The Andrew Berends Film Fellowship is proud to announce its 2021 Fellows:
- Sara Khaki and Mohammad Reza Eyni for Cutting through Rocks (working title), the story of a woman who challenges the status quo and inspires the younger generation.
- Alina Simone for her brave and surprising portrait of a Siberian citizen-journalist fighting for her community in Black Snow (working title);
Sara Khaki is a documentary filmmaker, editor, and recent Sundance Film Institute grantee, with a dedication to untold stories that make a difference in our world. Sara graduated from the University of Maryland Baltimore (UMBC) with her BFA in cinematic arts and from the School of Visual Arts (SVA,) with an MFA in Social Documentary Filmmaking. Her recent co-directed short, Our Iranian Lockdown, featured on the Guardian, was nominated for IDA Awards in the best short-form series category. Her first feature film, Cutting Through Rocks, currently in production, has received support from Sundance Film Institute, Chicken & Egg Pictures, Meadow Fund, IDFA Bertha Europe, as well as Hot Docs CrossCurrent Fund, among others. Sara works and resides between Tehran and New York City.
Mohammad Reza Eyni is an Iranian-based director, producer, writer, and DP, who works independently on socially relevant topics as well as stories about the arts. A recent Sundance film Institute grantee, Eyni is known among the Iranian visual artists for his documentaries about praised visual artists. Mohammad Reza is Tribeca (TFI) alumnus and graduated with an MFA in cinema from Tehran University of Fine Arts. Mohammad Reza’s recent co-directed short, Our Iranian Lockdown, featured on the Guardian, was nominated for IDA Awards in the best short-form series category. Mohammad Reza’s recent feature, Cutting Through Rocks, currently in production, has received support from Sundance film institute, Bertha Foundation, as well as Hot Docs Cross Current Doc Fund, among others. He works and resides between Iran and the United States.
Film description: Cutting through Rocks is the story of a woman who challenges the status quo and inspires a younger generation. For more information, you can contact the filmmakers via Gandom Films Production at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alina Simone is a journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Guardian Long Read, California Sunday, Slate, and NPR, among many others. For seven years, she was a regular contributor to the international news radio show The World, a co-production of the BBC. Simone has appeared on the Today Show, PBS Newshour and Radiolab to discuss her work. Her articles have been featured on best-of lists in The Atlantic, NPR and Rolling Stone, and have been optioned for film by major studios. She is the author of an essay collection and a novel, both published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and has taught writing at Yale University. She is the recipient of a 2021 Logan Non-Fiction Fellowship. Black Snow is Simone’s first film.
Film description: In Black Snow, when residents of a remote Siberian coal mining city discover an abandoned underground mine has caught fire, pushing toxic gas into their homes, they turn to homemaker-turned-journalist Natalia Zubkova for help. But after her independent news coverage goes viral, they suddenly find themselves the targets of a massive government disinformation campaign, forcing Natalia to embark on a dangerous quest to reveal the full extent of the environmental catastrophe unfolding in their midst. This taut and revelatory thriller promises to shine new light on the human cost of coal and the clandestine tactics of Russia’s modern surveillance state.
- Braulio Jatar and Anaïs Michel for their moving depiction of Venezuelan refugees trying to rebuild their lives in Cùcuta (working title);
- Angelos Rallis for his heart-rending portrait of an orphaned girl in Bangladesh searching for her birth father in Mighty Afrin (working title);
- Tom Laffay for his stirring work about the identity and spirituality of the Siona indigenous people in Colombia in Tigre Eléctrico (working title).
Braulio Jatar was born and raised in Venezuela where he began his career as a visual journalist, documenting mainly social issues and violent protests. He has successfully directed, shot and produced over 50 short pieces about the Venezuelan crisis amassing millions of views. Since then he has furthered his studies in documentary filmmaking in New York City. Subsequently, he directed, produced and shot the documentary short about the Venezuela 2017 protests, titled “Where Chaos Reigns” (co-directed with Anaïs Michel), which has received HBO’s Honorable mention at the Miami International Festival, won the Golden Gate Award for best documentary short at the San Francisco International Film festival as well as the Soapbox Award in Denmark’s Odense Film Festival.
Anaïs Michel is a New York City based documentary filmmaker. After receiving her Bachelor’s degree from La Sorbonne and a Master’s degree from the French Press Institute, Anaïs left Paris to study filmmaking in New York. After graduating, she worked as an editor in Portland, Oregon with an Oscar nominated director. In New York, she worked at Vice and HBO. She worked as an Associate Editor on the HBO documentary Lenny, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2018. Most recently, she joined forces with Braulio Jatar to work on the award winning film “Where Chaos Reigns”, a short documentary about the Venezuelan crisis. Since 2019 Anaïs has been an editing instructor at the New York Film Academy.
