The AFI Conservatory is spearheaded by a talented team of working professionals and accomplished academics who work closely with Fellows to ensure academic excellence.
OFFICE OF THE DEAN
Dean, AFI Conservatory/Executive Vice President, American Film Institute
Susan Ruskin came to the AFI Conservatory from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA), where she has served as Dean of the School of Filmmaking since 2013, bringing a wealth of experience in engaging filmmakers and faculty in new storytelling technology. During her tenure, she founded a Media and Emerging Technology Lab; led the completion of a 30,000-square-foot New Media Building; and organized UNCSA’s first Future of Reality Summit to initiate cross-field discussion surrounding emerging technologies. Previously, she served as Chair of UNCSA’s Producing Faculty before becoming Interim Dean in 2012. Ruskin’s professional experience includes producing credits on such films as ANACONDA and HAUNTED HONEYMOON; as well as serving as President of Production at Middle Fork Pictures/Cinema Line and Gene Wilder’s Pal-Mel Productions, and as a Creative Executive at Lucasfilm Ltd. She holds a BA from New York University, and an MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from UC Riverside.
Vice Dean, Academic Affairs
Before joining AFI in 2017, Tom Engfer served in academic leadership as Dean of Compliance and Assessment, Senior Director of Academics, and Director of Education at Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, where he was responsible for the oversight of efforts related to assessment, accreditation, compliance, program evaluation and review, improvement and evidence-based planning. Prior to that, Engfer worked in higher education at multiple institutions — both in the United States and abroad — as Academic Director, Visiting Chair, Curriculum Designer, and Guest Lecturer, among other positions. He holds Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Literature degrees from California State University; a Professional Certificate in Measurement, Evaluation, Statistics, and Assessment from the University of Illinois; and is a graduate of WSCUC’s Assessment Leadership Academy (Cohort V).
Vice Dean, Administration
Yvette Jusseaume has been the AFI Conservatory Vice Dean of Administration since 2019. Jusseaume’s track record in higher education includes expertise in directing operations, financial management and technology implementations. Her contributions impacted programs at Harvard University, Columbia University, Boston University and Berklee College of Music. She was a founding member of the Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine in Pasadena, where she established the Office of Faculty Affairs and contributed to the school’s preliminary accreditation in 2018. As an academic administrator, she has collaborated with faculty in the delivery of programs, international education, student recruitment and managing faculty contracts and services. Yvette is a trilingual global and pursued all her schooling at American and British schools around the world until attending university in the U.S. where she obtained her B.S. in Communications. She continued with graduate level studies in Theatre Arts, with an emphasis on technical design and writing for film.
Stephen Lighthill (ASC)
Discipline Head, Cinematography
Lighthill has served as cinematographer on many documentaries including GIMME SHELTER and BERKELEY IN THE ’60s. His cinematography credits for independent features include OVER-UNDER, SIDEWAYS-DOWN, HOT SUMMER WINDS and SHIMMER, all produced for PBS’ American Playhouse. Lighthill served as Director of Photography on the TV series VIETNAM WAR STORY, EARTH 2 and NASH BRIDGES. He returned to documentaries as the cinematographer on BOFFO! TINSELTOWN’S BOMBS AND BLOCKBUSTERS and THE ALZHEIMER’S PROJECT: CAREGIVERS, both for HBO.
Discipline Head, Directing
Adam Salky’s most recent feature film, I SMILE BACK, stars Sarah Silverman in her first dramatic leading role, alongside Josh Charles and Tommy Sadoski. Silverman’s award-winning performance received widespread critical acclaim, and was nominated for a 2016 Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role. The film premiered in dramatic competition at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, before screening at the Toronto and Deauville film festivals.
Salky made his feature directorial debut with DARE, a Grand Jury Prize nominee of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. DARE was acquired by Image Entertainment, released theatrically that year, and distributed in dozens of international markets. It features Emmy Rossum, Zach Gilford, Alan Cumming and Sandra Bernhard, as well as the first starring role of Academy Award®-nominee Rooney Mara.
Salky was selected for the 2016 Warner Bros. Television Directors’ Workshop. He has since directed three episodes of NBC’s hit show BLINDSPOT, including the 2017 midseason return, “Hot Burning Flames,” which was their biggest-budget episode ever, and filmed in part in Morocco.
