Welcome to NYWIFT Talks, a weekly series to bring updated news and vital information about the impact of COVID-19 and current events on the media and entertainment industry. Industry professionals will be in conversation discussing what you need to know about theatrical releases, digital advances, virtual tools, festival opportunities, production updates and more.
NYWIFT Talks are free for all to attend.
In this week’s NYWIFT Talks, join us for a conversation with Executive Producers Rachel Watanabe-Batton and Jane Startz, the team behind Disney+’s latest film, Sneakerella. This will be led by NYWIFT Board Member and Executive Director of Black Public Media Leslie Fields-Cruz. Learn more about the new film below.
Set in the vibrant street-sneaker subculture of New York City, Sneakerella is a high-energy, music-driven movie that puts a contemporary twist on the “Cinderella” fairy tale. El is an aspiring sneaker designer from Queens who works as a stock boy in the shoe store that once belonged to his late mother. He hides his artistic talent from his overburdened stepfather and two mean-spirited stepbrothers who constantly thwart any opportunity that comes his way. When El meets Kira King, the fiercely independent daughter of legendary basketball star and sneaker tycoon Darius King, sparks fly as the two bond over their mutual affinity for sneakers. With a little nudge from his best friend and a sprinkle of Fairy Godfather magic, El finds the courage to use his talent to pursue his dream of becoming a ‘legit’ sneaker designer in the industry. El is now ready to lace up and dream big. The original movie Sneakerella launched May 13, exclusively on Disney+.
Date: Wednesday, May 25th, 2022
Time: 4:00PM ET
Rachel Watanabe-Batton is an independent film and tv producer and founder of Contradiction and Struggle, best known for producing inclusive storytelling that reframes history and culture, and connects cinema, causes and capital. Most recently, she produced a film installation directed by artist Jenn Nkiru for The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new Afrofuturist Period Room, which opens November 5, 2021; and EPIX docu-series “By Whatever Means Necessary” received the 2021 NAACP Award for Outstanding Directing in a Documentary. Watanabe-Batton was Consulting Producer on the series for director/EP Keith McQuirter. In addition to working toward the upcoming 2022 release of “Sneakerella” with Disney Plus, she is Executive Producing the hybrid documentary “Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl” with legendary writer-director Julie Dash (“Daughters of the Dust”) based on the cookbook Vibration Cooking, or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl by Vertamae Smart Grosvenor, a James Beard award-winning chef and pioneer of modern-day food writing. The doc has received generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Field of Vision, Black Public Media, National Endowment for the Arts, The College of Charleston and fiscal sponsor Women Make Movies. Dash and Watanabe-Batton are developing multiple scripted series together. Watanabe-Batton’s producing credits include the reality series “I Pity the Fool” with Mr. T (TV Land & Lionsgate), the documentary “Cutting Edge” (Cinemax) and doc series “Insider Training” (Discovery). She has produced narrative films with numerous auteur directors including “Ripe” (Mo Ogrodnik), “Book of Love” (Jeff Byrd), “The Killers” (Tanya Hamilton) and “Bajo del Perro” (Polish Brothers). Her directing-producing credits include documentary short “Crisis in the Club” for EP Tonya Lewis-Lee and The Office of Minority Health. Her first film “Once You’re In” aired on WGBH while she was still an undergraduate at Harvard-Radcliffe College, which she co-directed and produced with award-winning photographer Lauren Greenfield. Watanabe-Batton’s passion for historical and heady projects is balanced by a lifelong love of collaborating with musical artists since her days at the High School of Music & Art and homeroom class with future hiphop innovators Slick Rick and Dana Dane. After getting her start in creative development at Warner Bros in Burbank with producers Paula Weinstein and Mark Rosenberg at Spring Creek Productions and assisting Australian director Peter Weir on the film “Fearless,” she worked at the groundbreaking Propaganda Films on award-winner commercials, music videos and classic shows such as “Thunderbirds.” During the heyday of hip hop, Watanabe-Batton co-founded the New York music video production company Department of Film with director/EP Nick Quested at Goldcrest Post in the late 1990s. She has produced classic videos for music icons including Nas, Diddy, Usher, WuTang, Lil Jon, Fat Joe, Trick Daddy, DMX and many other artists. Watanabe-Batton has also directed top ten videos in the U.S. and Africa, and helmed productions throughout the world. She currently serves as Chair of the Board of the nation’s largest media access center Manhattan Neighborhood Network , and on the boards of New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT), and Women Independent Producers. Rachel is committed to creating quality storytelling and cultivating gender, race and class equity. She was honored by NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and Mayor DeBlasio with a MADE IN NY Award for her leadership with the Producers Guild of America East (PGA) as Vice Chair, PGA Diversity Chair (2008-2018) and co-founder of PGA Women’s Impact Network.
