Meet the Recipients of the 2022 AFS Grant for Feature Films
Today, AFS announced the 2022 recipients of the AFS Grant for Feature Films, the annually renewed fund for emerging Texas filmmakers. Eleven projects by fourteen director applicants were selected for awards: four narrative features, six documentaries, and one experimental feature. As with each group of grantees, this year’s roster is one you’ll want to keep an eye on as they develop and refine their feature films.
Funding from AFS Grants provides a vital resource to Texas-based independent filmmakers and a baseline of support for a growing and diversifying independent film scene. The grant is known for creating life-changing opportunities for artists based in Texas, who are often from underrepresented backgrounds, and working outside of the large coastal industry centers. Intended to support career leaps for emerging to mid-career artists in Texas, the AFS Grant often launches the careers of filmmakers who have yet to be recognized by national funders. This year’s group of grantees demonstrates the organization’s ongoing commitment to empowering Texas-based storytellers and creating more access and equity in the regional independent film sector. Read on below to find out more about the filmmakers.
Meet the 2022 AFS Grant for Feature Films Recipients
Directed by Estefanía Contreras and Silvia Castaños
Silvia Castaños and Estefanía Contreras are interdisciplinary artists and directors of HUMMINGBIRDS, a collaborative feature-length self-portrait about their friendship and formative experiences coming of age in Laredo, Texas. HUMMINGBIRDS has received support from Ford Foundation/JustFilms, Field of Vision, Doc Society/Threshold Fund, Sundance Documentary Fund, SFFILM, and Chicken & Egg Pictures. Estefanía and Silvia have represented the HUMMINGBIRDS team as 2021 Sundance/WIF Financing Intensive Fellows, 2021 NBCU Original Voices Fellows, 2022 BAVC fellows, and as participants in 2022 Visions du Reel’s Works in Progress. In addition to filmmaking, Estefanía is a musician, photographer, and tattoo artist who dreams of living in space. Silvia is a poet, community organizer, and a transit planner for the City of Boston. While in post-production on HUMMINGBIRDS, they are developing a new collaborative film portrait of women’s lives on both sides of the border.
Directed by Katherine Propper
Katherine Propper is an Austin-based writer and director. Her short film BIRDS won a special jury prize at SXSW ’22 and at the International Competition at Clermont-Ferrand ’22. Her short films have screened at a variety of film festivals around the world including at BFI London, Tribeca, Palm Springs, Aspen, and have been selected to screen on The New Yorker, Short of the Week, PBS, and Omeleto. Her AFS-supported feature debut LOST SOULZ is participating in Gotham Week’s Narrative Feature Lab 2022.
Directed by Hammad Rizvi
Hammad Rizvi is an award-winning writer and director based in Texas. As a Pakistani-American and Third Culture Kid, his films often showcase stories that are as diverse as they are raw. He is best recognized for his films RANI (Hulu, NBCUniversal Short Film Festival), ROAD TO PESHAWAR (Palm Springs Shortfest), and SUNNY SQUARE (Houston Worldfest). Hammad received his MFA from UT-Austin, is currently developing his first feature film, and has yet to find a cure for the travel bug.
Directed by Don Swaynos
Don Swaynos recently directed the dark comedy DON’T EVER CHANGE. The film was selected as a Vimeo Staff Pick, featured on Short of the Week and Birth.Movies.Death, and is currently distributed by Gunpowder & Sky. Don has also produced several feature films including Berndt Mader & Ben Steinbauer’s comedy doc CHOP & STEELE (Tribeca, Fantastic Fest), Brad Besser’s meta documentary about a documentary BEAVER TRILOGY PART IV (Sundance), and Travis Matthews’ experimental thriller DISCREET (Berlinale). As an editor, Don has cut films for Yen Tan, Anna Margaret Hollyman, Julio Quintana, The New York Times, and the American Genre Film Archive, he has also edited multiple television series including CNN’s Emmy-nominated High Profits.
