2023 NYWIFT Creative Workforce STEM Summit: Day 2, ‘Women in the Sci-Fi Directors Chair’ (Virtual Panel)

Join us for Day 2 of 2023 NYWIFT Creative Workforce STEM Summit with “Women in the Sci-Fi Director’s Chair.”

Date: Thursday, June 22, 2023

Time: 4-6pm ET

Location: Virtual panel (link will be sent after registration)

Tickets: In order to make our incredible lineup of innovative leaders accessible to the wider community, we are excited to announce that attendance at the NYWIFT Creative Workforce STEM Summit at the Paley Center will be complimentary!



Welcome Address from NYWIFT Education & Advocacy Committee Board Members: Audrey Rosenberg and Rachel Watanabe-Batton

Audrey Rosenberg is a Peabody-Award-winning, Emmy-nominated producer known for her ability to cultivate talent, develop material, and champion projects from inception to release. She co-founded Invisible Pictures, a NY-based woman-led production company focused on authentic representation, and has since returned to independent producing. Audrey has a unique ability to remain outside the Hollywood system while also working within it to promote authentic storytelling and to advocate for healing projects that deserve visibility. She is lead producer on the HBO Original documentary Katrina Babies that premiered at Tribeca 2022 in competition and will air on HBO Max August 24, 2022. Audrey produced Bull, which premiered at Cannes 2019, EP’d the series Soul City (with Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy directors Coodie&Chike) which premiered on Topic in 2020, and produced the feature Long Weekend, which was released by Sony in 2021. Other credits include EP (with Steven Soderbergh) on the Emmy-nominated HBO documentary His Way, and EP on HBO’s Emmy-winning By the People: The Election of Barack Obama (with Edward Norton). Audrey was part of the producing team on Douglas McGrath’s Infamous (starring Sandra Bullock, Daniel Craig, and Toby Jones). She produced Sean Gullette’s award-winning feature, Traitors; Co-EP’d Dawn Porter’s Trapped; and was Consulting Producer for the multi-award winning and Academy-Award nominated I Am Not Your Negro. Audrey is a member of the Television Academy, the Producers Guild of America, and the Documentary Producers Alliance.

Rachel Watanabe-Batton has been a producer of film, tv and popular culture for more than 20 years. She founded NY-based production company Contradiction and Struggle to connect cinema, causes and capital and create authentic content that cultivates community, diversity and empathy.  Current projects include the documentary Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl with NYWIFT Muse and Nancy Malone Directing Awardee Julie Dash, which is based on chef Vertamae Grosvenor’s memoir cookbook and received a 2019 National Endowment for the Humanities production grant. She was a 2019 IFP Week Creator/Fellow for the documentary with Dash, and narrative series 1850 about mixed couples, migration and polarized politics during an epidemic (co-created with NYWIFT member Lara Stapleton). Her work has been supported by grantors including NEH, NEA, Black Public Media, Ford Foundation and Radcliffe. Rachel is an in-demand consultant, moderator, speaker and juror at film festivals and conferences, and known for spearheading diverse inter-guild readings, women’s industry mixers and the popular Celebration of Women parties during Tribeca and Sundance.  She was honored by Mayor Bill DeBlasio and former NYC MOME Commissioner Cynthia Lopez with the MADE IN NY Award for her leadership as Producers Guild of America East Vice Chair, PGA Diversity Committee Chair (2008-2018) and co-founder of PGA Women’s Impact Network.  She currently serves as Chair of the Board of Manhattan Neighborhood Network (largest media access center in the U.S.) and on the boards of New York Women in Film & Television, and Women Independent Producers.  Rachel is committed to creating quality storytelling and cultivating gender, race and class equity for a more humane world.


Case Study: Short and Long-Form STEM Programming

Join us for an intimate look at how Series Creator Ntokozo Mbuli (Vutha) created a 13-part scripted series for South African television that offers a dramatic look at medical issues faced by the South African people, set inside the political context of the healthcare industry and its cast of characters. In juxtaposition, we will hear from Guggenheim Fellow and Creative Capital recipient William Caballero, with his unique documentary-style short-form animation that plays homage to his father’s struggle with diabetes and his last acts before his kidneys fail him. Also including Director Annetta Marion and her work on the award winning documentary, Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie. These uniquely heartfelt and passionate portraits exemplify art reflecting life, and make us feel how our health is at the core of our personal identities. These creators will discuss how they were able to secure funding for STEM programming and maintain creative direction while pushing the limits of their story to connect directly to audiences. 

William D. Caballero is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker, writer, Guggenheim Fellow, and Creative Capital Awardee. Born in Coney Island, New York and raised in North Carolina, Caballero obtained the Bill Gates Millennium Scholarship in 2001, and returned to New York City where he graduated from Pratt Institute and New York University, graduating Magna Cum Laude and Cum Laude, respectively.

Caballero’s directorial debut came in the form of a feature length autobiographical documentary entitled AMERICAN DREAMS DEFERRED, which focused on the diverse health, financial, and social difficulties facing his Puerto Rican-American family. This cinema-verité film was selected for the NALIP (National Association of Latino Independent Producers) Latino Producers Academy, eventually receiving the first annual HBO-NALIP Documentary grant. Five years after its conception, it went on to have a national television premiere on PBS on December, 2012. Post-premiere, he has screened the documentary at over 40 American universities.

From 2020 -2021, Caballero received funding from Latino Public Broadcasting to create CHILLY AND MILLY, an animated short film about his Puerto Rican parents, that premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, and won the Jury Award at the PBS Short Film Festival. The short film is currently under consideration for an Emmy Award.

William received a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship. It was his first time applying for this prestigious grant. In addition, in December 2021, William received the 2021 Creative Capital Award.

