The AT&T Filmmaker Mentorship Program kicked off their third year with the debut of five short films written and directed by ten of the program’s mentees at Neuehouse in Hollywood last Thursday night. Mentees received the full star treatment as they were photographed and did interviews on the black carpet.
There was no shortage in support for the premiere of the films as this year’s Lead Program Mentor, Lena Waithe attended along with her producing partner and executive producer of BET’s “Boomerang” Risha Rajani. Actors from the short films Dascha Polanco (appearing in “Spilt Milk”), Jaylin Fletcher (appearing “Postmarked”), and Rileigh McDonald (appearing in “Adeline, the Great”), as well as a friend of the program, Storm Reid and more, were in attendance as well.
On the carpet, several mentees shared how excited they were to diversify the entertainment industry with films that uplifted the voices of many people who do not receive representation or are only represented in certain ways on the big screens. Malakai, the Director of “Postmarked”, a film that that involves a trans woman who has run away from home after being ostracized told The Knockturnal, “It was really important for me to not only onboard the film with GLAAD but also to make sure that we were bringing on a consultant who could really speak to the black trans voice. Right now, we have that disparity where 19 black trans women alone have been murdered in cold blood this year. So when we have that disparity and even if there’s a little peek of that in this film, I didn’t really want to take it lightly.”
For Brittany Menjivar, Writer of “Fragile.com”, she wanted to give women a space to be seen differently. She shared the inspiration behind the film with the Knockturnal citing Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream” as the source of her inspiration. One scene, in particular, involving Jennifer Connolley performing at a club struck her. “Tears are running down her face but the men around her don’t seem to care. They’re not stopping to take the moment to put themselves in her place and that got me thinking about the way we represent women’s pain and vulnerability in film and also the way we conceptualize them in society and “Fragile.com” was born out of that.”
It was not only amazing to hear how excited the mentees were/are to champion displaying different identities through their films but to see it represented in this year’s program participants was just that much sweeter. This year’s participants include 5 emerging screenwriters + 5 directors handpicked by Lena Waithe and her team. All 10 participants represent a range of diverse identities including LGBTQ+, women, communities of color, and more.
Malik Aziz, Writer of “1 out of 30” found even more confidence in his identity after being a part of the program. He told us, “I think the confidence that comes from okay if I can do this, then what can’t I do? And not only that but why would I try and go back and do it like everyone else? If I can just write in my own voice, you know my own Muslim voice, my own Black voice, why not keep doing that you know?”
Given so many different identities, perspectives, and ideas colliding from participants, it’s easy to see why the mentees would want to collaborate together. Mechi Parada Lakatos, Writer of “Spilt Milk” shared her thankfulness for the program introducing her to her newest project partner. “It’s been really cool. I’m working with one of the directors of another one of the movies. We are writing a screenplay together now so it’s been really cool to make these connections and connect with other filmmakers who are trying to do the same kind of work that I am and to be mentored by people who are doing the same thing as well on other levels.”
With mentorship being the focus of this program it’s incredible that it continues beyond once the films are finished. To further fuel the mentorship cycle, mentees from past years have become mentors and advisors to the program and its current mentees. Through workshops and panels at AT&T events, to working with Ghetto Film School mentees, past mentees stay connected to the program through continued mentorship.
Jasmine Johnson, Writer of “Adeline, The Great” plans on using the tips program mentor Lena Waithe gave her. Johnson shared the advice with us saying, “The best advice that she (Lena) gave me was to leave my heart on the page. She said that is what she did when she wrote her Emmy winning episode of “Master of None” and I was like got it! That is my goal, that is my North Star! So now going forward that’s what I’m doing, leaving my heart on the page, and making sure that I tell the most authentic story that I possibly can.”
Since 2017, the AT&T mentorship program has had 7 celebrity mentors including, this year’s lead mentor Lena Waithe. Past mentors include Common, Octavia Spencer, Cary Fukanaga, Desiree Akhavan, Taika Waititi, and Rick Famuyiwa. The program has also launched 15 films from 20 mentees over the past three years along with providing thousands of hours of mentorship and creating over 750 jobs.
This year, films are now on the AT&T Hello Lab YouTube channel and will also be available on DIRECTV and AT&T TV NOW December 10th.
Find out more about the program and check out this year’s mentees and their films here.