The USC accelerator program designed to support women, transgender, and non-binary filmmakers has announced the 11 directors accepted into the program.

Proof of Concept is spearheaded by Cate Blanchett; her producing partner, Coco Francini; and Stacy Smith, founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at USC. Additional support comes from the Netflix Fund for Creative Equity.

“We have been astonished by the artistry of all 1,200 filmmakers who applied to Proof of Concept, which proves that there are so many voices out there who deserve to find their audience,” Blanchett, Francini, and Smith said in a joint statement.

“Our final selection represents filmmakers who we felt had the experience and vision to take their careers to the next level and make creative and compelling film and television that may transform the landscape of storytelling,” they said.

The trio said this stage represents another step toward “creating an ecosystem that supports inclusion of gender-marginalized directors at the highest levels of the entertainment business.”

Proof of Concept is designed to address long standing gaps in the inclusion of women, trans, and non-binary filmmakers. For example, just 6% of directors across the 1,600 top-grossing released between 2007 and 2022 were directed by women, according to a recent report from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. Less than one-third of all speaking characters in those movies were women, trans, or nonbinary.

The Proof of Concept selection committee included Chloé Zhao, Emma Corrin, Eva Longoria, Greta Gerwig, Jane Campion, Janicza Bravo, Lily Gladstone, and Lilly Wachowski as well as Blanchett, Francini, and Smith.

Each grantee will receive $50,000 to support the creation of a short film that will serve as a “proof of concept” for a large-scale movie.

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Each early-career director also will be mentored by industry experts, and their films will be screened at a showcase.

Eight grantees will make narrative films, and three will make documentaries.

Here are the Proof of Concept  recipients for the narrative films:

  • Mahnoor Euceph’s “Brown Girls” follows a seventh-grader, wishing for popularity, who one day wakes up white instead of Pakistani. Euceph, who is Pakistani American, made her directorial debut with the short film “Eid Mubarak,” which won 15 awards and played at more than 40 international festivals.
  • Ellie Foumbi’s “Raw Sun” deals with an African nanny’s last day with the Texan family she’s been living with for over a decade. Foumbi, who is Cameroonian American, saw her debut film, “Our Father, the Devil,” premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Later, it was screened at more than 50 international film festivals, where it won several prizes.
  • Rebecca Halfon’s “Hags” is about feuding co-stars of a hit TV show flung back in time to the Salem witch trials. Halfon’s short films have played film festivals across the country, and she has directed and produced editorial and branded content.
  • Courtney E. Hoffman’s “Sisters of Scott County” is about siblings pulling a moonshine heist to save their family farm. Hoffman has been a costume designer on films including “The Hateful Eight” and “Baby Driver.” She has written for film and TV and wrote and directed the short film “The Good Time Girls” starring Laura Dern.
  • Gabriela Garcia Medina’s “Skrrt!” is about a teen girl with muscular dystrophy who rallies a group of frenemies to pull off an impossible heist to save their Miami neighborhood from a predatory real estate tycoon. Medina, who is a Cuban American, has made several short films, including “Little Con Lili,” “The 90 Day Plan,” and “Bertie the Brilliant.
  • Nate Gualtieri’s “Queerbait” is about a precocious college student being mentored by an accomplished professor who has an ulterior sexual motive. Gualtieri is a transmasculine writer-director who has been a staff writer on “Gotham Knights” and wrote the narrative documentary “Desire Lines,” which won the Sundance 2024 Special Jury Award. His latest short film, “Wrong Bathroom,” will premiere at festivals this summer.
  • Laura Moss’ “Over and Over deals with a young historian who suspects they may be humanity’s savior from climate change after experiencing recurring nightmares and sudden hallucinations. Moss was named one of Variety’s 10 LGBTQ Creators on the Rise in 2023. Their narrative feature debut, “Birth/Rebirth,” premiered in the Midnight section at Sundance last year and was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards.
  • Nicole Taylor-Roberts’ “Ella” portrays Ella Fitzgerald transported back to her tumultuous adolescence, revealing the life-altering bet that launched her into stardom and her pursuit to be loved. Taylor-Roberts is a screenwriter, director, and Emmy-nominated producer who recently made her TV directing debut with an episode of “Chicago Med.”

Here are the documentary recipients:

  • Gilly Barnes’ “The Search for Magic” follows magician Michael Carbonaro on a quest to recapture his sense of wonder by exploring the physics and metaphysics of the illusions he performs. Barnes is an Emmy-winning commercial and narrative director.
  • Barbara Jean Hall’s “Faithful Defenders” tells the “good news” about Christianity and reproductive rights. The overturning of Roe v. Wade led Hall to tell the stories of faithful Christians who don’t share the same opinions as the Christians who have co-opted the narrative on abortion. Hall has been an executive producer, producer, and director on feature documentaries, series, specials, and concerts for more than 20 years.
  • Yoo Lee’s “A Man Who Takes Pictures of Flowers” tells the story of Jung Myung Kim, a photographer battling cancer who has dedicated more than 40 years to capturing images of wildflowers in Korea.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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