DOC NYC’s Documentary New Leaders Award honors individuals whose efforts and fresh thinking on distribution, sales, festivals, and marketing bring greater inclusion and equity to the field. The initiative is co-presented by A&E.
Now in its inaugural year, the initiative recognizes 16 Documentary New Leaders who reflect the breadth and depth of rising talent in the documentary field. The list of 16 recipients draws from eight U.S. cities and covers a wide range of experience, from grassroots organizing to non-profit grantmaking to international distribution and beyond. While several honorees are filmmakers, this program highlights their leadership in roles that shape industry practices and culture.
The selection process began with an open call for submissions. Nearly 100 candidates were reviewed by a six-person selection committee of that included Caitlin Boyle, DOC NYC’s Director of Industry and Education; Opal H. Bennett, DOC NYC’s Director of Filmmaker Development; IFC Center’s Operations Manager Asha Phelps; DOC NYC’s Executive Director Raphaela Neihausen; DOC NYC’s Artistic Director Thom Powers; and DOC NYC’s Director of Programming Basil Tsiokos. Over the next year, the New Leaders program will host monthly gatherings for the honorees, offering a forum for mentorship, camaraderie, collaboration, and organizing.
Honorees are listed below.
Equity & Representation Team Lead, New Day Films
Brenda Avila-Hanna is an award-winning filmmaker, video journalist, and educator. Born and raised in Mexico City, her films mostly focus on transnational narratives between Latin America and the United States. Her work has been showcased at HotDocs, Lakino Berlin, Frameline, Fusion Network and Cine Las Americas International Film Festival, among many others. Brenda has been a Fellow at BAVC’s National MediaMaker, the National Minority Consortia Lab through LPB, the NALIP Media Market and DocsMX. She is also a member-owner of New Day Films, an independent filmmaker collective bringing social justice films to educators. She currently serves in the collective’s Steering Committee as the team lead for Equity & Representation. Brenda is also a programmer for the Watsonville Film Festival and a Mentor for the Latino Film Institute’s Youth Cinema Project. Brenda received a Master’s degree in Social Documentation from UC Santa Cruz, where she has also taught courses on the intersection of filmmaking, education, and social change.
Executive Director, Center for Media & Social Impact, American University School of Communication
Founder & Director, Brown Girls Doc Mafia
Coordinating Producer, America ReFramed
Robert Y. Chang is the Coordinating Producer of America ReFramed and is part of the American Documentary Programming & Production team. American Documentary is the producer of POV, POV Shorts, and America ReFramed. America ReFramed is committed to presenting diverse stories that illuminate complex social issues. The curated year-round series can be seen on public television’s WORLD Channel. America ReFramed’s weekly national broadcasts pose an array of experiences through which viewers can contemplate our past, understand our present, and challenge the reimagining of America’s future. Robert contributes to series curation, coordinates production and release of digital assets, and assists in managing submissions, film evaluations, and filmmaker deliverables. He has served as juror, screener, programmer, panelist, and reviewer for a range of film festivals and arts funders. He received his Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology at NYU for his research on the intersection of religion and media. Robert is also a documentary filmmaker whose work has screened worldwide at festivals and is distributed by Documentary Educational Resources (DER). He is a member of the Producers Guild of America.