Salky has served as an advisor at the Sundance Labs, guest-lectured on directing at Columbia University and various high schools, and taught directing at USC’s Graduate School of Cinematic Arts. He graduated magna cum laude from Emory University, and completed his MFA at Columbia University’s Graduate School of the Arts Film Division.
Discipline Head, Producing
Lianne Halfon has built a career centered on strong relationships with writers and directors while maintaining a hands-on approach to producing. In 1998, Halfon and her partners Russ Smith and John Malkovich joined together in forming the company Mr. Mudd.
A sample of Halfon’s producing credits include JUNO, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, JEFF WHO LIVES AT HOME, YOUNG ADULT, DEMOLITION and GHOST WORLD. Executive-producing credits include CHAVEZ, THE DANCER UPSTAIRS, the Sundance Jury Prize winner HOW TO DRAW A BUNNY and Terry Zwigoff’s iconic CRUMB.
Halfon won an Emmy® for the Oscar®-nominated documentary WHICH WAY HOME, and a Film Independent Spirit Award for both THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER and JUNO, which was also nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award®.
Upcoming is BOY 21 for Lionsgate and in post-production is a documentary about the opera “Einstein on the Beach,” titled THE EARTH MOVES, a collaboration with the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Discipline Head, Production Design
With a Production Design MFA from the AFI Conservatory and as a graduate of Temple University’s School of Communications and Theater, Garrity has designed feature films including RUNAWAY TRAIN (art director), WEEDS, MY GIRL, DROP DEAD FRED, SON-IN-LAW, IMAGINARY CRIMES, FATHER OF INVENTION, THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY LEFAY and SUNSHINE CLEANING. He recently designed CAKE and CHURCH, both features shot in Los Angeles.
Garrity met Christopher Guest in 1988 and was chosen to design Guest’s directorial debut feature THE BIG PICTURE. Garrity has designed all of Guest’s films since, including WAITING FOR GUFFMAN, BEST IN SHOW, A MIGHTY WIND, FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION and the HBO Series FAMILY TREE.
Garrity serves as a council member in the Art Directors Branch of the Art Directors Guild, Local 800.
Discipline Head, Screenwriting
Thomas is an Academy Award®-nominated screenwriter, as well as a producer, director and author. She is both producer and co-writer of the film EL NORTE, which was nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Original Screenplay and was elected to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. She is also co-writer and producer of the acclaimed MY FAMILY, MI FAMILIA, and the William Hurt-starring drama A TIME OF DESTINY, and a writer of FRIDA, starring Salma Hayek. Thomas made her first feature in 1977 when she wrote, produced and directed THE HAUNTING OF M as her Master’s thesis film at UCLA, where she earned her MFA. Other credits include episodes of the PBS one-hour drama series AMERICAN FAMILY. Thomas also produced the feature documentary INFINITE SPACE: THE ARCHITECTURE OF JOHN LAUTNER. She is a founder of the IFP West, now Film Independent.
Vaguelsy, producer of the Oscar®-winning musical WEST BANK STORY, was born and raised in Paris France and started his cinema career working in Europe on such films as READY TO WEAR, THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK and U-571. He has a Master’s degree in Film and Television production from the Sorbonne University.
In 2005, Vaguelsy launched DViant Films, an independent film production company based in Los Angeles and Toronto with partners Luca Matrundola and Julien Favre. After the success of WEST BANK STORY, DViant Films co-produced NIGHT TRAIN (written and directed by Chinese filmmaker Diao Yinan) which premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, and went to produce other films such as COLLABORATOR, ARCADIA and STORY OF LUKE. Vaguelsy also worked as a Post Producer at Relativity Media, working on numerous films including THE FIGHTER by David O’ Russell, OUT OF THE FURNACE by Scott Cooper, EARTH TO ECHO by David Greene and MASTERMINDS by Jared Hess, and served as Executive in charge of Development at Luma Pictures, a VFX powerhouse who serviced Marvel for BLACK PANTHER, SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING and DOCTOR STRANGE.
Vaguelsy returned to producing on WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS with Johnny Depp, Robert Pattinson, Mark Rylance and acclaimed Colombian director Ciro Guerra. He is an Executive Producer on TREES OF PEACE written by Black List screenwriter and upcoming director Alanna Brown.