Filmmaker Advisory Committee

The Filmmaker Advisory Committee is a team of volunteer filmmakers organized to assist with AFS Filmmaker Resources programs through event moderation, direct mentorship, and review of program applications, including Works-In-Progress and Fiscal Sponsorship.

Ya’Ke Smith (Austin) — FAC Chairperson

Ya’Ke Smith is the Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and an Associate Professor of Film in the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the youngest recipient of the Alumni of Distinction for Professional Achievement Award from the University of the Incarnate Word and previously the Morgan Woodward Distinguished Professor of Film at the University of Texas at Arlington. In 2020, Variety Magazine listed Smith as one of the top film educators from across the globe. An award-winning independent filmmaker, he has screened and won awards at over 100 film festivals. His work has been honored by the Director’s Guild of America, and he has been featured on NPR, CNN, Ebony Online, Indiewire, Variety, Filmmaker Magazine and Shadow & Act, among others.

Lizette Barrera (Arlington)

Lizette Barrera is a filmmaker whose films have played at festivals and networks worldwide, including her HBO previously licensed short films Mosca (Fly) and ¡Cóme!, ESPN-licensed short documentary film Mr. Pastor Jones and her short film Chicle (Gum) world premiering at SXSW. She received the AFS Development Grant for her upcoming feature Chicle (Gum). She is also a recipient of WarnerMedia’s 150 Grant and the SFFILM Rainin Grant and has been accepted to the Gotham Market for the anthology feature Untitled Texas Latina Project she is co-directing with four other directors. She has produced branded content for Prelude Films, including their Emmy-Award-winning video Allen Fire Department. In addition, Lizette has also served as a showrunner’s assistant on the Untitled Joshua Jackson & Lauren Ridloff Project by ARRA/WarnerBrothers. She received her MFA in Film Production at the University of Texas at Austin and has previously served as a Senior Lecturer and Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. She is in development for her feature Chicle (Gum) and anthology feature Untitled Texas Latina Project.

Amy Bench (Austin)

Filmmaker and cinematographer Amy Bench is drawn to telling stories of community and resilience. Her film Breaking Silence (2023), co-directed with Annie Silverstein and a co-production with Independent Lens (ITVS), won the Jury Award and Audience Award at SXSW and Best Short Doc at Atlanta Film Festival. The film won the My Justice Film Award at DOC NYC and is available on the PBS app. Amy’s previous film More Than I Want to Remember (2022) won an NAACP Image Award and was shortlisted for a 2023 Oscar®. The film won Best Short Doc at Hot Docs, Best Animated Short at Tribeca and is distributed by MTV Documentary Films and available on Paramount+. Cinematography collaborations include Every Body (2023, NBC/Focus Features), Holy Hell (2016, CNN FIlms), Mama Bears (2022, Independent Lens) and the 2019 Emmy Award-winning Outstanding Documentary Short Trans in America: Texas Strong.

Emily Hagins (Austin)

Emily Hagins wrote and directed her first feature at the age of 12 – a zombie movie, Pathogen. The documentary Zombie Girl: The Movie chronicled her process from start to finish. Pathogen was restored and distributed by the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) and Bleeding Skull! in 2022. Emily has written and directed six feature films, notably My Sucky Teen Romance (SXSW 2011, Dark Sky Films), Grow Up, Tony Phillips (SXSW 2013) and an adaptation of a YA teen heist novel, Coin Heist (Netflix Original Film). Her most recent feature film is the haunted house break-up horror comedy Sorry About The Demon (Shudder Original Film). She wrote/directed segments in two horror anthologies: “Touch” for ChillerTV’s Chilling Visions: The Five Senses of Fear and “Cold Open” for Shudder’s horror/comedy anthology Scare Package. She also completed the six-episode digital series Hold To Your Best Self (SXSW 2018) and the horror short First Kiss for Snapchat’s V/H/S series (SXSW 2019). 

Toby Halbrooks (Austin)

Toby Halbrooks is a writer/producer from Texas. His films include: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, A Ghost Story, The Old Man And The Gun, Never Goin’ Back, The Green Knight, Pete’s Dragon and Peter Pan & Wendy. 

Chelsea Hernandez (Austin)

Chelsea Hernandez is an Emmy-nominated Mexican-American filmmaker based in Austin, Texas. Named as DOC NYC’s 2021 “40 Under 40” class, Chelsea has worked for over 15 years in the documentary television and film industry on such projects like Fixing The Future (PBS) hosted by David Brancaccio of NPR’s Marketplace, the eight-episode doc series United Tacos Of America (El Rey Network) and the 10-episode doc series That Animal Rescue Show executive produced by Richard Linklater (CBS All Access). Chelsea was also editor and producer of Arts In Context (PBS, NETA) where she won eight Lone Star Emmys. Chelsea has directed and produced various documentaries including the 2018 SXSW Texas Short Jury winner An Uncertain Future (Field of Vision, Firelight Media); the feature documentary Building The American Dream (SXSW, PBS), a 2021 National Emmy nominee and Silver Telly Award winner for Social Impact; and the feature documentary Breaking The News (Tribeca, Independent Lens/PBS). She is a fellow of Firelight Media Doc Lab, NALIP Latino Media Market, BAVC National Mediamaker Lab, Tribeca All Access and WIF/Sundance Financing Intensive.