Multi-Emmy-nominated Abby Lynn Kang Davis primarily collaborates with storytellers and curators in non-fiction. Throughout her career, Abby has focused on breaking underrepresented voices into the commercial television and film industry. Her specialized skill set identifying viable talent, advocacy and mentorship on behalf of unknown storytellers has garnered millions in sales revenue, top-tier film festival invitations and award nominations. Abby began her career at Freestyle Picture Company, where she assisted in the directorial debuts of top female talent such as Jennifer Aniston, Zoe Saldana, and Olivia Wilde. Abby began the next phase of her career as an agent at Preferred Content, and over her six-year tenure was responsible for bringing multiple projects to market, among them being Rich Hill (Sundance 2014), The Bad Kids (Sundance 2016) and 78/52 (Sundance 2017) and executive producing Emmy-nominated Long Shot (Telluride 2017/Netflix Originals), Emmy-winning 306 Hollywood (Sundance 2018/PBS POV), Wrinkles the Clown (Magnolia) and the television docuseries The Devil You Know (Viceland). Abby went on to serve as Head of Originals at Breakwater Studios (BS), one of the first venture-backed branded content studios by MWM’s Gigi Pritzker. Among the projects she developed and produced while at BS was The New York Times’ Emmy-nominated series Almost Famous (Telluride 2020 / Op Docs). Currently Abby is the founder of character., a producing and consulting company that focuses on discovering and advocating for underrepresented storytellers into the commercial film and television marketplace. Abby is originally from Michigan and splits her time between Chicago and Los Angeles.
Director, IF/Then Shorts, Field of Vision
Chloe Gbai is an Emmy-nominated producer and the Director of IF/Then Shorts at Field of Vision, a program that identifies and supports original, standalone short documentaries by filmmakers working in and representing their communities. Previously, as the POV Shorts and Streaming Producer, she launched POV Shorts, which, in its first season, earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Short, two Emmy nominations and an IDA Awards nomination for Best Short Form Series. She is a proud member of Brown Girls Doc Mafia, a 2020 Impact Partners Producing Fellow, and a member-in-residence of the Meerkat Media Collective.
Digital Operations Lead, New Day Films
Cheryl Green MFA, MS is a captioner, audio describer, audio and video producer, 2017 AIR New Voices Scholar, and a Member-Owner and the Digital Operations Lead at New Day Films. She brings her personal experiences with invisible disabilities to creating media that explores politically and culturally engaged stories from cross-disability communities. Her artistic goals focus on making media accessible, cross-disability collaboration, and building equity. Cheryl produces audio for the Disability Visibility Podcast and DisArt’s DisTopia, reported and produced one episode for the Peabody-nominated Season 2 of 70 Million, and has provided captions and audio description for Superfest International Disability Film Festival, Cinema Touching Disability, Kinetic Light, and Basic Able Podcast.
Co-Founder, Undocumented Filmmakers Collective
Set Hernandez Rongkilyo is an undocumented immigrant filmmaker and community organizer whose roots come from Bicol, Philippines. They are the fruit of their parents’ sacrifices, their siblings’ resilience, and their community’s nurturing. Set envisions a filmmaking landscape that centers equity and abundance, where all artists have the resources to thrive using the unique skill sets they embody. Set’s short films have been televised, featured, and awarded in film festivals across the U.S. As part of the inaugural cohort of the Disruptors Fellowship by Joey Solloway’s 5050by2020 and the Center for Cultural Power, Set is developing a half-hour, TV comedy pilot about the undocumented experience. Set also directed/produced the short documentary Cover/age (2019) about healthcare expansion for undocumented adults. They served as Impact Producer for projects such as In Plain Sight and the award-winning Call Her Ganda (Tribeca, 2018). Since 2010, Set has been organizing around migrant justice issues from education equity to deportation defense. Along with Rahi Hasan, they are the co-founder of the Undocumented Filmmakers Collective, which advances equity for undocumented immigrants in the film industry. They are the recipient of numerous fellowships including the Firelight Impact Producer Lab and Soros Justice Fellowship. They have spoken about people-centered filmmaking on panels across the country including the Film Independent Forum and the Sundance Film Festival.
