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2021 Fine Cut Mentor Bios

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Semi-finalists and finalists of the 22nd Annual FINE CUT Festival of Films will be invited to one of three virtual mentor workshop events sponsored by Sony Pictures Entertainment, September 25 and September 26. The small group format is designed to provide tomorrow's generation of filmmakers with opportunities to engage with various entertainment industry experts in the film, television, animation and documentary fields. Get to know each of the mentors below.

Varda Bar-Kar

A woman in a dress holds a small video camera in her hand while leaning on a wall

Award-winning director Varda Bar-Kar entered film production as a script supervisor for maverick directors like Jim Jarmusch, Wayne Wang and Carroll Ballard. As an "artivist", Varda explores the breadth of the human condition directing projects ranging from scripted features, documentaries, episodic television and cause-driven viral videos that have amassed tens of millions of views. Her short films have garnered awards at major film festivals and her work has aired on HBO, Netflix, Fox, Amazon, Hulu, PBS, Sky and the Documentary Channel as well as numerous streamers. Varda's feature documentary "Big Voice" chronicling a challenging year in the life of a determined high school choir director won "Best U.S. Premiere" at the Heartland Film Festival, "Best Documentary" at New Filmmakers Los Angeles. Varda was selected to participate in Ryan Murphy's Half Foundation Diversity Program and was then hired to direct the hit FOX TV show 9-1-1. Her new documentary, "Fandango at the Wall," tells the story of an unprecedented musical convergence at the border between the United States and Mexico weaving together the powerful stories of Veracruz's masters of son jarocho, a mystical form of folk music, with an album recording at the border festival spearheaded by Arturo O'Farrill of the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. Fandango premiered on HBO and can now be seen on HBO Max. Varda is currently in pre-production on a new feature documentary about an iconic female musical artist known for her unabashed truth-telling and musical mastery.

Varda sits on the board of New Filmmakers Los Angeles and is a member of the Director's Guild of America, Film Fatales, IDA.

Sue-Ellen Chitunya

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Afshin Shahadi

Lydia "Sue-Ellen" Chitunya is a filmmaker who hails from Zimbabwe. She is a 2019 Georgia State University "40 under 40 honoree" and a graduate of the UCLA professional producing program. Her success as a short film producer was recognized with membership of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).

She is a Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation Fellowship award recipient. Chitunya has participated in various artist development programs including: 2020 Women In Film INSIGHT, 2019 Industry Academy, Rotterdam Lab, Film Independent's Project Involve and Berlinale Talents. Her varied work experience includes marketing for Disney College Program, programming for Zimbabwe, Atlanta and Slamdance Film Festivals. She recently worked as a Post Production Coordinator on Marvel Studios' "Avengers: Endgame" (2019) and "Black Panther" (2018).

Sidney Clifton

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Emmy-nominated producer Sidney Clifton has over twenty years of experience as an executive and producer of animated and live-action content across multiple platforms.

Sidney is the Jim Henson Company's Senior Vice President of Animation and Mixed Media and serves as Senior Consultant with Black Women Animate. As a mentor and recruiter, she has been a featured speaker at colleges and universities across North America.

Her passion for developing and supporting the underserved community of writers, artists, storytellers and creators was the catalyst for her launching The Clifton House; an writer's and artist's workshop and retreat space centered at her childhood home in Baltimore Maryland — the home she shared with her five siblings and parents, educator/activist Fred J. Clifton and National Book Award winning poet and author Lucille Clifton.

Jack Hsu

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Growing up in Taiwan and Japan, Jack Hsu enjoyed a creative infusion of cultures before moving to the United States at sixteen. He would go on to earn degrees in architecture from U.C. Berkeley and Yale before following his longtime love of cinema to Hollywood.

A childhood obsessed with manga, animation and Hong Kong movies helped forge Hsu's uniquely self-taught cinematic vision and story sensibility. This skill set and and "East meets West" perspective drew the attention of director Sam Raimi, who would bring Hsu on to help realize his version of the iconic Spider-Man trilogy.

As an instrumental part of the story team, Hsu would go on to help Sony Pictures Animation produce hit franchises such as "Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs" and "Hotel Transylvania" before bringing his development expertise to Hong Kong's Unicorn Studios as well as Warner Bros' "Lego Batman." In 2017, Hsu joined Riot Games as a Senior Story Analyst to help bring League of Legends into the cinematic universe. That same year, he and creative partner, renowned pop artist Sean Danconia started SUPAPOP STUDIOS, an original IP incubator for licensing and animation projects.

