Heartland Film Festival Finalist/Grand Prize Juries

Selection Process

Submitted films are initially viewed by one of four screening committees – one each for Narrative Features, Documentary Features, Short Films and High School Film Competition submissions. These committees are comprised of 10-20 volunteer screeners, each of whom has taken a critical examination and been hand-selected by Heartland Film staff. The 10-15 films in each category that best match Heartland Film’s mission are sent on to the category’s respective Finalist/Grand Prize jury. Consisting of film professionals, academics and critics, these juries select the five best films within each category. These five films, or Finalists, are all in contention for the Grand Prize within their respective category. 

Programming Criteria

Heartland believes that film is a transformative art form because the artistic and technical quality draws a viewer in and allows him or her to fully experience the story the filmmakers are trying to tell. The story of every selected film has the power to impact the audience. A film that aligns with Heartland Film’s mission will create some kind of perspective-shift in the viewer, and can change the way he or she sees the world. It could be the kind of change that inspires a viewer, or perhaps educates them.

The transformative power of a film is evidenced in the way its combination of image, sound and music engages, enthralls and entertains audiences. Transformative power is inherent in each film and lies in elements such as the acting, directing and cinematography. A film with transformative power is creative, beautiful, original, artistic and truthful. A film with these technical and artistic elements, combined with an ability to impact its viewers and change their perspectives, is one that aligns with Heartland’s mission.

Milan Chakraborty – Narrative Features

Milan Chakraborty, CPA, graduated from The College of William and Mary after growing up in Terre Haute, Indiana. After working at Arthur Andersen, Milan joined the Internal Audit Department of Time Warner before transferring to the Filmed Entertainment group that consists of Warner Bros. (“WB”) and New Line Cinema (“NLC”). He performed detailed reviews of 10 feature film productions and 4 TV productions with budgets ranging from $5 - $200 million. Since leaving Corporate America, Milan has now produced 8 feature films including the 2013 Sundance competition film, “The Lifeguard” starring Kristen Bell, and “Where Hope Grows,” which won the Heartland Film Festival Audience Choice Award in 2014. Milan is also a producer on the 2017 Tribeca and LA Film Fest selection film, “My Friend Dahmer” which was shot in the actual childhood home of Jeffrey Dahmer in Ohio. Milan is currently working on a film titled “Assassination Nation” which was shot in New Orleans.

David Klapper – Narrative Features

Mr. David I. Klapper, 69, is a co-founder of The Finish Line, Inc. Since 1976, Mr. Klapper has been involved in the athletic retail business originally as principal co-founder of Athletic Enterprises, Inc., which was merged into The Finish Line, Inc., at the time of the public offering. He graduated from Broad Ripple High School then went on to receive his undergraduate degree from Indiana University, School of Business, in 1971. A lifelong resident of Indianapolis, Mr. Klapper has served on a number of boards including Heartland Film, the Indiana Reparatory Theater, the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis, and IU Foundation among others.

Deborah LaVine – Narrative Features

A prolific theater and film director, Deborah is especially proud of her feature, "Wild Prairie Rose," which received the Jimmy Stewart Legacy Award at the 2016 Heartland Film Festival. She has directed many short films including her most recent, “Unintended,” featuring Jeff Perry, co-star of the TV series “Scandal.” Theatrically, Deborah directed over 300 professional productions. One of her most treasured experiences was Deaf West Theater’s highly touted Los Angeles production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” starring Troy Kotsur, (WPR’s leading man and director of the Heartland favorite “No Ordinary Hero”). Additionally, Deborah is the Program Director of the MFA department in narrative filmmaking at California Institute of the Arts (CALARTS) which proudly boasts many exceptional alumni and a large group of emerging indie filmmaking stars.