Annetta Marion is a Primetime Emmy-nominated director and showrunner known for her work on Oprah’s Master Class and NBC’s Making It with Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. She has worked with the biggest stars on major shows for Netflix, ESPN, OWN, MTV, VH1, Apple+, and Investigation Discovery. Her latest project she produced – Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, world premiered at 2023 Sundance to standing ovations and rave reviews.

She serves the DGA as a National Board Alternate, on the Eastern Directors Council, and co-chair of the Focus on Women Committee. Annetta is a sought-after speaker at New York Women in Film & Television’s NYWIFT talks, Filmmakers and Artists Welcome at Sundance, and the SWSX Portrait House Filmmakers panel. Amongst other projects, she is currently developing a new series Park Slope Moms about a high-powered attorney who becomes a stay-at-home mom, and a one-hour drama series Twice Royal, about the real-life Princess Nest of Wales, was famous for her beauty and her impact on powerful men.


Melissa Adeyemo (Moderator) is a Nigerian American producer and the founder of Ominira Studios, a NJ-based production company. Ominira produces dynamic and visually ambitious stories by and about Black and African people. Her first feature, Eyimofe, premiered at the 2020 Berlinale, has shown at over 20+ festivals, and was acquired by Janus Films. It is currently a part of the Criterion Collection, where Melissa is the first African female producer to be featured in her own standalone spotlight interview.

Melissa’s first documentary feature, Dusty & Stones, premiered in November 2022 at DOC NYC and will premiere at Big Sky Film Festival 2023. Dusty & Stones is supported by HBO New True Stories Grant, Park Pictures, Film Independent Fast Track, Durban FilmMart, and DOC NYC’s Only in NY. Melissa started her filmmaking career on Spike Lee’s, Inside Man and Steven Spielberg’s, Munich.

Melissa was recently named a 2022 BAFTA Breakthrough Fellow, a 2023 Film Independent Amplifier Fellow and she is a part of 2023 European Audiovisual Entrepreneur (EAVE) program. She is also a fellow of the Cannes Producer’s Network, all three Gotham Labs, Film Independent’s Fast Track, the Attagirl Residency Program, and the WIF & Sundance Financing Intensive.

Prior to producing full-time, Melissa worked for ROK Studios of iROKOtv, a Lagos based media and technology start-up. Melissa also worked in the Telecommunications, Media and Tech arm of PwC Strategy&, Nickelodeon, New Line Cinema and Women Make Movies. Melissa has an MBA from NYU Stern on a full scholarship and a BA in African Studies from Columbia University.


Women in the Sci-Fi Director’s Chair

Sci-fi has long been a refuge for people who don’t fit into “traditional” roles — a place where you can imagine what it would be like to be someone else, in a different world, maybe even a different universe. Often, but not always, a better one. This can be especially empowering for marginalized communities. Directors from some of the latest science fiction TV series and films join us to discuss progressive world-building, shattering stereotypes, and expanding horizons beyond our storytelling limits.

Ayoka Chenzira is an Emmy and NAACP nominated television director and an award-winning pioneer in Black American independent cinema. She is one of the first African American women to write, produce and direct a 35 mm feature film, Alma’s Rainbow, and an animated film, Hair Piece, which in 2018 was inducted into the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress. Her early films recently received 4K restorations by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Film Archive and the Film Foundation. 1In 2023 Bowie State University named its stop-motion animation studio in Ayoka’s honor. Along with her daughter HaJ, Ayoka created the groundbreaking interactive sci-fi/fantasy film, HERadventure, the first such project to feature a woman of color as a superhero. Ayoka has directed television episodes of Queen Sugar, Trinkets, Greenleaf, Dynasty, Delilah, A League of Their Own, 4400, Octavia Butler’s Kindred and Beacon 23.

Writer and director, Eunice Levis is a first-generation Dominican American from the Bronx, New York. Eunice’s work focuses on genre bending stories that combine her love of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy often through a diasporic lens. She is a two-time Sundance Lab Second Rounder, a Stowe Story Lab Fellow, and a Netflix/NALIP Women of Color Short Film Incubator fellow. Eunice’s Caribbean folklore horror micro short FELL ENDS was an extraordinary selection at NYX’s 13 minutes of horror film festival and streamed on Shudder.
Eunice currently has two short films in the festival circuit. INVADE, an environmental dark sci-fi which made the second round of the 2020 Sundance Episodic Lab with its pilot script. And, RO & THE STARDUST, a space fantasy short which won Best Narrative Short at the 25th Annual Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival, making it a 2024 Oscar® qualified Narrative Short Film.
In addition to writing and directing, Eunice is an adjunct professor at Saint Joseph’s University and cohosts Café Negro con Genre, a podcast that promotes creatives working in the genre space. She has a graduate degree from New York University and is managed by 3 Arts Entertainment.

Filmmaker, artist and author, Michèle Stephenson (Moderator), pulls from her Haitian and Panamanian roots to think radically about storytelling and build a practice that centers the lived experiences of the Black diaspora in the Americas. She tells compelling, deeply personal stories that are created by, for and about communities of color that reimagine and challenge the status quo. She is a Grand Jury Prize winner at the Sundance and Tribeca Festivals, a four-time Emmy Award nominee, and a NAACP Image Award Recipient for Outstanding Literary Work. Stephenson is also a Guggenheim and Creative Capital artist. She lives in Brooklyn with her creative and life partner, Joe Brewster. Twitter: @michele0608 / Instagram: @michele_0608


See the full Summit schedule

June 22 @ 4:00pm
4:00 pm — 6:00 pm (2h)


Register for Summit

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NYWIFT programs, screenings and events are supported, in part, by grants from New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.