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DWW+ Class of 2024

Vanessa Beletic
Haitian born and raised, Vanessa Beletic is an award-winning writer and director. Her first narrative short, CATCHING SPIRITS, won the Jury Award Live Action Short 2022 at the New Hampshire Film Festival, making it eligible for Academy Award® consideration. Still early in its festival run, it has screened at 10 other Oscar®- and BAFTA-qualifying festivals. Its broad appeal has seen it programmed as a genre-bender, a dance thriller and a drama.

A pioneer of branded content, Beletic’s work in the digital space has influenced a new category of storytelling that continues to permeate digital culture today, including campaigns for brands like Levi’s, Theory, Estée Lauder and Samsung. Her music video for Run the Jewels “Ooh La La” was nominated for the 2020 Music Video Production Association Awards and UK Music Video Awards, and the 2021 Libera Awards.

Moving to the U.S. with her family at 13 years old, Beletic studied dance and education at New York City’s Hunter College and launched herself into an esteemed career as a professional dancer. It was in Los Angeles working with acclaimed commercial and music video directors that Vanessa decided to pursue her life-long passion for filmmaking.

Beletic brings her eye for bold aesthetics and relentless filter for authenticity to tell stories grounded in reality with characters who defy the odds, by way of magic, perseverance or straight-up hustle. Vanessa is also a mentor to several young female filmmakers of color as part of her advocacy for the advancement of Black women’s voices in film and media.

Chloë de Carvalho
Chloë de Carvalho is a Brazilian director based in Los Angeles.

Born in Brazil to a Scottish mother and a Brazilian father, de Carvalho tells stories of characters stuck in between cultures, and outsiders trying to fit in and failing spectacularly. She is particularly interested in subverting genre expectations and telling stories where the often-unseen lives of women and children drive the narrative.

She grew up in Rio, where she started out as a theater actor. Moving to the UK, de Carvalho spent a good chunk of time working her way up the ranks of film sets, an experience that informs her commitment to create the equitable sets she never encountered as a young filmmaker.

Her short films and commercial work have screened and been awarded at international festivals (such as São Paulo, Dubrovnik, Paris, Miami and Morelia). She received the Deutsche Bank New Talent Award and attended the Kyoto Filmmaker’s Lab. In 2018, de Carvalho was awarded the year-long development grant Prodav4 (ANCINE) for her feature project ROSA AO AVESSO. Her latest short AVENTURA, starring an all-child cast, recently premiered at the LA Shorts International Film Festival, participated in the Cannes Short Film Corner and won Best Short at the European Cinematography Awards.

She is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh and the London Film School. In 2021, she embarked on a part-time (remote) PhD at the University of Edinburgh where she researches intersections between independent filmmaking and feminist motherhood. In addition to directing, de Carvalho also has over 12 years of experience as a producer on commercial projects.

Desdemona Chiang
Like every good Chinese kid, Desdemona Chiang was destined to be a doctor. She was a straight-A student who got into UC Berkeley as a Biology major, but then took an unexpected “Intro to Acting” drama class her freshman year of college and ended up crushing her mother’s hopes and dreams. Chiang went on to receive her MFA in directing from the University of Washington.

Today, Chiang is a stage director, working nationally in regional theater. She directs in a variety of genres, including new plays, Shakespeare and musicals. She is known for her visceral, no-nonsense approach to theater, with her distinct point of view as an immigrant and Asian American woman, and an interest in using storytelling to spark social discourse. She has directed at such venues as The 5th Avenue Theatre (Seattle, WA), Guthrie Theater (Minneapolis), Alley Theatre (Houston), Oregon Shakespeare Festival (Ashland, OR), South Coast Repertory (Costa Mesa, CA), Pittsburgh Public Theatre, Baltimore Center Stage, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Studio Theatre (Washington, DC), Long Wharf Theatre (New Haven, CT), Seattle Children’s Theatre, and ACT Theatre (Seattle), among others. Throughout her career, Chiang has received the Princess Grace Award and Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise and was selected for the SDC Gielgud Directing Fellowship and Drama League TV/Film Fellowship.