Director, Original Documentaries & Docuseries, Disney+
Empowering storytellers to find their voices by using documentary as a tool to reach new audiences.Marjon Javadi is the Director of Original Documentaries and Docuseries at Disney+. She is responsible for identifying new nonfiction opportunities and works with key stakeholders across the company to ensure their success through development, production and launch. Current projects include the Untitled Mickey Mouse Documentary, On Pointe and Marvel’s 616, among others. Previously, she was Senior Manager, Film Funds and Partnerships at Doc Society, working across international film funds that support feature documentary stories from early development to production. Recent projects included the Academy-nominated The Edge of Democracy, Knock Down the House, and most recently Softie, which premiered at Sundance 2020. Prior to Doc Society, she worked in the documentary division at Netflix Originals on series and films including Emmy-award-winning Chef’s Table and Making a Murderer, and Academy-Award-nominated films Virunga, and Winter on Fire. She has also worked as a development executive for Scott Rudin Productions, and in CAA’s Film Finance and Sales Group. She was a producer on the short documentaries, Waiting For Hassana and WGBH’s Crossing the Divide. Her experience is in development, production, and acquisitions for both fiction and non-fiction features. Marjon graduated from New York University and is based in Los Angeles.
Director, Original Documentary Features, Netflix
Increasing empathy on a global scale through the power of documentary storytelling.Zana began in the documentary space early in her career, interning for esteemed NYC documentarian Marc Levin at Blowback Productions. She has spent the last 6 1/2 years as a part of the Netflix Documentary team, working with a wide array of filmmakers across various projects. She oversaw the recently launched doc series Unsolved Mysteries, executive produced by Shawn Levy’s 21 Laps and Terry Meurer’s CMP; Brian Knappenberger’s The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez; as well as the feature doc Becoming, directed by rising star, Nadia Hallgren, which took an intimate look at the life of Michelle Obama.
Senior Vice President of Programming, Firelight Media
Nurturing BIPOC storytellers and working towards a more just and beautiful documentary ecosystem.Loira Limbal is an Afro-Dominican filmmaker and DJ interested in the creation of art that is nuanced and revelatory for communities of color. She is the Senior Vice President of Programs at Firelight Media. Firelight is committed to making films about pivotal movements and moments in the U.S.. Its flagship program–the Documentary Lab–is a fellowship that provides mentorship, funding, and industry access to emerging filmmakers of color. Limbal’s film Through the Night is a feature documentary about a 24-hour daycare center. It was part of the 2019 Sundance Edit & Story Lab and was selected for world premiere at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival. Her first film, Estilo Hip Hop, was a co-production of ITVS and aired on PBS in 2009. Additionally, she co-produces and helms the popular Brooklyn monthly #APartyCalledRosiePerez. Limbal received a B.A. in History from Brown University and is a graduate of the Third World Newsreel’s Film and Video Production Training Program. She is a Sundance Institute Fellow and a former Ford Foundation JustFilms/Rockwood Fellow. She lives in the Bronx with her two children.
Festival Director, Philadelphia Latino Film Festival
Bridging Latinx creators, stories and culture to bring about positive change, new representation and self actualization.Marángeli Mejía Rabell is a Puerto Rico-born, Philadelphia-based connector, cultural organizer and producer, arts and culture curator and programmer whose work is centered on co-creation, capacity building, leadership development, cross sector collaborations and honoring our roots as a tool for social change and community self actualization. Marangeli’s practice is focused on community media practices, cultural organizing, intersectionality, accessibility, and diversity. As Director of the Philadelphia Latino Film Festival and Co-founder/Creative Partner of AFROTAINO, she co-curates, designs and executes arts and culture programming, collaborations, and multidisciplinary projects. She has served as the Philadelphia Latino Film Festival Director for over five years, supporting the groundbreaking work of Latinx filmmakers. Under Marángeli’s leadership, PHLAFF has evolved into an international film festival that brings the best of US-based Latinx and Latin American stories to wide audiences. Throughout Marángeli’s career, she has centered Latinx creators, stories, and culture to bring about positive change and new representation.