Daniel Laabs (Dallas)

Daniel Laabs’ debut feature Jules Of Light And Dark won the Grand Jury Prize at NewFest in 2018 and OutFest in 2019 and was released by Showtime in 2020. His short films have won several major awards including the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW in 2011. His previous and upcoming works have received support from the Biennale di Venezia Cinema College, the Austin Film Society, The Gotham, the San Francisco Film Society & Kenneth Rainin Foundation, US in Progress (Wrocław) and US & French Connection (Paris). Daniel currently works as a story producer and lead editor on various docuseries and moonlights as a film programmer/curator for international film festivals, film series and museums. 

Keith Maitland (Austin)

Keith Maitland is a writer/director/producer of fiction and non-fiction. Named one of Variety’s “10 Documakers to Watch,” in 2016 he released Tower, an emotional and action-packed retelling of America’s first mass shooting. Tower took three awards at SXSW, was nominated for Gotham, PGA and Peabody awards, was short-listed for the Academy Awards® and won the Emmy for Best Historical Documentary as well as the first-ever Critics Choice Award for Most Innovative Documentary. Keith’s latest doc, Dear Mr. Brody, was an official selection of Telluride and Tribeca in both 2020 and 2021 and SXSW 2021. The doc was released theatrically in March 2022 and found its streaming home on Discovery Plus. The founder of Austin-based production company Go-Valley, Keith finds himself writing screenplays and producing films, podcasts and animated projects in both fiction and non-fiction.

Kelly Daniela Norris (Austin)

Kelly Daniela Norris co-founded Rasquaché Films in 2008, and her debut feature, the Cuba-set drama Sombras De Azul (2013), won the Texas Independents Audience Award at the 2013 Austin Film Festival. Her second feature, Nakom (2016), which premiered at Berlinale, had its North American premiere at New Directors/New Films and was nominated for the John Cassavetes Award at the 2017 Independent Spirit Awards. Based in Austin, Kelly is a Mexican-American dual citizen and has taught courses on avant-garde cinema, film history and digital film production at UC Berkeley.

Bryan Poyser (Austin)

A two-time Independent Spirit Award nominee, writer/director Bryan Poyser has made three features and numerous short films as well as projects for Comedy Central, the USA Network, Ridley Scott Associates and HBO. Bryan’s feature Lovers Of Hate premiered in competition at the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for the John Cassavetes Award at the 2011 Independent Spirit Awards. His first feature, Dear Pillow, was also nominated for a Spirit Award in 2005. Bryan’s latest feature, Love & Air Sex, premiered at the SXSW Film Festival and was released by Tribeca Films. Most recently, he wrote an episode of the Duplass Brothers’ HBO series Room 104, and his 2022 short film Don’t You Go Nowhere screened in nearly 40 film festivals in five countries and won 14 awards. Bryan lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and daughter and teaches filmmaking at Texas State University.

Tamar Price (Houston)

Tamar Price is an executive producer focused on bringing unique and diverse stories to the forefront. She’s a Texas native and graduate of Texas State University. She’s most inspired by documentary work that highlights Black artists and people of color. The through-line in Tamar’s work is a motivation to present enlightening, thought-provoking work through film, visual art and digital platforms. Her background in production and digital content marketing has served her efforts in print and digital media, ad agency production and the development of cultural art initiatives. Her work has been distributed via PBS Digital and HOORAE’s YouTube channel and has been screened at SXSW, Palm Springs Short Fest, Indy Shorts Fest and more.

Iliana Sosa (Austin)

Iliana Sosa is an Austin-based filmmaker raised in El Paso, Texas, by Mexican immigrant parents. Her work has screened at festivals and museums, including SXSW, Full Frame, Camden, Morelia and the Museum of the Moving Image in NYC, and she’s held fellowships and residencies with Firelight Media, Sundance Institute, Berlinale Talents, True False/Catapult Rough Cut Retreat, Logan Nonfiction Program and Jacob Burns Film Center. Her work has been supported by Sundance, the Ford Foundation, Warner Media OneFifty, the SFFILM Rainin Grant, the Austin Film Society and Field of Vision. Her Gotham Award-nominated debut feature, What We Leave Behind (ARRAY Releasing), won two jury awards at SXSW 2022 and was a New York Times “Critic’s Pick.” It’s currently available to stream on Netflix. In 2020, she was one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film,” and in 2021, she was one of DOC NYC’s “40 Under 40.” Most recently, she directed a TV documentary episode for Jigsaw Productions and HBO Max. She is a DGA member and is an Assistant Professor in the Radio, Film, and TV department at the University of Texas at Austin.