Lena Waithe and Hillman Grad Productions President of Film/ TV Rishi Rajani - TRIBECA - AmNews Curtain Raiser


Friday, June 18, 2021

Lena Waithe and Hillman Grad Productions President of Film/ TV Rishi Rajani - TRIBECA

Last night Indeed, the world's number one job site, Emmy Award-Winning Writer, Creator, and Actor Lena Waithe; Hillman Grad Productions President of Film/ TV Rishi Rajani; Indeed CEO Chris Hyams and Group VP LaFawn Davis; and 10 emerging BIPOC filmmakers premiered their final films for the ‘Rising Voices’ program at Pier 76 in NYC. 

Guests were treated to a pre-screening discussion featuring Lena Waithe, Rishi Rajani and Indeed executives, CEO Chris Hyams and Group VP LaFawn Davis. The four discussed the ‘Rising Voices’ initiative, which showcases the power of how jobs change our world as well as the process of mentoring each of the 10 filmmakers through the filmmaking process.


Back in February, Indeed partnered with Lena Waithe and her company Hillman Grad Productions to create the ‘Rising Voices’ to uncover, invest in, and share stories created by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) filmmakers and storytellers around the singular theme of the meaning of work, and the idea that jobs can change us all. Each of the 10 films premiered last night during a special event at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Executives from Hillman Grad Productions, Indeed, Ventureland, and PRETTYBIRD filmmakers along with program mentors Calmatic, Paul Hunter, and Melina Matsoukas, selected the 10 screenplays from over 850 applications. Each filmmaker was awarded a $10,000 writing fee, received a $100,000 production budget, a dedicated line production crew through Hillman Grad and 271 Films, and had access to an additional $25,000 COVID budget to ensure the safety of the cast and crew. Best of all, through this strategic partnership, 10 filmmakers were able to create 626 jobs in front and behind the camera. 


Lena on Rising Voices - “Whenever I talk to up and coming filmmakers they always tell me finding money is the biggest hurdle they face. That’s why I’m so grateful to Indeed: Rising Voices, for helping us give ten filmmakers both money to make their films and mentorship while they do it,” Waithe, Hillman Grad’s CEO, said in a statement. “This is a great opportunity for these filmmakers, but it’s also a great opportunity for us,” Waithe continued. “We get a first look at tomorrow’s storytellers and we can’t wait to introduce them to the world.”


Please let me know if you are interested in sharing this story with your readers. Below is more information and background on the emerging filmmakers and their respective short films. Thank you for your time and consideration!


10 Filmmaker Finalists include:

  • Boma Lluma: University of Southern California graduate with studies in theater, cinema, and International Relations, Boma Iluma is a writer, director, and visual artist from Abuja, Nigeria. He started his career acting in commercials for brands such as Cartoon Network and the NBA as well as acting in theatre productions in Atlanta before deciding to pursue directing at USC.

Boma directed the visual art piece, Negus, which premiered in LA art circles in 2019. He followed this with HEiRS for Nike’s Air Jordan, a Generation Z reimagining of the brand-which premiered at 2020’s New York Fashion Week followed by a showcase at Jumpman LA.

  • COMFORT: After an ICE raid, a Nigerian immigrant father must tell his son why his mother is not coming home.

  • David Fortune: Born the eighth of 10 children, David Fortune gives praises to his family as the biggest supporters of his filmmaking dreams. Similar to the experience of Trey in his short film Shoebox, David’s family and community have acted as incubators, allowing him to continue on the path to his dreams, despite the many struggles and obstacles.

    • SHOEBOX: After sweeping hair at a local barbershop, a 12-year-old boy uses his first payment to honor his late mother.

  • Deondray Gossfield and Quincy LeNear Gossfield: Deondray Gossfield and Quincy LeNear Gossfield are married, award-winning filmmakers, TV producers, and the creators of the Daytime Emmy® nominated The Chadwick Journals, whose careers began after creating the groundbreaking, GLAAD award-winning cable TV series, The DL Chronicles. After years off the scene, the Gossfields now reside in Atlanta where they are focused on their crafts as directors and writers, developing feature film and television projects with the goal of joining the renaissance of working LGBTQ+ and BIPOC storytellers.

    • FLAMES: Unresolved issues and old resentments ignite a forbidden blaze between two childhood friends that must be doused if one is to have any chance of escaping the past.