Jane Startz is an award-winning producer and president of the production company Jane Startz Productions, Inc. which acquires, develops and produces intellectual properties across all media platforms. She is known for adapting high-profile literary material for children and families around the world. Prior to overseeing her own production company, Startz co-founded and served as the Executive Vice President of Scholastic Productions, the film and television division of Scholastic, Inc. Among Startz’s theatrical credits are “Ella Enchanted,” “Tuck Everlasting,” “The Indian in the Cupboard,” “The Mighty,” and “The Baby-Sitters Club.” Her Emmy award-winning animated television series, “The Magic School Bus,” which she developed and executive produced, became a major children’s franchise and is the longest-running science-based show in broadcast history. Startz is currently producing the animated feature film, “The Tiger’s Apprentice,” for Paramount, starring Henry Golding, Sandra Oh and Lucy Liu. Her live action feature-length film, “The School For Good and Evil,” starring Charlize Theron, Kerry Washington, and Laurence Fishburne, premieres on Netflix in 2022. For Nickelodeon, Startz is producing the animated series, “Max and The Midknights,” based on the New York Times bestselling graphic novel of the same name by Big Nate author, Lincoln Peirce. “Get Rolling With Otis”, an animated series executive produced by Startz, recently premiered on Apple+. Her pre-school animated series, “Llama Llama,” based on the bestselling books by Anna Dewdney is airing on Netflix. Currently, Startz is developing movies based on three high-profile children’s book properties: Song for A Whale, Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found, and Goddess Girls. Startz has also produced a wide array of content for television, including the long-running series, “Charles In Charge,” “The Baby- Siitters’ Club” series, “The Last Day of Summer,” “The Truth About Alex,” “My Sweet Audrina,” the V.C. Andrews mini-series, “Ruby Landry” and “Heaven,” and the Emmy awardwinning series, “Spooksville,” based on the bestselling books by Christopher Pike. In addition to producing, Startz serves as the media consultant for publisher Penguin Books for Young Readers. She also works as a literary manager helping writers develop entertaining cross-media franchises. These properties include the international bestselling series, The School For Good and Evil, Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found, Gabby Duran and the Unsittables and Always Anjali. She created the six-part book series, Amigas, for Disney-Hyperion and is co-creator and co-founder of Ridemakerz, an award-winning retail and online brand which inspires self-expression through the creation of one-of-a-kind toy cars. Startz is a member of the Association of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, The Producers Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America.
NYWIFT Board Member Leslie Fields-Cruz (moderator) started at Black Public Media, formerly National Black Programming Consortium, in 2001 managing grant making activities that supported the production and development of documentary programs for PBS. By 2005, she was the Director of Programming, leading the distribution of all funded programs to public television. In 2008, with six independent titles in need of a public television broadcast, Leslie launched AfroPoP: The Ultimately Cultural Exchange, a documentary series highlighting the variety and depth of the global black experience. AfroPoP has garnered several awards and is the only national public television series focused solely on stories from the black experience. In the fall of 2014, Leslie became BPM’s third Executive Director. Though she keeps the pulse on the development of program content and its distribution across public media platforms, she is focused on growing BPM’s resources to enable it to support more stories about the Black experience.
This program will take place virtually as a webinar via Zoom. Please register in advance, and all registrants will receive a link to attend the webinar the day of the event.
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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.