Film description: Cùcuta: 5,000 Venezuelans cross the border into Colombia, through the border town of Cùcuta, every day with no intention of returning home. Every – single – day. There is no end in sight for this massive influx of migrants who are traveling with all their belongings on their backs. Luckily, Colombia, unlike most countries in the region (and the world) has decided to open its doors to these migrants.
Through the lives of our characters you will experience every hardship but also every moment of fulfillment these migrants go through in order to find a better life. From a single mother of 5 struggling to find a roof for her children, to a group of kids living in a soup kitchen and somehow maintaining their innocence despite the chaotic environment surrounding them, as well as a Colombian immigration officer who’s job is to regulate the entry of Venezuelans through the border and in some cases even send them back. This film is an immersive experience into life on one of the busiest borders in the world and how, maybe, the answer to immigration might be in Colombia’s hands.
Angelos Rallis has a background in Film, Anthropology and photography. He started his career as a TV and theatre director in Greece for the Greek National Television (ERT). In 2006 he became an elected member of the International Federation of Journalists (UK) and commenced a long term project documenting London’s East End emerging cultures and communities. Angelos’ early work has been published in newspapers such as Ethnos and The Guardian and has been used by press agencies such as Eagle Press (UK) and Reporters (Belgium). He is also the author and photographer of the book Reflections on Chinese Policy in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Angelos did his cinematic directorial debut with the film A Place for Everyone which premiered in competition at the Viennale International Film Festival. His second feature film Shingal, Where Are You? premiered at IDFA. A Place for Everyone and Shingal, Where Are You? have screened at over 80 International Film Festivals receiving some 14 awards and 23 nominations. Angelos has recently been selected to participate as an Emerging Producer 2020 in the 8th Edition of Ji.hlava IDFF in association with Berlinale.
Film description: Mighty Afrin is a coming-of-age story that follows a young orphan girl living in a flood-prone island at the Brahmaputra river. Afrin’s character reflects the battle against the greatest uncertainty and fear in the river basin – the flood and poverty. During the floods, she transforms into a heroine that shows her remarkable resilience and adaptation qualities. Fleeing her home after it is destroyed during a major storm, she embarks on a journey to meet the father who abandoned her as a child. A quest that ultimately brings Afrin face-to-face with the inescapable complexity of abandoned orphans and unskilled labour problems in Bangladesh forcing her to accept early her adulthood. While the film touches on very important contemporary social and global themes such as female empowerment, human rights and climate justice, the approach has a more timeless feeling reminiscent of an ancient Greek drama set in the context of today’s Bangladesh.
Tom Laffay is a self-shooting documentary film director and visual journalist specializing in documentary investigations in Latin America. Based in Colombia since 2016, he has covered the ongoing violence against human rights defenders over the course of the country’s troubled peace process and socio-environmental issues facing the Amazon. He is a member of RISC combat medical training class XVII and a recipient of a Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting grant for documenting mercury trafficking in the Guiana Shield. Tom is bilingual (English / Spanish) and travels extensively producing documentary films for organizations like New Media Advocacy Project and IUCN in South America, Africa and the US. His film Nos Están Matando (They’re Killing Us) was screened to the US Congress, The United Nations in Geneva, Cinema Politica in Montreal, as well as in community and grassroots settings after a viral open-source release. His work has been featured in The New Yorker, National Geographic, The Atlantic, The Guardian, InfoAmazonia, and he contributes to the Colombian national newspaper El Espectador. He’s currently producing his first feature-length film together with the Siona Indigenous Nation of Putumayo, Colombia.
Film Description: Tigre Eléctrico (working title), is a feature-length documentary film about the identity and spirituality of the Siona indigenous people in Colombia. The Siona live between the modernizing, Northwestern Amazon world of commerce and coca production and the spiritual realm which they access through the drinking of the plant medicine called Yagé (Ayahuasca). And while respected by other indigenous groups in the Amazon as masters of the Yagé practice, they are now facing physical and cultural extinction due to a resurgence of armed conflict in their ancestral territory. The film follows three characters as they navigate a web of external and internal challenges. Taita Pablo harvests medicinal plants from the jungle, wary of the army helicopters passing overhead; Adiela, clears a riverbank of mines that killed one of the Siona’s elders, and teaches the community’s children how to avoid them; Mario, stripped of his leadership by his community, must redeem himself as the leader capable of navigating the confluence of threats to his people. Interweaving the lives of these characters and their interactions with the community at large, each scene will play out in observational vignettes that immerse viewers in the Siona’s world. Their individual struggles offer us a window of understanding into the Siona’s larger fight for survival.