Brittany Friesner – Documentary Features

Brittany D. Friesner is associate director for Indiana University Cinema. She researches and develops film programming, curating ongoing and original series, including retrospectives surrounding visiting filmmakers. Friesner leads IU Cinema’s Creative Collaborations program and manages the cinema’s marketing and audience and community-engagement efforts including donor cultivation and stewardship initiatives. From 2008–2015, Friesner served in theater operations each January at the Sundance Film Festival. She has also worked in programming, marketing, and theater operations for the Tribeca Film Festival, the CMJ Music Marathon and Film Festival, the Bloomington PRIDE Film Festival, and the Seattle and Indianapolis international film festivals. Friesner previously served on Heartland Film Festival Narrative Short Film Jury and on the Grand Jury for the Indy Film Fest.

Lou Harry – Documentary Features

Lou Harry, Arts & Entertainment Editor for the Indianapolis Business Journal (IBJ.com/arts) has written for more than 50 publications including Variety and The Sondheim Review. His published books include “Creative Block” (Running Press), “The High-Impact Infidelity Diet: A Novel” (Random House), “Kid Culture” (Cider Mill Press) and, no kidding, the novelization of “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” (Penguin). A board member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association, he is also a playwright whose works have been performed in Indianapolis, Philadelphia, and New York City. “Going…Going…Gone: The Live Auction Comedy,” an improv show he co-created, recently passed its 100th performance (www.liveauctioncomedy.com). Favorite films include Robert Altman’s “Nashville” and Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven.” Favorite interview: Karl Malden. Light butter on the popcorn, please. Follow him @IBJARTS and @LOUHARRY.

Therese Hayes – Documentary Features

Therese Hayes was raised in France and London, and studied Far Eastern Civilization at the University of Washington in Seattle. During numerous visits to India, she studied Indian art and cinema and is now a consultant on Indian films to several film festivals and institutions. She is on the board of Film Trust India and holds private screenings for a group of film aficionados. She programmed for the Bangkok International Film Festival, the Mumbai Film Festival, the Palm Springs International Film Festival for the last 19 years and has been co-curator of the Indian Film festival in Stuttgart, Germany for the last 10 years. In 2005 she co-founded Dreamnotes Inc. with renowned sitarist Ustad Nishat Khan for the promotion of Indian classical music and produced several concerts.

Christopher Lloyd – Narrative Shorts

Christopher Lloyd is a film critic who has been reviewing movies for 25 years, winning numerous awards for his work. He co-founded The Film Yap in 2009, and his reviews appear in several client newspapers. Lloyd is also the resident film critic at WISH-TV in Indianapolis, appearing in a weekly segment. Prior to that he worked in print media as a reporter and editor, including The Indianapolis Star. He has a bachelor’s degree in cinema studies from New York University and a master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Lloyd is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

Jennifer Perrott – Narrative Shorts

Jennifer is an award-winning writer/director/producer working between Europe and Australia who won a Best Young Director Award at the Broadcastnow/BBC B+Young Talent Awards.
She has directed prime time UK and Australian TV drama and attended the selective Binger Lab in Amsterdam as a writer/director of her feature script “Winter Sun (Dust of Life),” also a semi-Finalist in the International BlueCat Screenplay competition. Jennifer wrote, directed, produced and executive produced her recent 35mm short film “The Ravens” that has over 50 VFX shots. It has screened internationally and won several awards including the Grand Prize for Best Narrative Short Film at the 2016 Heartland Film Festival, making it eligible for Oscar® nomination in 2018.

Saundra Sapperstein – Narrative Shorts

During her professional life, Saundra Saperstein was the Media Director for the Sundance Film Festival for almost two decades. During this period the list of journalists, TV and radio commentators and personalities grew from approximately 25 to 900 men and women who covered the festival from all parts of the globe. Following her years as Media Director, Saundra was a consultant for major corporations, film studios and members of the film industry in relation to their sponsorships and participation in the Sundance Film Festival. In addition, she served as a consultant for the Maui Film Festival for many years and has been very involved with the San Diego Jewish Film Festival as chairperson of the festival and film selection committees as well as a member of the executive committee. 

