USC Annenberg Names 11 Filmmakers for Inaugural ‘Proof of Concept’ Diversity Program

Cate Blanchett helped pick the winners, who will receive $50,000 grants to create short film reels to pitch to studios

Dr. Stacy L. Smith
Dr. Stacy L. Smith of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative

The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative has revealed the 11 filmmakers to be first selected for the “Proof of Concept” program, which provides grants and industry mentorship to young filmmakers as they develop short films to pitch as larger projects to studios.

The announcement was made Tuesday at the Cannes Film Festival by Annenberg Inclusion Initiative founder Dr. Stacy L. Smith alongside Oscar winner Cate Blanchett and Emmy-nominated producer Coco Francini, who both helped establish the new initiative.

“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. 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,” the trio said in a statement.

The “Proof of Concept” initiative was designed to expand the production pipeline in Hollywood to provide more opportunities for filmmakers from marginalized groups and to address long-standing gaps in the inclusion of women, trans and
nonbinary people
in film.

According to the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s most recent report, 6% of
directors across 1,600 top-grossing movies were women and less than one-third of all speaking characters on screen in those movies were girls, women, trans or non-binary people.

The participants in the program will receive $50,000 to support the creation of a short film that will serve as a “proof of concept” for a larger scale project. In addition to the funding, the participants will be mentored by industry experts and their films will be screened at a showcase.

The 11 participants were selected by a committee consisting of some of the most prominent creatives in Hollywood today. Along with Smith, Blanchett and Francini, the committee also included Chloé Zhao, Emma Corrin, Eva Longoria, Greta Gerwig, Jane Campion, Janicza Bravo, Lily Gladstone and Lilly Wachowski.

In addition to the eight narrative projects selected, three documentary applications were also accepted thanks to additional support from the Netflix Fund for Creative Equity.

“We are grateful to the applicants, our incredible selection committee and the Netflix Fund for Creative Equity for their unwavering support and guidance as we take another step towards creating an ecosystem that supports inclusion of gender-marginalized directors at the highest levels of the entertainment business,” Blanchett, Francini and Smith added.

The 11 filmmakers selected are featured below, beginning with the eight narrative “Proof of Concept” recipients:

Courtney E. Hoffman,”Sisters of Scott County”

When a foreclosure notice threatens their family farm, Cherry Mary and her redheaded sisters will have to pull off the biggest moonshine heist in history to save it. Inspired by 1970s films like “Smokey and the Bandits,” this action-packed female trucker movie is about family, legacy and destiny.

Ellie Foumbi, “Raw Sun”

An African nanny’s last day with the Texan family she’s been living with for over a decade is trickier than expected. 

Gabriela Garcia Medina, “SKRRRT!” 

A teen girl with muscular dystrophy must rally a group of frenemies to pull off an impossible heist to save their Miami neighborhood from a predatory real estate tycoon. 

Laura Moss, “Over and Over” 

In an age of climate anxiety, a young historian starts to suspect they may be humanity’s savior after experiencing recurring nightmares and sudden hallucinations. A film about the beginnings that come from endings, what things can be built and imagined, even in harrowing times.

Mahnoor Euceph, “Brown Girl” 

In 2007, seventh grader Sara desperately wants to be part of the popular trio that rules her affluent Palos Verdes middle school. When her birthday wish goes awry and she wakes up white instead of Pakistani, Sara must decide if her newfound privilege is worth losing her true identity. 

Nate Gualtieri, “Queerbait” 

A precocious college student is taken under the wing of an accomplished professor only to realize his mentorship comes with an ulterior sexual motive. 

Nicole Taylor-Roberts, “Ella” 

During a recording session, Ella Fitzgerald is transported back to her tumultuous adolescence by the haunting notes of a Gershwin song, revealing the life-altering bet that launched her into stardom and her pursuit to be loved. 

Rebecca Halfon, “HAGS”

When the feuding co-stars of a hit TV show find themselves flung back in time to the Salem Witch Trials, rewriting history is the only way they’ll survive. 

The 3 Nonfiction “Proof of Concept” recipients: 

Barbara Jean Hall, “Faithful Defenders” 

“Faithful Defenders” reclaims the “good news” about Christianity and reproductive rights. 

Gilly Barnes, “The Search for Magic”

“The Search for Magic” follows celebrated magician Michael Carbonaro on a quest to recapture his sense of wonder; by exploring the physics and metaphysics of the illusions he performs. 

Yoo Lee, “A Man Who Takes Pictures of Flowers”

One afternoon, Jung Myung Kim, a photographer who dedicated over 40 years to capturing wildflowers in Korea, shares his story of pursuing his passion for photographing flowers, while discovering true happiness in return, even as he battles cancer.

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