NYWIFT Blog

NYWIFT’s Annual Meet the Candidates Event: A Night of Nights

By Stephanie Okun

On a sunny day in June, I took the Metro North up to Yonkers to go to NYWIFT’s annual member meeting at Great Point Studios, which doubled as our 2024 Meet the Candidates Night where we can meet the candidates running for the 2024-25 NYWIFT Board elections.

When I arrived at the event, I ran into former intern and music composer Mara Keen in the lot. We headed upstairs to the venue and immediately started taking photos and mingling, enjoying the wonderful spread. There were beautiful sandwiches, hor-d’œuvres, and desserts, including cannolis and– my favorite– fresh chocolate chip cookies. I said hello to the board members and friends Sweta Keswani and Terry Lawler before the ceremony began. We watched a video on the great work that Great Point Studios is doing in Yonkers, truly becoming the Burbank of the east coast and serving their community at the same time. Then, the speeches began.

From left: Former Board Member Maria Miles with candidates Maria Soccor, Kim Jackson, Okema T. Moore, and Sibyl Reymundo-Santiago (Photo by Carlos Santiago)

First, current NYWIFT Board Member Kim Jackson spoke. I met her at the screening of Fresh Kills last month but, before then, I had definitely seen her around. She’s a producer who is now also taking on the feat of directing. The few times that we’ve spoken, she’s always been personable and enjoyable to be around. She has also demonstrated an innate curiosity, and a need to tell more stories and tell them in new ways. As she spoke to me about a project she’s currently working on, she definitely has a passion for exploring many facets of the world through her creativity and this made it very easy for me to relate to her. 

Kim mentioned that a woman who wasn’t a member had approached her earlier on in the night and voiced that she was nervous to be there because “women aren’t always nice to each other.” As a graduate of an all-women’s college, Kim said that she knows that this is certainly true but she loves that, at NYWIFT, this isn’t the case. And as a graduate of a small liberal arts college in the middle of Connecticut where there’s not much to do, I know that too! At NYWIFT, we really are a community and there’s always a sense of comradery and sisterhood at all our events. Here, there’s no need to compete or tear each other down. Here, we uplift each other. Period. If re-elected, Kim will continue to nurture the character of this organization. 

Next to speak was current NYWIFT Board Member Okema T. Moore. Now a producer and rising director, Okema left Wall Street at age 36. When she heard the news, her Caribbean immigrant mother put her hands up in the air and took the attitude of “you know, it’s your life; you do what you want to do.” And Okema sure did! At her first NYWIFT event, Okema met former board member Annetta Marion, who hired her as her office PA then production coordinator for Oprah’s Master Class. And she hasn’t stopped working since.

Okema loves NYWIFT because she knows it is a place of acceptance and she embodies it the minute you meet her. She immediately greeted me with a hug and friendly, funny conversation when I walked into the room. We took photos and videos and danced when there was no music – because that kind of attitude is an essential part of being an active, present NYWIFT member, in my humble opinion. She brings the fun and her lighthearted nature to the function, and makes everyone else there feel seen, valued, and important.

In her speech to the ladies, Okema noted most prominently that NYWIFT reflects the vibrant, full, and diverse nature of our society. NYWIFT resembles the world that we live in and that is hugely comforting to anyone who has been marginalized. So she can be Black, queer, and a woman all at once and it doesn’t matter. All of her presence is welcome in the room. If re-elected, she will further her mission to maintain NYWIFT as a warm and fun place where artists can develop, advance their careers, and thrive.

Next, there was producer and actor Sibyl Reymundo-Santiago. Sibyl is president of Sitting Cat Productions, founding member and co-lead of the PGA AAPI Working Group, active member of BAFTA and the PGA, Executive Director and Head of Programming at the SoHo International Film Festival, and current VP of Special Events on the Board of NYWIFT. I’m tired after just writing down some of what she has been a part of, but it’s a lot. Sibyl immediately thanked both NYWIFT and Great Point Studios staff for making this event happen.