Most recently, Chiang was awarded the Sundance Institute’s Asian American Fellowship, which aims to improve AAPI representation in the film and television industries by cultivating AAPI talent and elevating their stories. Her TV pilot “Made in USA” has been developed with the Sundance Episodic Intensive Lab, The Orchard Project and the Writers Lab, and was a winner of the WeScreenplay Diverse Voices Lab. Her stage adaptation of Amy Tan’s “The Bonesetter’s Daughter” received its world premiere in the summer of 2022.

Naomi Iwamoto
A child of immigrants, Naomi Iwamoto is an award-winning writer and director who grew up between Los Angeles and Tokyo.

Most recently, Iwamoto was a writer/supervising producer on Hulu’s upcoming half-hour dramedy TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS based on Cheryl Strayed’s New York Times bestseller of the same name, produced by Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine and Laura Dern’s Jaywalker Pictures.

Iwamoto’s previous television writing credits include two seasons of Lena Waithe’s half-hour dramedy TWENTIES, CBS’s HAPPY TOGETHER, NBC’s CONNECTING and an upcoming Marvel series produced by Sony Pictures Television and Amazon Studios.

As a director, Iwamoto’s short documentary LOST & FOUND played at festivals worldwide and went on to be included in Ryan Murphy’s Director showcase and Women Behind the Lens at Paramount Studios. Her fiction short film BEST BUDS screened at CAAM fest, the LA Asian Pacific American Film Festival and Outfest. Iwamoto is an alum of Ryan Murphy’s HALF Director’s Shadowing Program.

She holds an MFA in Production from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts and undergraduate degrees from UCLA in Political Science and Asian American Studies.

Iwamoto devotes her work to creating full, complicated and honest renderings of humanity on screen, of course dealing with the bits that are too uncomfortably honest with humor. She is currently developing her first feature inspired by her experience growing up in Sawtelle, a small tight-knit Japanese neighborhood in Los Angeles.

Huriyyah Muhammad
Huriyyah Muhammad is an award-winning writer, director and producer whose projects have been invited to the Sundance Film Festival, Tribeca Film Institute, AFI FEST, Austin Film Festival, New Voices in Black Cinema, American Black Film Festival and many others. She won the 2020 Sundance Producers Award for the feature film FAREWELL AMOR, which premiered at the festival in competition. She was also selected for the Film Independent Amplifier Fellowship for her screenplay “The Trickster,” and recently was the recipient of the 2021 SFFILM Rainin Grant for Screenwriting and The Black List Feature Residency for her feature directorial debut screenplay, “God Help the Gayes,” currently in development.

Muhammad’s directing projects have allowed her to explore her distinct voice and have garnered multiple awards. Her sci-fi digital series KELOID has become a cult favorite – winning multiple Best Web/Digital Series at festivals including the prestigious American Black Film Festival. Her fantasy short film OUTGROWN has toured extensively both domestically and internationally, winning multiple Best Short Film and Best Cinematography awards. Muhammad is also currently in post-production on a magical realism short WONDERS, featuring Adriane Lenox and Leslie Uggams.

As busy as Muhammad is as an artist, she believes strongly in community and put that belief into action by co-founding The Black TV & Film Collective, a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to developing filmmakers of African descent. Muhammad holds a BS in Computer Science from Spelman College and an MBA from NYU.

Last but not least, Muhammad is a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community and does her best work as a loving wife and mother.

Joanne Mony Park
Joanne Mony Park is a Korean American writer/director from Los Angeles, CA. She graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts’ MFA film program in writing and directing. While there, she received the Clive Davis Award for Excellence in Music and the Tisch Graduate Fellowship, and was a finalist for the ARRI Volker Bahnemann Cinematography Award. She holds a BFA in Visual Arts and Education Studies from the University of California, San Diego.

Her stories focus on the hyphenated-American experience intersecting with queer storylines. Her films have screened at Slamdance Film Festival, Edinburgh International Film Festival, Frameline and the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival where she won best director for her first feature film FISH BONES.

She moved back to Los Angeles in the summer of 2021 and is currently working on narrative short and feature length projects with the support of the Torino NEXT lab, the Cine Qua Non Storylines lab and Soo Hugh’s Thousand Miles Project. Most recently, she was named a semifinalist for the CAPE Julia S. Gouw Short Film Competition.