AJ Murray – Documentary Shorts

Ajani AJ Murray is a professional disabled actor represented by KMR Talent, Studio City, CA. He is no stranger to the Heartland Film Festival–his breakout feature film, “Becoming Bulletproof,” captured the hearts of many and won the 2014 Documentary Feature Audience Choice Award. One of his greatest honors thus far happened in March this year when he was chosen as a juror for the Miami Film Festival and presented the cash prize award for the inaugural ceremony of the Zeno Mountain Award in the film category that celebrates diversity of abilities. He continues to sharpen his acting chops with his second feature film, “Bardo Blues,” currently in film festivals. His current role in the Zeno Mountain Farm production of “The Homecoming” reunites him with friends and a crew that keeps the passion burning for film in front and behind the camera. AJ is currently working as a film consultant for Atlanta Visions Productions, located in The Woodlands, TX. He is also proud to announce that he is currently working on his first short film (pilot).

Julia Ricci – Documentary Shorts

Julia Ricci is an Emmy® Award-nominated researcher with a bachelor’s degree in History from Ball State University. She was a researcher for the Emmy®-winning documentary short "Legacies of Perfection: Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg" (2013) and the documentary feature "The Healing Wall" (2014 Heartland Film Festival Indiana Spotlight). Julia continues to combine her love of film and history with her work as a freelance researcher for Turner Classic Movies and The Criterion Collection’s streaming service FilmStruck.

Joe Shearer – Documentary Shorts

A film reviewer for more than 13 years, Joe Shearer co-founded The Film Yap (www.thefilmyap.com) in 2009, helping grow it into one of the premier outlets of film criticism and commentary in Central Indiana. Prior to that he wrote reviews for INtake, Indy.com The Magazine, and Metromix Indianapolis. A longtime freelance writer and editor, Joe’s work has written about film in Indianapolis Monthly, MovieMaker Magazine, The Indianapolis Star, and FHM Magazine among others. Growing up on military bases around the world, Joe moved back home to Indiana after high school and graduated from IUPUI with a degree in English. He lives in Noblesville with his wife Crystal and three children.

Aly Caviness – Animated Shorts

A native of Noblesville, Indiana, Aly Caviness started loving movies at the age of one and a half and hasn’t stopped since. Through Lynch, her grandmother taught her how to spot “The Girl,” and through Frankenstein, her grandfather taught her how to love in spite of fear. She blames Jack Sparrow for her MA in colonial Atlantic and Caribbean history and Guy Pearce for her marriage. She works in the Archives & Library at the Indiana Historical Society, which possesses such artifacts from Hoosier film history as James Dean’s high school yearbooks and posters from the 1997 classic, “George of the Jungle.” You can find more of Aly’s work at The Film Yap and the soon-to-be-launched Midwest Film Journal.

Naghmeh Farzaneh – Animated Shorts

Naghmeh Farzaneh is an independent Iranian filmmaker and animator based in Chicago. After finishing her BFA in painting in her hometown, Tehran, she found the stories she had to tell were bigger than the surface of a canvas. In her exploration for a new medium she began her first animated film, “Trapped in Time,” which received international recognition in many film festivals. In 2011 she immigrated to the United States to continue filmmaking and earned her MFA in Animation at the Rochester Institute of Technology. In a short span of time, her latest film, “Scent of Geranium,” about her immigration out of Iran, was officially selected in more than 60 festivals around the globe including the 2016 Heartland Film Festival. Naghmeh has served on the faculties of the Rochester Institute of Technology, and Hobart and William Smith Colleges. She is currently a faculty member at DePaul University in Chicago where she teaches animation while passionately continuing her career as an independent animator.

Maurice Joyce – Animated Shorts

Maurice Joyce was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1969. He began his career in animation at Murakami Wolf Studios where he worked on projects such as “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “James Bond Jr.,” and “Speed Racer.” He moved to Hamburg, Germany where he worked as a sheet director and layout artist on the T.V. series “Ottifants” and the theatrical feature “Felidae.” He then went to Seoul, Korea to supervise the overseas production of the feature “Felidae.” He also worked in Koln, Germany as co-director on the T.V. series “Urmel” and layout supervisor on two T.V. specials Bibi Blocksberg and Benjamin Blumchen. In 1996, Joyce moved to New York to work at MTV Animation on the theatrical feature “Beavis and Butthead Do America” as the layout supervisor. He then directed “Doug’s 1st Movie” for Disney and “Sheep in the Big City” for Cartoon Network. Since then he has been working as a director and storyboard artist on high profile international television series including “The Octonauts,” “Olivia,” “Peter Rabbit” and “Violet,” which won the Audience Choice Award at the 2016 Heartland Film Festival. He currently works at Cartoon Saloon where he directed "Puffin Rock" and is the creative director on a number of projects in development.