Additionally, Hsu's award-winning graphic novel, "8-9-3" was acquired by HBO to be developed into a live-action series in collaboration with famed producer / director Michael Mann (Heat, Ali, Miami Vice, etc.).

Gina Ippolito

A woman with brown curly hair.

Gina is a comedy writer who has written for such shows as the Emmy-award winning animated Cartoon Network series Regular Show, the 2016 reboot of "The Powerpuff Girls," Awesomeness TV's female-driven sketch comedy series "Hacking High School," the Hulu original series "The Morning After" and the ABC digital series "Paper Dolls." With partner Skander Halim, she has also written for the Disney channel live action show, "Bunk'd," CBS' revival of "Murphy Brown," and CBS' "The Unicorn." Gina has studied, performed, coached, and taught improv and sketch comedy at theaters around L.A., including UCB, iO West, Second City, The Pack, Nerdist, The Improv Space and The Clubhouse. Gina's first comedy graphic novel, which she co-wrote with her friend and sometime collaborator, Haley Mancini, was released in March 2019.

Todd Kurosawa

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Born and raised in Hawaii, Todd always aspired to be a cartoonist. After contributing cartoon illustrations and gags to "Pidgin" to "Da Max," one of Hawaii's bestselling book series, he packed his portfolio and was quickly recruited to join the Los Angeles animation industry.

He has now been cartooning professionally for over 37 years — primarily as an animation story artist — collaborating with top talent at DreamWorks Animation, Walt Disney Feature and Television Animation, Sony Pictures Animation, Paramount, Nickelodeon, Warner Bros. Animation and Marvel Productions.

His work range spans musicals, comedy, action, adventure, and drama — with credits in productions such as Jim Henson's "Muppet Babies," "Tazmania," "Pocahontas, ""Fantasia 2000," "The Prince of Egypt, " "Shrek," " Atlantis: The Lost Empire," "Shark Tale," "How to Train Your Dragon 2," "Penguins of Madagascar," Guillermo del Toro's "Trollhunters,"" Captain Underpants," Rapunzel's "Tangled Adventure" and "Spirit Untamed."

Joe Menendez

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Director-producer-writer Joe Menendez is a multi-genre veteran of drama, action horror, sci-fi, comedy, family and rom-com. His numerous and varied credits show that he is a skilled craftsman and an accomplished, versatile storyteller. Menendez has directed over 115 hours of television, written a handful of teleplays, produced several TV series and films and has directed nine feature films and TV movies so far.

Menendez just directed a block of episodes for the upcoming second season of "Star Trek: Picard" for Paramount Plus.

Joe Menendez is also the co-Executive Producer/director on The CW's reboot of "Kung Fu," which is being produced by Warner Brothers Television and "Berlanti" for which he's directed multiples. This marks the third time Menendez has been the P/D on a series. He was also the co-executive Producer/Director for Freeform's one-hour mermaid drama "Siren," for which he has directed multiples since 2017, including the epic series finale, and Menendez was also the co-executive producer/director on Disney's "Imagination Movers" for two seasons, from 2009 to 2010, for which he directed a third of all the episodes produced.

He has now added author to his eclectic career, having published his debut novel "Mindshot," a sci-fi thriller, in January of 2013.

Emily Mraz

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In her current role as Head of Development at Tastemade, Emily writes, develops and shoots a range of TV series in the food, travel, social impact, competition and documentary categories for network and streaming platforms. In addition to development, she brings 15 years of experience as a television producer for networks including Discovery, CBS, National Geographic, Disney, Tastemade and PBS where she filmed with food and travel titans from around the globe including Anthony Bourdain for his Travel Channel series "No Reservations." In 2018, she developed and produced the Emmy-winning social impact food series, Broken Bread, starring revolutionary chef, Roy Choi, for KCET/PBS SoCal and Tastemade's streaming network. The second season of "Broken Bread" is currently in production for release in early 2022, where Emily is an Executive Producer.