STATE CHAMPS EAT FREE
Directed by Adriane McCray
Adriane McCray is a filmmaker, wandering native Texan and University of Pennsylvania graduate. She is a former Juanita J. Craft artist-in-residence at the South Dallas Cultural Center, in-house resident at The TX Studio, and fellow at BlackStar’s William and Louise Greaves Filmmaker Seminar. Adriane’s work has been recognized by publications Glasstire and The Guardian, exhibited at Austin’s W&TW and Art214 and currently lives in The Studio Museum of Harlem’s archive. Her films and multimedia work will presented in a solo show at SDCC later this year. After supporting various writers, filmmakers, and video artists, Adriane began writing and directing films of her own. Her latest short film, CHILD RUNAWAYS, premiered at SXSW 2022 as part of the Austin Film Society ShortCase. She’s currently developing feature film STATE CHAMPS EAT FREE, a 2021 Austin Film Festival Drama Semifinalist. As television staff writer, she will join Apple+ limited series, Firebug, based on the true crime podcast by the same name.
Directed by LaTasha Taylor Starr & Dr. Ariel Leslie
Professor LaTasha Taylor Starr is the Executive Director of ESTe2M Dreamers, a non-profit organization that strives to improve the academic success rate of local youth by providing opportunities for STEM-focused summer camps, tutoring and after-school programs. Her latest project entitled STEM Roots, follows students through the genetic engineering process from a STEM, confidence building and family engagement perspective. In addition to project based learning activities in DNA collection and analysis, the actual scientific process as well as the student/family perspective will be highlighted as an innovative pathway for comparing information assumed about their heritage with the reality of their African Diaspora roots, discovered through STEM. LaTasha graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Aeronautics from Tennessee State University. At the University of Washington (Seattle), LaTasha earned her first Engineering Master’s degree followed by a second Master’s in Industrial, Manufacturing and Systems Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) in 2020. Her passion for STEM education is evident through her professorship at Dallas College, San Juan College and Texas A&M University, where she not only teaches Engineering, but also paves the way for student internship collaborations.
Dr. Ariel Leslie is a native of the DFW metroplex. Upon graduation from Plano East Senior High, she attended Texas Southern University in Houston, TX where she obtained a BS in Mathematics and Health Studies. Dr. Leslie then received her doctoral degree of University of Texas at Arlington in Arlington, TX in December of 2019. She studied and published in the area of computational/mathematical neuroscience. While in graduate school, she was one of eleven National Science Foundation Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation scholars. Dr. Leslie obtained awards for her research and teaching abilities. She is currently a Data and Metrics Analyst at Lockheed Martin, a defense company. Dr. Leslie enjoys spending time with her family and friends, volunteering, and teaching children all about STEM. Sharing crucial information about education and helping others is her true life passion.
THE CHRISTMAS CARD
Directed by Lucy Kerr
Lucy Kerr is a filmmaker and artist working through performance and video based in Houston and upstate New York. She received a dual MFA in Film/Video and Art from California Institute of the Arts on the Lillian Disney Scholarship. Kerr received a B.A in Philosophy and a B.A. in Dance and Choreography from The University of Texas at Austin and was the grand prize winner of the University Co-op / George H. Mitchell Awards for Academic Excellence. Her projects have been presented by FIDMarseille, San Sebastian International Film Festival, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, La Mama, REDCAT, Anthology Film Archives, The McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, The MATCH Houston, and others. She was selected to participate in FIDLab 2022, where she won the AirFrance Prize for her film, THE CHRISTMAS CARD, and she received a Travel Grant from Austin Film Society in 2021.
Directed by Huay-Bing Law & Sam Mohney
Huay-Bing Law is a Taiwanese American director and cinematographer born and raised in Houston, TX. His narrative and documentary films often center on marginalized Asian American stories in the south, and have earned an HBO APA Visionary Award, Princess Grace Award, and played in festivals worldwide. Huay currently resides in Austin, where he lectures at the University of Texas at Austin and Texas State University while developing his first feature film.
Sam Mohney is a Chinese-American director and cinematographer based in Austin, TX. He holds a BA with Honors in Film Studies from Wesleyan University and an MFA in Film Production from the University of Texas at Austin, where he met collaborator and filmmaking partner Huay-Bing Law. He currently lectures at Texas State University.
