Rolling Out

Lena Waithe, Indeed and 271 Films announce season 4 ‘Rising Voices’ finalists

On Dec. 15, Indeed, Hillman Grad and 271 Films revealed this year’s finalists to take part in the initiative to drive more inclusion in the filmmaking industry
Photo credit: Maria Alvarez/

Lena Waithe‘s Hillman Grad Productions, 271 Films and Indeed are continuing their mission to empower filmmakers of color.

On Dec. 15, Rising Voices — an initiative to drive more inclusion within the industry — celebrated its fourth year with the announcement of a new class of filmmakers.

The selected finalists will receive $100,000 to create short films about the future of work, which will premiere at the Tribeca Festival in New York City in June 2024. The year’s selected filmmakers are Anndi Jinelle Liggett, Jean Liu, Kelly Yu, Kevin and Kelly Luu, Manuel Del Valle, Mercedes Arturo, Omar Kamara, Robin D’Oench, Wesley Goodrich and Winter Dunn.

Rolling out attended the filmmakers’ retreat on Dec. 14 to interview finalists; Anndi Jinelle Liggett, Omar Kamara, Wesley Goodrich and Winter Dunn. Moreover, Indeed’s CEO Chris Hyams; and SVP of ESG Lafawn Davis — as well as Hillman Grad’s CEO Rish Rajani; and SVP of operations Justin Riley — were present to congratulate the winners. The business luminaries also highlighted the significance of mentorship, development and financial support the filmmakers will receive.

“Within the support is to build a class of filmmakers that are going to help change the landscape of Hollywood, and we’re seeing the impact of those filmmakers already,” said Rajani. “You have filmmakers from the first season of the program, Quincy [Gossfield], Deondray [Gossfield], that are producing directors on “The Chi,” and that kind of impact is wildly significant.”

“Mentoring is such an important aspect,” said Riley. “Yes, we give you $100,000, and it’s essential to make these feelings. But what’s equally important is the knowledge that goes with it to ensure they can deliver the story on the screen. And so, that’s pairing them with great mentors.”

“The important thing about this program is it’s not focused on just the people in front of the camera, which many programs are,” says LaFawn. Hyams noted the impact filmmaking has on shaping societal views.

“[Filmmaking] is deeply impactful to how people see the world,” said Hyams. “You know what every little kid grows up thinking about who is a hero and who is a villain is shaped by what they see on TV and in movies.”

“More representation in front of the camera, which makes sense. But what’s also important is the entire ecosystem,” said Davis. “The directors, the producers, the lighting, the crew, it’s everyone. Watching these filmmakers not only take advantage of this opportunity but also create these opportunities for others.”

Rounding out the day’s activities, the filmmakers candidly discussed their craft, the future of work and the delicate balance of art and survival.

“I think that’s a conversation among artists we don’t talk about,” said Dunn, whose short film is entitled Play Hard. “Yes, we’re pursuing this creativity because we love it, and that’s a beautiful thing, but what happens when your love is also your livelihood? How do you find balance in that?”

Omar Kamara, director/writer of the short Bitter Leaf, added that despite the arduous road of creating art, it’s a “good” hard.

“I mean, I think that’s the most difficult thing about being an artist,” Kamara said. “Like making movies, it’s amazing; it’s hard. But that it’s like a good kind of hard.”

Season four of “Rising Voices” received 40 percent more applications from filmmakers across the country, signaling the program’s growing reputation as a significant career accelerator for filmmakers from under-resourced communities.

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