Sibyl’s mother was an actor/director/producer in the Philippines and she grew up on set. So it was only natural for her to transition into the industry herself. Out of seven children, she was the one to follow in mom’s footsteps. It’s clear that her strong, successful mom growing up influenced her to be the same. I met her at the last annual board member election at Great Point Studios last year and all of my interactions with her have been warm and empowering. 

Sibyl Reymundo-Santiago, Okema T. Moore, Kim Jackson, and Maria Soccor at NYWIFT Meet the Candidates 2024 (Photo by Carlos Santiago)

 

 

As someone who also grew up with a powerful professional mom, this led me to take on the mindset that my dreams are achievable through hard work and devotion/dedication/passion, as well as a desire to band together to accomplish things with others, especially other women. Watching Mom bear the fruits of her accomplishments instills a special kind of confidence because, when we see it, we believe it. Actually… we know it. We learn through totally unconscious osmosis that we, powerful women, can all do it just like powerful men can. I love meeting other women who have seen their moms do it and then watching them show other women that they can do it too. So, here’s to the daughters of moms who kicked some ass! If re-elected, Sibyl will without a doubt spread the message that she and I never had to question – and then maybe one day in a galaxy far, far away, no one will have to question it again.

Last to speak at the function was actor and producer Maria Soccor. I met Maria at a Tribeca event with Film Fatales and Women in Entertainment a week before the NYWIFT event at Great Point Studios. I recognized her from NYWIFT’s Instagram page, where she was recently featured in our Community Building membership drive. She was very friendly and welcomed me with open arms to the function. She joked that she was a member of every group but that NYWIFT was her favorite (sorry if I’m spilling a secret, Maria, but I think it’s okay given the context of this article). She was happy to hear that I was writing blogs for NYWIFT, watched the reel I made for Fresh Kills on her phone in front of me while we were at cocktail hour, and said she would try to make it to Yonkers. And she did – all the way from Philadelphia, after a full day of work! Needless to say, if elected to the NYWIFT Board of Directors, Maria will show up.

NYWIFT Member Toni R. Israel

 

Lastly, our attention was pointed back to the screen so that we could view the testimonies of the two candidates who could not be in attendance that night. Toni Isreal is the CEO and founder of REALEMN Productions LLC, Broadway’s leading multicultural marketing and PR team run by Black women. As a playwright and fellow lover of Broadway, I connected with Toni’s background of falling in love with theater and deciding to make it a place for her and to attract others to come see it. I totally support women broadening their horizons beyond theater or film alone and venturing into a new medium. 

Toni is a proud member of many different groups in show business, including ones that advocate for women and BIPOC. In being a partner and guardian, she provides her communities with a much-needed role model of an industry leader like them. It’s evident that, not only is Toni a strong woman herself, but she finds pride and joy in community, in reaching a hand down to those who need to be pulled up. She uses her power to be a friend, colleague, and part of a cohort, as opposed to the only woman at the top– because that’s unsustainable and lonely. As a trailblazer and leading lady in the theater world, I know that she will bring the same energy to our board at NYWIFT. If elected, Toni will bring all her varied experiences to enhance our perspective as a film- and TV-driven organization.

NYWIFT Board Member Audrey Rosenberg

Audrey Rosenberg is a producer for documentary, film, television, and short form. She is most known for her work on Academy Award-nominated docuseries I Am Not Your Negro, Soul City, Infamous, and others. I remember meeting her at my first Muse Awards when my friend and then fellow NYWIFT intern Ozzi Ramirez was her shadow and their honoree was Sharon Stone. And, of course, we remember Sharon Stone because she was the nice lady who loved my favorite boots. That’s what Sharon Stone is most known for around here, right? Anyway… back to Audrey. 

