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Disney and AFI Launch Underrepresented Storytellers Initiative for New Filmmakers (Exclusive)

Four filmmakers will be awarded with mentorship and a $35,000 short film grant

AFI and Disney are teaming up to launch the Underrepresented Storytellers Initiative in partnership with Disney’s Launchpad program to support emerging filmmakers, TheWrap can exclusively report.

Razzaaq Boykin, Paige Compton, Blake Pickens and Sophia Youssef are the recipients of the 2023 grant. Under the program, four first-time or second-time directors are selected to create a short film with a microgrant of $35,000. They will also participate in professional development workshops and mentor meetings hosted by AFI and Disney Launchpad.

AFI alum Deniese Davis, an Emmy-nominated producer and the Founder and CEO of Reform Media Group, will serve as Production Mentor to the four filmmakers. The Disney Launchpad Team and AFI will oversee applicant mentorship together. The program itself will be managed and overseen by AFI Conservatory’s Bridge to the Future program, as well as the Alumni Affairs office in the Lawrence Herbert Alumni Center.

The program marks Disney and AFI’s latest collaboration on programs supporting diversity and talent in the entertainment industry. The companies previously partnered on AFI’s Diverse Storytellers Scholarship Fund, AFI DWW+ and the AFI Cinematography Intensive for Women. Disney Launchpad and AFI most recently collaborated on the program curriculum for Launchpad filmmakers.

“Building on the success of our innovative programs that have redefined the landscape of the entertainment industry, the Disney/AFI Underrepresented Storytellers Initiative provides a critical opportunity for emerging filmmakers, and we look forward to working with our notable alumni to serve as mentors and our esteemed faculty to provide the necessary tools for success for each of the finalists,” said Susan Ruskin, dean of the AFI Conservatory and EVP of the American Film Institute. “Thank you to our collaborators at Disney for their continued commitment to increasing creative representation and championing the AFI community.”

Phillip Domfeh, Launchpad senior manager, said: “AFI has long been a successful training ground for the filmmakers of tomorrow. We couldn’t be more excited to expand our scope and work with them to reduce the social economic barrier to directing underrepresented storytellers face.”

Production on the finalists’ short films will begin in the coming weeks, and conclude in Summer 2023.