Meet the 2020 AFS Grant Recipients

The AFS Grant is at the heart of AFS filmmaker support programs. Since 1996, the Grant has nurtured the leading edge of Texas’ creative community by providing cash grants to emerging artists, with a focus on filmmakers who are underrepresented in the industry. This year the grant for feature filmmakers was expanded to provide much-needed resources for artists pushing to get projects off the ground, and finished, amidst the pandemic.

The AFS Grant has provided critical support to some filmmakers who became defining voices in contemporary independent film, including the Zellner Brothers, Kat Candler and David Lowery, among others. It’s a safe bet that in each new class of AFS grant recipients, there are a few artists whose work you’ll come to love. So with that in mind, meet this year’s talented roster of feature film grant recipients (the short film grant just opened, so stay tuned for part 2 later this year).

If you’re a festival-goer, you might have seen one of Arlington, TX-based Lizette Barrera’s award-winning shorts over the years at SXSW, Cine Las Americas, and Women Texas Film Festival. Her 2016 film MOSCA (FLY) is currently in distribution with HBO. This year’s AFS Grant will help her adapt her short CHICLE, which was nominated for the 2019 SXSW Grand Jury Award, into a feature film. You can watch the trailer for CHICLE below.

Ya’Ke Smith has been featured on NPR, CNN, HLN, Ebony Online, Indiewire, Filmmaker Magazine and Shadow&Act. His short DAWN was picked up by HBO. Most recently his powerful short DEAR BRUH: A EULOGY. A BAPTISM. A CALL TO ACTION. gained national attention in the aftermath of George’s Floyd’s killing and the national movement that has followed.

Kim Tran’s autobiographical dramedy ZOE AND HAHN played at SXSW last year and was praised by as “a fresh and pleasurable addition to the genre of mother/daughter generational and cultural conflict.” Now, with the support of the AFS Grant she will adapt her hit short into a feature length film.

If you’ve been keeping up with our recent programming, you are likely familiar with Annie Silverstein’s AFS-supported drama BULL, which played Cannes last year before coming to our virtual cinema this summer. Prior to that, Silverstein directed the Cannes Cinefondation-winning short SKUNK. Her next AFS-supported feature is called A TIME, A PLACE.

Solomon Onita’s TAZMANIAN DEVIL stars Abraham Attah (BEASTS OF NO NATION) and is produced by Birdman and Benny Boom. This powerful film tells the story of a Nigerian immigrant struggling to find balance between his new life in a fraternity and his estranged family. The grant will support the film’s distribution phase, so keep an eye out for TAZMANIAN DEVIL release details soon.

Angela Chen is a prolific director who has directed dozens of short films in the last decade. The AFS Grant will support her first move into feature fiction, FLY GIRL, which tells the story of a 42-year-old, recently-divorced Vietnamese American woman who joins a 90s-inspired hip-hop dance team. FLY GIRL is written by Christine Hoang, whose script was selected as a 2019 Sundance Second Rounder and a Top 20 Finalist in the Austin Film Festival’s Pitch Finale. Watch the trailer for Chen’s last short film, OUR HOME HERE, below.

Austin-based Shadi Qutob’s short BASTARDS, which played last year’s Austin Film Festival, explored the prevalence of anti-blackness in the Arab community. Qutob’s new feature project, FANDOM, explores a different facet of the Arab identity, following a Pakistani Woman who garners unexpected attention when her fan art goes viral, and then faces the backlash from the fan community’s toxic side. Watch BASTARDS below.

Clint Bentley wrote and co-produced the acclaimed Texas-made thriller TRANSPECOS, and was flagged as one of 25 Screenwriters to Watch in 2017 by MovieMaker Magazine. TRANSPECOS is now streaming on Hulu, Prime and Vudu. With the support of the AFS Grant, Bentley will make his feature directing debut with the drama JOCKEY, which expands upon the short 9 RACES.

Kelly Daniela Norris is another emerging filmmaker to get the attention of Filmmaker Magazine, who selected her as one of 25 New Faces of Film in 2016. Her 2013 feature film, SOMBRAS DE AZUL, is available to watch via our own Lone Star Slate streaming program. Her last feature, NAKOM (streaming on Prime), was nominated for a Best First Feature award at the Berlin International Film Festival and a Film Independent Spirit Awards John Cassavettes Award.

Robie Flores is a journalist and documentarian living in Eagle Pass, TX. Her doc feature THE IN BETWEEN will capture coming-of-age moments among residents along the U.S.-Mexico border. Her journalism work has appeared on CNN, Bloomberg, Teen Vogue, Fusion, Allure and i-d Vice.

Marfa-based director Margaret Crow’s project will follow a group of teenagers at a high school 10 miles from the US/Mexico border during their senior year and as they navigate what lies beyond. Her last feature, JACKSON (named for the Mississippi city with the state’s last abortion clinic), won an Emmy for Best Social Issue Film, and was hailed by Criterion Cast as “easily one of the year’s strongest documentaries.”


Christian Vasquez is a Dallas-based documentary filmmaker and journalist whose work has been featured by The Dallas Morning News, D Magazine, KERA, CBS 11, and has been screened at Dallas International Film Festival and the Dallas VideoFest. His forthcoming documentary feature explores the power of storytelling, and its capacity to mend, through the work of Dr. Njoki McElroy, a master storyteller, educator, and activist.

Jeremy Rodgers hails from Taylor, TX, and his debut documentary feature, FROM THE GROUND UP, follows a family of Palestinian farmers in the West Bank and their decades-long legal struggle to retain their ancestral farm. Finding creative, nonviolent means of resistance, the family embody their motto: “We Refuse to be Enemies.”

Ray Santisteban’s last documentary feature, THE FIRST RAINBOW COALITION, examined the influential effort to unite disparate racial groups during the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 70s. The doc debuted on PBS’s Independent Lens series earlier this year and is now available via PBS.

Alejandro Sescosse and Anna Veselova’s TLALOC is a phantasmagorical romance of digital illusions set in the near future where the threat to human life is existential worldwide due to the slow collapse of natural ecosystems. (Below, the filmmakers at the premiere of INVENTION OF NATURE at Festival de Cine Radical, Cinemateca Boliviana)

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