CEO and Impact Producer, Looky Looky Pictures
Empowering filmmakers to activate their film’s most passionate audience through powerful partnership building, engaging events, and impactful social change campaigns.Ani Mercedes is CEO, Impact Producer, and Founder of Looky Looky Pictures, which connects the power of films with the power of people, by bringing films to passionate partners and audiences who can use them as tools to change the world. Since 2016, Looky Looky Pictures has led or advised more than 40 social impact campaigns, including DOC NYC 2020 selections Through the Night and Duty Free and impactful films Councilwoman, Building the American Dream, Liyana, and led the Outreach for Good Pitch NYC 2019. They work with stories that go beyond empathy; that aim to participate in the transformational work of building solidarity with (rather than for) the communities they aim to serve. Ani is a passionate “gate-opener,” advocating for independent filmmaker empowerment, offering the Guided Campaign service, a hands-on accelerator program that guides filmmakers on how to confidently launch and implement a successful film impact campaign with full access to templates, weekly strategy calls, and a private Facebook group. Ani is also a financial educator and created the Thriving Filmmaker Academy, a resource with free webinars and workshops that have served over 500 filmmakers in over 20 countries. Ani was a Firelight Media Impact Producer Fellow, Kartemquin Films intern, White House intern during President Obama’s administration, an elementary school teacher via Teach for America, earned a Bachelor’s in Anthropology from the University of Chicago and a Master’s in Public Administration from Syracuse University, and lives in her hometown of Miami, Florida where she enjoys the boxing and oil painting.
Program Officer, Perspective Fund
Funding initiatives that amplify movement-driven modes of distribution and foster an inclusive and sustainable ecosystem for documentary filmmakers and impact strategists.Denae Peters is a Program Officer at Perspective Fund, a grant-making organization funding nonfiction media, where she oversees the documentary impact infrastructure portfolio. She is also a founding board member of Brown Girls Doc Mafia (BGDM), an advocacy initiative representing 4000+ women and non-binary people of color working across the documentary field, and has recently programmed for Hot Docs and the Toronto International Film Festival. Previously, she led non-theatrical impact campaigns at Picture Motion and Film Sprout. Before working in the documentary impact niche, Denae spent five years at the Toronto International Film Festival, overseeing the filmmaker relations department.
Head of Alliances and Cultural Engagement, Cinereach
Advocating for increased funding and accessibility for under-resourced and marginalized filmmaking communities.As the Head of Alliances and Cultural Engagement, Merrill Sterritt has expanded Cinereach’s impact by developing methods of support for regional and community-focused film organizations and collectives. She firmly believes there is no sustainable, ethical or equitable path forward for the independent film industry without a diversification of field leaders and gatekeepers and a decentralization of power. Prior to joining Cinereach, Merrill co-founded Film Presence in 2010, where she lead theatrical outreach campaigns to connect films with crucial audiences from outside the arthouse bubble. Merrill has also worked in post-production and managed the Production Assistance Program at Women Make Movies.
Co-Producer, American Documentary / POV
Building an equitable framework for POV programming and developing new pipelines for diverse filmmakers.Nicole is the Co-Producer at POV, the longest-running documentary series on PBS. As a member of the Programming and Production team, she takes part in the curation and production of the series, manages film submissions and the pre-screening process, and advises filmmakers on their projects. Since joining POV in 2013, Nicole has worked with her colleagues to present more than 90 films to a national audience and has been the recipient of multiple News and Documentary Emmy, Peabody and duPont-Columbia nominations and awards. Nicole was a co-producer on Ngawang Choephel’s Ganden: A Joyful Land; has worked as a production assistant on Yance Ford’s Oscar-nominated documentary Strong Island; and was an assistant to Joshua Z. Weinstein on his 2012 documentary Drivers Wanted. Nicole has participated on pitch forums, panels, and juries worldwide, including Austin Film Festival, DocAviv, and Doc NYC. She is a member of Asian American Documentary Network (A-Doc) and serves as a board member of Brown Girls Doc Mafia.
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