TONKAWA: THEY ALL STAY TOGETHER
Directed by Andrew Richey
Andrew C. Richey has a long career both as a filmmaker and educator. His credits include Fig, directed by Ryan Coogler, a narrative short about human trafficking that was purchased and aired on HBO for two years and the critically-acclaimed documentary CODE BLACK, which was picked up by CBS as a fictional, hour-long drama that ran for three seasons. He also worked with the internationally- renowned director Terrance Malick helping finish the decades old documentary VOYAGE OF TIME reflecting on the entirety of natural history. He has worked in entertainment on three continents over two decades and continues to produce internationally. Andrew received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theater Directing from Southwestern University and obtained his MFA at the University of Southern California’s prestigious school of Cinematic Arts. He has taught dramatic arts both in the United States and Taiwan. Presently, he is a Professor in Austin Community College’s RTF program and at Southwestern University. He lives in Austin where his wife and three daughters renew his inspiration daily.
UNTITLED PHILIPPINES PROJECT
Directed by PJ Raval
Named one of Out Magazine’s ‘OUT 100′, PJ Raval is a queer, first generation Filipinx American filmmaker whose work examines social justice issues through the voices of queer and marginalized subjects. PJ’s body of film work has been distributed widely on platforms such as Netflix, PBS and Showtime and has been supported by the Arcus Foundation, Bertha Foundation, Center for Asian-American Media, Firelight Media, Sundance, Tribeca Film Institute, and the Ford Foundation. PJ is a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow and a 2021 Soros Justice Fellow. He is a co-founder board member of the queer transmedia arts organization OUTsider, and is an Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin in the Department of Radio TV Film. He serves on the leadership team of the Asian American Documentary Network (A-Doc) and is a Producers Guild of America member, and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences where he serves on the executive committee and the Academy Museum Inclusion Advisory Board.
WHERE THE TREES BEAR MEAT
Directed by Alexis Franco
Alexis Franco was born on November 21, 1975. He lives and works in the United States. In his two careers, Cinema and Architecture, he has participated in a selection of projects with worldwide recognition. He was involved in movies like: THE PASSAGE, LOW TIDE, STOP THE POUNDING HEART, THE OTHER SIDE, and WHAT YOU GONNA DO WHEN THE WORLD IS ON FIRE? where he worked with the renowned Film Director Roberto Minervini as his Assistant Director. All the films toured the world with premieres at important festivals such as Cannes, Venice, Toronto, Argentina, New York, Germany, Spain, etc. He also worked on a documentary in CUBA: EL QUIJOTE DEL CARIBE and eventually was involved as Executive Producer of the film DIRTY FEATHERS which had its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. He studied music at the American Musical Institute where he obtained the titles of Professor of Music. As an Architect in the United States, he became an international member of the American Institute of Architects. In Houston Texas he works at Collaborative Designworks. Alexis designed and participated in many projects that were awarded and recognized state and nationally. Now he is producing a film in Japan and working on his first two films as a director, WHERE THE TREES BEAR MEAT and PERMEABLE PRISONS, in Argentina, Spain, United States, and Portugal.
As always, our AFS Grant recipient projects were chosen by a panel of three esteemed film industry professionals. This year’s panelists included:
Emmy nominee Xan Aranda is an award-winning filmmaker and showrunner of AppleTV’s forthcoming OMNIVORE, directed by Cary Fukunaga. She is also showrunner of Netflix’s MY LOVE, which filmed in six countries. Xan has worked with HBO, Amazon, Focus Features, the Duplass Brothers, and others.
Malin Kan is a film programmer based in Los Angeles. She holds a BA in Film and Media Studies from the University of California, Berkeley and an MA from the University of California, Los Angeles in Moving Image Archive Studies. She is currently Senior Programmer, Feature Films, with AFI Festivals at the American Film Institute, where she has been since 2016.
Hailed by Filmmaker Magazine as one of 2018’s New Faces of Independent Film, Carey Williams is a director bringing a unique and visually striking cinematic eye to the exploration of the human condition. His first feature R#J, a modern-day retelling of Romeo and Juliet, premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and the feature version of his Sundance and SXSW Award-winning short film EMERGENCY, now available via Amazon.