C. Thomas Lewis – High School Film Competition

C. Thomas Lewis received his MFA in film from the California Institute of the Arts in 1993. He worked professionally in video and film production in Los Angeles for 15 years while also maintaining his personal video and photography pursuits. From 2001-09, Thomas produced the DVD bonus material for Warner Bros.’s “Harry Potter” franchise. Recently Thomas has completed a series of shorts in Kenya that address issues concerning HIV stigma. During the past year these films have screened internationally at numerous festivals, including last year’s Heartland Film Festival. Thomas currently resides in Indianapolis, Indiana where he is a lecturer in the Media Arts and Science program of Indiana University’s School of Informatics and Computing. He teaches film and video production.

Carol Nguyen – High School Film Competition

Carol Nguyen is an award winning 19-year-old filmmaker based in Toronto. She has had her films screened at Heartland for three years in a row, winning the High School Competition twice. Currently, she is continuing her passion for filmmaking in Montreal at Concordia University. She was also recently named one of TIFF’s ambassadors for the “Share Her Journey” campaign.

Richard Propes – High School Film Competition

Richard Propes is the founder and publisher of TheIndependentCritic.com and a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. A nationally recognized child advocate for his Tenderness Tour, Propes has been the recipient of one of Indiana’s highest honors, the Sagamore of the Wabash along with numerous other honors including Prevent Child Abuse America’s Donna J. Stone Award. He’s the author of “The Hallelujah Life” and in 2017 produced his first short film, writer/director April O’Donnell’s “Edmund Evans is a Rapist” about one woman’s attempts to seek justice after an on-campus sexual assault.

Teresa Sabatine – Indiana Spotlight Competition

Teresa Sabatine has spent most of her career in television and film in New York, LA, and Chicago developing and selling content and managing projects for clients like Nike, Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate and Sony. She is a recent graduate of the Duquesne University professional coaching certificate program. She puts her coaching to use by working with women to overcome obstacles and empower them to live extraordinary lives. In her role as a media consultant, she works with companies and partners to maximize media opportunities, develop projects with potential for large economic impact and generate content around social justice and equality. She currently oversees Film Indy, as the first Film Commissioner for the city of Indianapolis. Film Indy is focused on marketing and growing the current local production talent and recruiting new film and television projects to the area. She is the founder of The Jump Network, a mentorship and content company for women. For too long women have had limiting examples of what is possible for their lives. The Jump Network shows women different and real perspectives of what it is like to be a woman and connects them to extraordinary diverse women all over the world.

Tim Taylor – Indiana Spotlight Competition

Tim Taylor is an independent filmmaker based in Indianapolis, Indiana, and a two-time winner of the Heartland Film Festival Indiana Spotlight prize. His documentary “Go Get Your Horn” won the 2016 Indiana Spotlight award and was featured at the 2017 New York Jazz Film Festival. His 2015 film, “Citizen Teklit,” received the inaugural Indiana Spotlight award and won international acclaim at the MOSTRA Festival of American Film in São Paulo, Brazil. With more than 30 years as an advertising writer, producer and director he has created commercials and corporate films for a wide array of national clients.

Sam Watermeier – Indiana Spotlight Competition

Sam Watermeier has been a film critic since practically before he was born—his mother went into labor with him in a movie theater during the conclusion of “The Godfather Part III.” Sam started professionally in 2009 at NUVO Newsweekly, not only contributing movie reviews but also profiles of local filmmakers and previews of Indy film festivals. He also writes reviews and commentaries for the Indy-based website The Film Yap. In 2015, Sam was inducted into the Indiana Film Journalists Association.