This woman was all business when it came to making sure the show went on and our audience got the message of each speaker. She did her thing and kept everyone else in the right place too – no nonsense. She struck me as having the perfect personality for production. I could tell she was a no-beating-around-the-bush kind of woman who crossed her t’s and dotted her i’s, which is a quality that I respect and admire. And she cares deeply about NYWIFT’s mission.

Her video to us as voters was formal, honorable, and to the point. She spoke to us as fellow industry members who responded to her credentials and not to some superficial facade or silly, shiny things. Nothing was dumbed down for the audience. She was qualified, she had her values, and we were aware. If elected, Audrey will make sure that, at NYWIFT, the only thing that women leaders will have to be is qualified. Bravo Audrey! 

After all of that, there were hugs, photos, and celebration all around. Yes, it was an election but it was more of a celebration as opposed to a slew of female candidates being pitted against each other for a limited number of slots. All of the women expressed that they remain active members of this organization, regardless of the results, because they love it and derive so much positive energy simply by being a part of it. And I would agree! I’ve definitely said this many times before but, as a member of this NYWIFT, I felt happy and lucky to be surrounded by these people. It means the world to have a thriving, capable, and wonderful group of ladies that affirm and guide me as I venture into the realm of this crazy industry.

 

The NYWIFT Board Elections are open through July 12. Ballots have been emailed to all eligible voting members. Please remember to participate.

PUBLISHED BY

Stephanie Okun

Stephanie Okun Stephanie Okun is a screenwriter and recent grad from Wesleyan University. She is currently working on a feature film script set in the Kentucky horse racing world and another script that she started at Wesleyan. She is excited to join NYWIFT to make her first steps as a professional in the world of film and television.

View all posts by Stephanie Okun

Comments are closed

Related Posts

Meet the New NYWIFT Member: Veronica Moya

Welcome to NYWIFT, Veronica Moya! Driven by a belief in every child's innate wisdom and spiritual connection, Veronica founded a platform dedicated to nurturing these qualities. Her mission is to empower children to embrace their truths confidently, equipping them with the tools to navigate life's adventures while staying true to their inner spirit. Through her work, Veronica instills a sense of self-awareness and inner security, guiding children to realize their role as creators of their own happiness and fulfillment in the world.

READ MORE

Meet the New NYWIFT Member: Claire Englebienne

Don’t hold the applause! It’s time for us to welcome our new NYWIFT member, Claire Englebienne! Claire is currently a Film & TV student at NYU who’s extremely passionate about storytelling and has begun writing and directing her own work. Originally from Argentina, she hopes to tell stories from her home country that move people. Read our full interview with Claire to learn more about her exciting projects, her experience working in the film industry in Argentina and some inspiring advice she’s received!

READ MORE

Meet the New NYWIFT Member: Nicole West

Welcome to the NYWIFT community, Nicole West! Nicole is a visual effects technical director who has spent her career blending technology with art. She has a great love for the performing arts and is on a creative journey with storytelling. Read our full interview with Nicole below to learn more about her experience working in visual effects, her advice for successful collaborations, and her insights about technology and art.

READ MORE

Meet the New NYWIFT Member: Willette Murphy Klausner

If you’ve seen a great Broadway show recently, chances are Willette Murphy Klausner had something to do with it. As the founder and owner of WMK Productions in Los Angeles she has produced or co-produced dozens of award-winning theatrical and film projects, including MJ the Musical, Hadestown, Stereophonic, The Wiz. Porgy and Bess, Three Mo’ Tenors, Caroline or Change and Cabaret, just to name a few. For film, she’s co-producing the documentary Liza, which just premiered at the Tribeca Festival. Previous films include Radium Girls and Wakefield with several film and TV projects in development. In 2022 she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Drama League. She has served on the Boards of Directors of the Los Angeles Music Center and the Women in Film Foundation, is a member of the League of Professional Theatre Women, the National Women’s Forum, and NYWIFT. She is currently on the board of Coalition for African Americans in the Performing Arts.

READ MORE
JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER
css.php