Kerry O’Neill
Kerry O’Neill is a TV writer and filmmaker from New York City now living in Los Angeles. After spending over a decade writing and performing live comedy at The UCB Theatre in LA, O’Neill turned her focus to narrative writing and directing. Her television writing credits include Netflix’s MURDERVILLE and the upcoming genre-bending hybrid comedy JURY DUTY, from the producers of BORAT, THE OFFICE and THE WHITE LOTUS. In addition to her position on the writing staff, O’Neill was also a series regular on JURY DUTY. O’Neill’s directorial debut, social realist drama BEA AT REHAB (2020), screened at festivals worldwide and was awarded the Panavision New Filmmakers Grant and the Vanishing Angle Post Grant. In 2021, O’Neill was selected as a fellow in the Short Feature Lab, where she developed the coming-of-age feature, BEA, based on her short. O’Neill is a current finalist for the 2023 Film Independent Screenwriting Lab with the script for BEA. She recently completed post on her second film, WALK OUT NICE AND SMOOTH, a dark comedy starring the same lead actors from BEA AT REHAB.

Roxy Toporowych
Roxy Toporowych is a filmmaker based in Los Angeles by way of the Ukrainian-American diaspora of NYC. A graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, she has worked in production for over 15 years. Production credits include CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER, CONFESS, FLETCH! and WEST SIDE STORY. Previously, Toporowych worked as a producer on documentaries for Hulu, HBO and Tribeca Enterprises.

Toporowych wrote and directed her narrative feature debut JULIA BLUE while she was a Fulbright Scholar living in Ukraine (2014-2015). JULIA BLUE has screened in competition at the Cleveland International Film Festival and Seattle International Film Festival, winning Best Film at the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival and Anchorage Film Festival in 2018 and Best Foreign Film at Female Eye and Mystic Film Festival in 2019.

Toporowych is a 2016 IFP Narrative Lab Directing Fellow and 2017 Seattle WIP Labs Fellow, and the recipient of the IFP/Gotham Calvin Klein ‘Live the Dream’ grant for emerging directors. She was awarded the Special Jury Prize for Best Director, World Cinema at Woodstock Film Festival 2018 and Best Director at Sonoma Film Festival in 2019. In 2022, her film was named one of the top 10 films about Ukraine by The Guardian UK.

Prior to directing JULIA BLUE, Roxy directed a dance documentary FOLK! (HotDocs/East Silver Markets 2007) and the comedy short 2ND & 9TH. Her episodic comedy pilot, “The Party!” was a semifinalist for SeriesFest and Almanack Screenwriters Labs 2022. Toporowych is delighted to further her directing career with AFI DWW+.

DWW+ Guest Artistic Director

Shaz Bennett
Shaz Bennett (AFI DWW Class of 2012) was showrunner and executive producer on the final season of QUEEN SUGAR alongside creator Ava DuVernay, after both writing and directing on season six. Bennett’s debut feature film ALASKA IS A DRAG, which she wrote and directed, was released by ARRAY and is on Netflix. Her directing credits also include four episodes of BILLIONS (Showtime), ANIMAL KINGDOM (TNT), BOSCH (Amazon), ORDINARY JOE (NBC) among others. Her writing credits include THE GLADES on A&E, UnREAL on Lifetime and four seasons of Amazon’s BOSCH. She also co-wrote with Sydney Freeland the pilot SOVEREIGN for Ava DuVernay and Bird Runningwater for Warner Bros. Television and NBC. Previously, Bennett was selected as a participant for Ryan Murphy’s HALF program, Sundance Screenwriting Labs and Fox’s inaugural Franchise Directing program, and is an Alumni of the AFI DWW+ program.

As the DWW+ Guest Artistic Director, Bennett will oversee and direct the artistic curriculum and serve as a mentor for the DWW+ participants through their production cycle and the industry showcase, as well as act as an ambassador on behalf of the program. Additionally, Bennett will participate in the strategy and planning for the DWW+ 50th Anniversary in 2024.