Austin Film Society Announces Ya’Ke Smith as the New Chair of its Filmmaker Advisory Committee

Eleven Texas Filmmakers Also Join the Committee to 
Support AFS’s Filmmaker Support Programs

December 5, 2023, AUSTIN, TX— The Austin Film Society announces AFS board member and filmmaker Ya’Ke Smith as the new chairperson for its Filmmaker Advisory Committee (FAC). The FAC is an invitation-only, volunteer group of established regional film directors and producers chosen to lend their expertise to AFS’s filmmaker support programs. Joining Smith will be nine new committee members and two returning members. Smith brings to the position a wealth of knowledge as both a filmmaker with ties throughout the Texas film industry and as a film educator. All new members of the FAC began their appointments on November 1, 2023, and terms last two years.

Bios for Ya’Ke Smith and new Filmmaker Advisory Committee members are below, and photos can be found here.

AFS relies on the expertise of the Filmmaker Advisory Committee to support its various filmmaker programs. The primary commitments of FAC members are to review AFS Works-In-Progress submissions and act as peer advisors for participating filmmakers, provide feedback on fiscal sponsorship applications and offer direct feedback and guidance to AFS’s program staff and AFS-supported filmmakers based on their experiences in the field. Members of the committee serve a two-year term with a chairperson appointed from within the AFS Board of Directors.

Alongside Ya’Ke Smith joining the FAC as its chairperson, the Austin Film Society will also welcome nine new filmmakers to the committee. These filmmakers, two of whom are returning committee members and many of whom have been supported by the AFS Grant, will supply a wide range of expertise and experience as producers, writers and directors of narrative and documentary features as well as short films. Committee members are also selected with the intent of having a presence throughout the various regions of the Texas film industry with members based in Austin, Dallas, Arlington and Houston, respectively. New committee members include Lizette Barrera (Chicle), Amy Bench (More Than I Want to Remember), Emily Hagins (Sorry About the Demon), Toby Halbrooks (writer/prod. Peter Pan & Wendy), Chelsea Hernandez (Breaking the News), Daniel Laabs (Jules of Light and Dark), Keith Maitland (Dear Mr. Brody), Kelly Daniela Norris (Nakom), Bryan Poyser (Lovers of Hate), Tamar Price (prod. We Are) and Iliana Sosa (What We Leave Behind).

Bios for the AFS Filmmaker Advisory Committee 2023-2025

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.

About Austin Film Society
Founded in 1985 by filmmaker Richard Linklater, AFS creates life-changing opportunities for filmmakers, catalyzes Austin and Texas as a creative hub, and brings the community together around great film. AFS is committed to racial equity and inclusion, with an objective to deliver programs that actively dismantle the structural racism, sexism and other bias in the screen industries. AFS supports filmmakers from all backgrounds towards career leaps, encouraging exceptional artistic projects with grants and support services. AFS operates Austin Studios, a 20-acre production facility, to attract and grow the creative media ecosystem. Austin Public, a space for our city’s diverse mediamakers to train and collaborate, provides many points of access to filmmaking and film careers. The AFS Cinema is an ambitiously programmed repertory and first run arthouse with broad community engagement. By hosting premieres, local and international industry events, and the Texas Film Awards, AFS shines the national spotlight on Texas filmmakers while connecting Austin and Texas to the wider film community. AFS is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

Will Stefanski

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