  • Dre Ryan: Dre Ryan can attest to the fact that a filmmaker’s journey is often non-linear. After graduating from film school, directing opportunities in Hollywood were few and far between and she was unable to finance her own films. Needing to support her family, Dre switched career paths and became a clinical therapist before finally getting booked in a writer’s room. After working as a writer, producer, and showrunner for ten years, Dre is finally getting her opportunity to direct and wouldn’t have it any other way. “Now I arrive - a mature artist, ready and able, who can bring the full power of my experiences and skillset as a storyteller and person as I step into directing and fulfill my postposed dream and purpose.”

    • CINEPHILE: Determined to portray an authentic depiction of female pleasure for her role in a film, a movie star accepts her therapist's offer for an unconventional treatment and discovers the enigma of desire…

  • Elisee Junior St Preux: Cultivated by the shady palm trees of North Miami Beach and the delicate cuisine of Haiti, Elisee Junior St Preux exploits his craft in film as an actor, writer, and director. Ultimately designing his content through explicit dreams, imagination, and a lively childhood, Elisee shares his love for film through his film blog "The Movie Butter Playbook,'' and screenwriting label "À LA MODE Films." Elisee's solemn goal is to bear witness and share stories that reflect today, honor the past and re-imagine the future.

    • AURINKO IN ADAGIO: Isolated from society in a deserted delta community with his austere father, a child musical prodigy prepares for the audition of a lifetime while navigating a newfound skill in ancestral dreaming.

  • Gabriela Ortega: Dominican born, Gabriela Ortega was raised in a matriarch where work was a rare privilege for women. Inspired by her process of decolonization,
    self-healing, and learning about her ancestors, Gabriela wrote a film that explores the limitations of generational curses and gives power to emotional work. Her opportunity to create led to the opportunity to heal.

    • ​HUELLA:  Following the death of her grandmother, a disenchanted flamenco dancer resigned to a desk job is forced to rekindle her passion by confronting a family curse.

  • ​Johnson Cheng: Johnson Cheng’s films have been official selections at over 100 international film festivals, including Tribeca, AFI FEST, Toronto, and many others. His first short film, IRON HANDS, premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival and was acquired by Topic Studios and Film Movement, while his second short film, LONELY BLUE NIGHT, premiered at the 2020 AFI FEST where it won the Audience Award and is currently streaming on HBO/HBO Max. Johnson is an HBO APA Visionary, recipient of the Princess Grace Award, and an alumnus of Film Independent’s Project Involve, VC’s Armed With a Camera Fellowship, the NYFF Artist Academy, and Columbia University’s M.F.A. Film Directing/Screenwriting program. Johnson is repped by WME.

    • ONLY THE MOON STANDS STILL: The sun rises and sets. The stars dance, and fade away. Only the moon stands still.

  • Kantú Lentz: Kantú Lentz described her passion for visual storytelling as innate, passed down from her photojournalist mother and her portrait photographer grandmother. Witnessing the courageous commitment her mother made to documenting terrorism and corruption in Peru, Kantú learned the importance of hard work while gaining strength and resilience.

    • COCHE BOMBA: Rosa loves aliens and hates everything else, including her annoying little sister. When a car bomb detonates, Rosa must bring her sister to safety by convincing her that aliens have arrived.

  • Shelly Yo: Shelly Yo grew up in the suburbs of LA, a daughter to working-class Korean immigrants. Surrounded by friends of wealthier backgrounds, Shelly felt inferior and questioned her mother’s work ethic. The struggles her mother faced to secure and maintain a job were unbeknownst to Shelly until she entered the workforce herself and met similar hardships; ultimately allowing Shelly to have a deeper level of understanding, respect, and connection with her mother.

    • SOFT SOUNDS OF PEELING FRUIT: ​A coming of age story of a rebellious Korean American teenager named Hayoung who discovers the complexities of her mother’s love.

  • Stacy Pascal Gaspard: When Stacy Pascal Gaspard’s family immigrated to the United States, the impetus was to allow their children the opportunity to get a good education and chase the American Dream. Yet Stacy was more driven by her own dreams of filmmaking and found a way to pursue it despite the skepticism of her Afro-Latin/Caribbean parents.

    • SOÑADORA: A young Caribbean immigrant mother struggling to make ends meet at her fabric factory job finds a release through her abandoned dream of dance.

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