JURY + INDUSTRY GUESTS

The Jury

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MICHAEL FUKUSHIMA

 

In his 36-year career, Michael Fukushima has been an animator, filmmaker, producer, and head of the NFB’s Animation Studio. He’s a member of the AMPAS® Academy, with over 200 films (and some nice awards) under his belt. Most recently, he’s been producer on the Oscar®-nominated animation shorts, ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR (Alison Snowden and David Fine) and 2022 nominee AFFAIRS OF THE ART (Joanna Quinn and Les Mills). Now mostly retired, Fukushima skis, cycles, and cherry-picks projects that interest him and “spark joy”.

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MIMI POLK GITLIN

 

Mimi Polk Gitlin has over 30 years of experience as a producer, and film/TV production and finance executive. Gitlin produced one of the most talked-about films of its decade, THELMA AND LOUISE, which was nominated for 5 Academy Awards® and 5 Golden Globes, winning the Oscar® and Golden Globe for Best Screenplay. Gitlin also founded Gaia Entertainment which develops and produces high-caliber scripted and non-scripted series and features. In 2018 Gaia’s THE BREADWINNER was nominated for an Academy Award® and went on to win 19 prestigious awards around the world. Recently, Gitlin produced the documentary FREAK POWER: THE BALLOT OR THE BOMB on Hunter Thompson’s run for Sheriff in 1970 and executive produced the documentary FROM HELL TO HOLLYWOOD on Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Nick Ut. Gaia has a number of scripted features and series in development including IN AMBER’S WAKE with Christine Leunens (JOJO RABBIT) and ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE with Andy Black (NARCOS). Prior to Gaia, Gitlin served for three years as an Executive at Grosvenor Park Media working on films that include PS I LOVE YOU, PENELOPE, MISS POTTER and THE HURT LOCKER. Prior to Grosvenor Park, Gitlin was partnered for 13 years with acclaimed directors Ridley and Tony Scott overseeing the company’s financing, film and television production.

Valerie Steinberg

VALERIE STEINBERG

 

Valerie Steinberg is a film producer based in Los Angeles. She recently produced the feature film KARMALINK (dir. Jake Wachtel), a Cambodian “Buddhist sci-fi” that opened Venice Film Critics’ Week 2021. Her award-winning short films include HAIR WOLF (dir. Mariama Diallo; Sundance award winner, Aspen Shortsfest 2018, Criterion Channel), COFFEE SHOP NAMES (dir. Deepak Sethi; Aspen Shortsfest 2020, Tribeca X 2021, HBO Max), BLOCKS (dir. Bridget Moloney; Sundance 2020), FRY DAY (dir. Laura Moss; SXSW, Tribeca award winner, Criterion Channel), and THE NEW NANNY (dir. Bridget Moloney; Hulu). She is EP of several upcoming feature films, including BEAST (dir. Riley Keough/Gina Gammell), A24’s THE INSPECTION, and SILVER STAR. She is an alum of the Sundance x WIF Financing Intensive, Rotterdam Lab, Berlinale Talents, Venice Biennale College Cinema, Gotham Week, Film Independent Producing Lab, and Tribeca All Access. Valerie earned her BA in Philosophy and Chinese at Yale University.

Industry Guests

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OPAL H. BENNETT

 

Opal is an Emmy-winning co-producer and shorts producer at POV. Her first season curating POV SHORTS won the 2020 IDA Award for Best Short Form Series and the series broadcast the 2021 NewsDoc Emmy Winner for Short Documentary THE LOVE BUGS. Previously Opal was Shorts Programmer and Director of Artist Development at DOC NYC and Senior Programmer at Athena Film Festival. Prior to that, Opal also worked with Nantucket Film Festival, Aspen Shortsfest, Tribeca Film Festival and Gotham (formerly IFP). She is a Programming Consultant for the March on Washington Film Festival. Opal has served on juries for SXSW, Hot Docs, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Seattle International Film Festivals and IndieMemphis Film Festival among others. She has also served on the shorts selection committees for Cinema Eye Honors and the IDA. Opal has participated on various selection committees for film programming and grants. A Columbia Law grad, Opal holds a Masters in Media Studies from the LSE, and received her BA from New York University.

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BILL GERBER

 

Academy Award® nominee and Emmy winner Bill Gerber has spent over 30 years in the film business in several positions including President of Production at Warner Brothers Pictures and as Producer on such films as A STAR IS BORN, GRAN TORINO, A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT, WHAT’S MY NAME: MUHAMMAD ALI (for which he won an Emmy), and GRUDGE MATCH. He also has an Emmy nomination for executive producing the TV movie JAMES DEAN. Before joining Warner Brothers, Gerber was a partner at Lookout Management, a premier music management company that has represented such classic rock artists as Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Tom Petty, The Cars and Devo. Gerber attended Beverly Hills High School and the University of California, Santa Cruz where he studied music and environmental science.

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SARAH LASH

 

Sarah Lash is the Senior Director, Acquisitions at Condé Nast Entertainment (CNE), responsible for acquiring premium content for the company’s network of digital channels, including Glamour, GQ, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and WIRED. Lash started at CNE in 2014 as a consultant, helping to shepherd the acquisition of dozens of short films and series for digital distribution. Prior to joining CNE, Lash was Senior Vice President of Sales and Acquisitions for ATO Pictures where she executive produced the release of TERRI, negotiated deals for all acquisitions, and oversaw ancillary sales. In 2009, Lash produced the No Borders co-production market, organized by the Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP). Prior to that, she was the Head of Domestic Sales for Cinetic Media where she was instrumental in the sales of various titles for the Sundance, Cannes, Tribeca, and Toronto film festivals. Lash has also served as an agent at ICM, as Vice President of Acquisitions and Co-Productions at IFC, and as Director of Acquisitions at Lionsgate. Lash has a BA in English and Philosophy from Colgate University.

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CASEY SUNDERLAND

 

Casey Sunderland is an agent in the media finance department at leading entertainment and sports agency Creative Artists Agency (CAA). Sunderland works in the Los Angeles office and specializes in packaging, sourcing financing for, and/or selling the distribution rights to independently financed films. Sunderland joined CAA in 2015. Sunderland graduated from Colgate University with a degree in Economics and Film & Media Studies.