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AFI Announces DWW+ Class of 2025 with ‘The Acolyte’ Director Hanelle M. Culpepper as Guest Artistic Director

The American Film Institute (AFI) has officially announced the eight filmmakers for the upcoming AFI DWW+ Class of 2025 program, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the program. IndieWire announces it here.

The AFI DWW+ is a year-long directing program that supports women and traditionally underrepresented narrative filmmakers through the production cycle of a short film, providing hands-on instruction led by industry experts. The short films completed in the workshop will premiere at the annual DWW+ Showcase in Spring 2025.

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AFI DWW alum Hanelle M. Culpepper, who made history helming the “Star Trek: Picard” pilot and recently directed a block of episodes for “Star Wars: The Acolyte,” is this year’s AFI DWW+ Guest Artistic Director. Culpepper will oversee and direct the artistic curriculum and serve as a mentor for the DWW+ participants through their production cycle and the industry showcase, and act as an ambassador on behalf of the program.

“I remember how supported I felt by our community when I participated in DWW,” Culpepper said. “My fellow directors are dear friends to this day, and it was inspiring to learn from the alums out there blazing the trail. I’m excited for what’s ahead for this class, and I’m honored to guide them as they make their shorts and ultimately rise in our industry.”

The AFI DWW+ Class of 2025 participants are Julia Bales, Jahmil Eady, MG Evangelista, Marissa High, Jasmine J. Johnson, Natasha Mynhier, Karina Lomelin Ripper, and Ezra Rose. The eight participants were selected from 20 finalists.

“We are thrilled to welcome the Class of 2025 into the legacy of the AFI DWW+ program,” Susan Ruskin, dean of the AFI Conservatory and executive vice president of the American Film Institute, said. “For 50 years, AFI has been dedicated to lifting up the voices of underrepresented artists and providing opportunities for them to advance in their careers as directors. Along with this year’s AFI DWW+ Guest Artistic Director, Hanelle Culpepper, a groundbreaking director who embodies leadership and passion for directing, and other esteemed alums from the program, we look forward to working with our collaborators and partners across the entertainment industry to continue supporting and creating necessary pathways for underrepresented artists to share their stories with the world.”

The AFI DDW+ program debuted in 1974 as a directing workshop for women. Since the program’s inception, DWW+ has trained over 350 filmmakers who give voice to historically underrepresented perspectives. Alums include Maya Angelou, Anne Bancroft, Cicely Tyson, Joanne Woodward, Ellen Burstyn,  Siân Heder, and more.

This year’s AFI DWW+ program is supported by Paramount Pictures, The Golden Globe Foundation, NBCUniversal, The Walt Disney Studios and Participant. Additional support comes from the Lewis Greenwood Foundation, the Jean Picker Firstenberg Endowment, The Nancy Malone Endowment, The Bob and Dolores Hope Charitable Foundation, and other individual supporters committed to providing opportunities for historically underrepresented voices in the media arts.

See the bios for each of the Class of 2025 mentees below, with language courtesy.

Julia Bales

Julia Bales is a writer and filmmaker whose narrative work focuses on dark, comedic takes on social dynamics. After graduating from Chapman University with a screenwriting degree, Bales worked as a producer for a popular sketch comedy company and on set in production for various television shows, including “Nathan for You,” “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” and “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.” Her short films have played at film festivals throughout the world and premiered online as staff picks with platforms like Vimeo and NoBudge. Bales’ commercial and branded work clients include Amazon, Kellogg’s and Disney.

Jahmil Eady

Jahmil Eady is an award-winning writer, director and producer from Charleston, SC and NYC. She earned her BA in Media Studies from Pomona College and an MFA in Directing from UCLA.

Her work blends genre with social impact and often features people from underrepresented communities in futuristic or fantastical environments. Eady began her career in unscripted film and television and was an associate producer on documentary projects for the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), Viceland and Discovery Networks. Collectively, her short films have screened at over 50 film festivals worldwide, including several Academy Award and BAFTA-qualifying film festivals.

MG Evangelista

MG Evangelista was born in Manila and grew up in the Bay Area. Evangelista received the 2023 United States Artists Fellowship in Film. Their debut feature, “Burning Well” is in development and has been supported by Tribeca, Array, the Torino Feature Film Lab and the SFFilm Rainin Grant. The feature is based on their award-winning short film “Fran This Summer,” which played at Sundance. Evangelista’s work includes the VR dramedy “Water Melts,” supported by Tribeca and Google; LA GLORIA, a Project Involve short; and the award-winning short documentary “They Call Me Suki,” about legendary AAPI activist Suki Terada Ports.

Marissa High

Marissa High is a writer/director with a comedic dialogue-driven style with colorful contrast and camera movement that punctuates emotion. In 2023, she was a Film Fatale Stowe Story Labs Finalist and directed “All Appetite” which won Best Comedy at the Los Angeles Short Film Festival. In the branded space, High has written and directed for Hulu, SELF, Architectural Digest, CollegeHumor, as well as creatively consulted with Kettle, Sid Lee and Big Breakfast. She recently directed Moonbug Entertainment’s “Meekah.” She is currently directing “Thousandaires” for the SVOD platform Dropout. Her feature screenplay “Trashy People” was selected for WIF Film Financing Intensive.

Jasmine J. Johnson

Jasmine J. Johnson (“Triple J”) is a director, writer and producer. Her credits include executive producer on “The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster” (2023), which premiered at SXSW, and co-executive producer on Peacock’s “The Girl in the Woods” and Facebook Watch’s “Mira Mira.” As a director, Johnson explores the intersectionality within the minority experience through immersive storytelling techniques. Using heightened elements like magical realism, surrealism, genre and humor, her work focuses on themes of grief, discovery and the moments that epitomize human resilience. Her latest short, “Inner Demons,” was selected for SXSW’s Midnight Shorts Competition.

Natasha Mynhier

Natasha Mynhier is a director, writer, cinematographer and editor for fiction and documentary projects. Mynhier’s work explores the evolving intersections of science, technology and human rights, especially in how they will impact the lives and futures of women. Recently, Mynhierdirected/produced “Beyond the Summit” chronicling ski mountaineer Kit DesLauriers’ mission to safeguard the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and is currently spearheading a web series about privacy-preserving technology. Mynhier has also worked as a cinematographer for brands like Netflix, Marvel, ESPN and the New York Times, and was selected for the American Society of Cinematographer’s Vision Mentorship Program in 2021.

Karina Lomelin Ripper

Karina Lomelin Ripper is a Mexican-American writer and director whose films tell stories that center Latina/e characters and subvert expectations. Ripper’s short “Vision” (2022) won Best Documentary Short at the Official Latino Film Festival and her short documentary “La Tienda” (2020) aired on PBS as part of “The Latino Experience.” She was selected for the 2021 Eastern Oregon Filmmaker Residency and most recently, received the 2023 Tell Your Story Oregon Creative Foundation Grant to develop a feature script based off of her short film “Chispa,” which will premiere at festivals in 2024. Ripper is on the directors roster at Maverick.

Ezra Rose

Ezra Rose (they/them) is a filmmaker living on Lenape land/New York City. Born in Norfolk, England, Rose began their career in entertainment playing disgruntled children on television. As a director, they focus on stories of queer and trans community histories, experiences of disability and historically suppressed voices. They have directed several short films including “Clown Tits,” an experimental meditation on dysphoria told through drag, dance and queer history, and are currently working on a documentary project, PAPER TIES, about the radical history of community-generated transgender publications. Rose is a Winter Guest Resident at Woodward Residency in Ridgewood, Queens.

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