Juli Murphy

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Five-time Emmy nominee Juli Murphy began her career at Colossal Pictures as an assistant animator on commercials before taking a job as an Assistant Director on the 1st season of "Rugrats." Murphy has directed episodes of shows such as "Chowder" (Cartoon Network), "Danny Phantom" (Nickelodeon), and "Hey Arnold" (Nickelodeon). Formerly the Supervising Director for "The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy" (Cartoon Network), Murphy is currently a Timing Supervisor at Bento Box Entertainment. Recently, she supervised timing crews for "The Great North" (Fox), "Paradise PD" (Netflix), and the upcoming "Farzar" (Netflix), which are all produced and animated in the Toon Boom Harmony program.

Juli Murphy holds a BA in Film & Animation from San Francisco State University.

Angela Sostre

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Angela Sostre is a freelance producer/line producer who has produced commercials, music videos, as well as over twenty-five feature films including "God Bless America" and "Willow Creek" directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, "Behaving Badly" starring Elisabeth Shue, Dylan McDermott, and Heather Graham; "Honeymoon" starring Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway; "Camp X-Ray" starring Kristen Stewart and the award-winning documentary, "The Work," which won the SXSW Grand Jury Award. She currently works as a Director of Video Production for ViacomCBS and her team produces BTS content for Paramount+ Original shows including, "Star Trek: Discovery," "Picard," "Lower Decks," "The Good Fight" and "Twilight Zone." She executive produced the recent Telly Award winning Star Trek aftershow "The Ready Room, "along with aftershows for BB Rewind for Big Brother and Peak of the Week for Paramount+.

Dinh Thai

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Stan Evens

Dinh Thai is an Asian American writer/director by way of commercial directing based in Los Angeles. Born in Vietnam, fled to France, and finally settling in Los Angeles, the '80s and '90s nurtured a fascinating cultural mix that strongly informs Dinh's filmic approach and aesthetic. Along with being an alumnus of the Disney TV Director Program, Ryan Murphy's Half-Initiative, and NBC's Emerging Director Program, Dinh has gone onto direct TV episodes of "Wu-Tang: An American Saga" and "New Amsterdam." He has co-written an Asian American pilot for Freeform and is actively developing his short film into a TV series while pursuing directing assignments.

John Trabbic III

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Prior to Creating and Co-Executive Producing Middlemost Post, John Trabbic III lived in Bikini Bottom for 4 years, having boarded over 30 episodes of "Spongebob Squarepants." Coming off of his role as storyboard director on the show, he was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Short Form Animated Program. He lost, but took it like a champ.

Before Nickelodeon, John worked for multiple studios including Fox, Cartoon Network, and Warner Bros Animation Studio on such shows as "Archer," "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and "Pig Goat Banana Cricket." His roles have included animator, illustrator, storyboard artist and all-around swell guy with an extensive shoe collection.

Gren Wells

A woman with white blonde hair leans into a window.

Gren Wells was born in Louisville, Kentucky and raised in Greenwich, Connecticut. After graduating Summa Cum Laude from Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY, Gren moved to Los Angeles and wrote her first feature script called "Earthbound" that sold to 20th Century Fox. Earthbound later found a home at The Film Department, and starred Kate Hudson, Gael Garcia Bernal, Kathy Bates and Whoopi Goldberg.

Since then, she has sold over 20 feature film and television projects. In 2014, Gren wrote and directed 'The Road Within’ - starring Robert Sheehan, Dev Patel, Zoe Kravitz, Robert Patrick and Kyra Sedgwick. Based off of this film, Variety chose her as one of their 10 Directors to Watch. "The Road Within" won Best Film at the Rome Film Festival, the Champs Elysees Film Festival and the Zlin Film Festival. It also won Best Actor (Dev Patel) and Best Actress (Zoë Kravitz) at the Napa Film Festival and Best Supporting Actor (Dev Patel) and Best Supporting Actor (Zoë Kravitz) at the Milan International Film Festival.

From September - December 2019, Gren directed the adaptation of the award winning YA novel, "Dear Zoe." It’s produced by Resonate Entertainment, and stars Sadie Sink, Theo Rossi, Jessica Capshaw, Justin Bartha, Vivian Lyra Blair and introducing Kweku Collins. She is currently in post and Paradigm is repping the film.

She is also attached to direct "The Wright Girls," starring Bella Thorne and Dove Cameron, written by Bert Royal, with Atlas Entertainment producing. She also wrote and is co-directing ‘Albino Island’ with Sheila Munyiva (Rafiki), who is also starring.

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