Submitted films are initially viewed by tiered screening committees. These committees are comprised of volunteer screeners, each of whom have taken a critical examination and have been hand-selected by Heartland Film staff. Screeners watch each submitted film in its entirety and complete a detailed online review. These reviews help Heartland Film’s programming staff determine the strongest submissions each year. Consisting of film professionals, academics, and critics, Finalist Juries ultimately select the Grand Prize Winner within each category.
Sharon Lee Badal – Narrative
Sharon Lee Badal is vice president of filmmaker relations and shorts programming for Tribeca. She has been with the festival since its inception in 2001 and has produced special projects for Tribeca since 1999. In addition to her responsibilities to the festival, she works closely with Tribeca Studios on its branded content initiatives and Tribeca Enterprises on its partnership relationships.
Her first job at age 14 as an usher in her father’s suburban movie theatre was where she fell in love with “the movies.” Since that rather inauspicious start she has produced numerous live-events, worked in distribution and marketing for three major studios and is a Distinguished Teacher on the faculty at New York University Tisch School of the Arts Kanbar Institute of Film and Television. She teaches NYU’s “Producing in London” summer study abroad program and was integral in creating the producing minor.
Sharon is the author of “Swimming Upstream – A Lifesaving Guide to Short Film Distribution,” published by Focal Press. She has been a panelist/juror at numerous festivals and for industry organizations. Sharon received her B.F.A in film & television production and her M.A. in cinema studies and business both from NYU.
Jeffrey Bowers – Narrative
Jeffrey Bowers is a Senior Curator at Vimeo, where his responsibilities include selecting Staff Picks. His background includes programming features and shorts for the Tribeca Film Festival, Hamptons International Film Festival, and Rooftop Films. He also co-curated VICE media’s VICE Shorts, where he wrote the short film column, “I'm Short, Not Stupid.”
Andrew Friedenberg – Narrative
Andrew Friedenberg is the director of the Cinema Society (with chapters in San Diego and the greater Phoenix area) and the artistic director of the Coronado Island Film Festival.
A former regional marketing manager for MGM, United Artists and Columbia Pictures, he coordinated the San Diego Symphony’s “Classic Film” Silent Film Series; “Sunset Cinema Film Festival”, which involved a barge float to five port cities in San Diego; and “Cinema Summer” at the San Diego County Fair. He is frequently heard on local radio and TV on the subject of motion pictures.
Friedenberg graduated from Boston University with a B.S. in Communications and is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts-Los Angeles.
Sylvia Le Fanu – Narrative
Born 1990 in London, UK. Raised in Denmark.
Currently based in Norway as a directing student at The Norwegian Filmschool.
BA in Film- and Media Science at Copenhagen University.
Director of "Abu Adnan", 2018 Indy Shorts Int'l Film Festival Narrative Grand Prize winner.
Chris O'Falt – Narrative
Chris is the editor and reporter for Indiewire's Filmmaker Toolkit. Previously, he covered the indie and doc film beat for The Hollywood Reporter. When he's not writing about the innovation of today's leading independent filmmakers, Chris is helping train the next (and hopefully more diverse) generation of filmmakers through a variety of non-profits, including one he co-founded in NYCHA's Gowanus Houses.
Kristin Borella – Documentary
Kristin has served as the Associate Dean of Communications and Public Relations for the USC School of Cinematic Arts since 2011. Before joining USC, she was the Vice President of National Publicity of MGM where she oversaw theatrical feature campaigns for the studio. Kristin is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Heartland International Film Festival.
Matt Fagerholm – Documentary
Matt Fagerholm is an Assistant Editor at RogerEbert.com and a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association. He has covered film festivals in Toronto, Washington D.C., Iceland and the Czech Republic, as well as industry events in New York City and Los Angeles, including the Academy Awards. He spent four years writing film reviews and interviews for HollywoodChicago.com, and has contributed to a variety of publications including Time Out Chicago, The A.V. Club, Magill's Cinema Annual and KillerAndASweetThang.com. His past writing/editing experience includes serving as Assistant A&E Editor at the Columbia Chronicle and a full-time writer at the Woodstock Independent. He is a monthly guest on Vocalo radio's The Morning AMp program, a frequent guest on WGN's Patti Vasquez Show and is also the founder of Indie Outlook, a blog and podcast featuring exclusive interviews with some of the most exciting voices in modern independent filmmaking.
Alexandra T. Mitchell – Documentary
Alexandra “Alex” Mitchell was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. After graduating from Washington University with a B.A. in Film & Media Studies, she made the trek down ‘south’ to work at Austin Film Festival. Alex currently serves as the Shorts Programmer in the Film Department.
Brighid Wheeler – Documentary
Brighid Wheeler has been (willingly) held captive in the film festival world for most of her adult life. Having run the gamut from volunteer to THE ‘Queen B’ (nickname earned as Festival Coordinator), she currently serves as the Senior Programmer and Director of Operations for the Indie Memphis Film Festival. Outside of the festival, you’ll most likely find her mentoring, guiding and encouraging the filmmakers in Memphis. She often attributes this as her main source of inspiration and what continues to drive her work at Indie Memphis. Brighid has served on countless juries at festivals across the country, and considers each jury experience an honor as it allows her the opportunity to support our current and next generation of storytellers.
Rayka Zehtabchi – Documentary
Rayka Zehtabchi is an Oscar-winning Iranian-American director based in Los Angeles. Her directorial debut, Madaran, is an Iranian language short that won Jury awards at top film festivals and qualified for the 89th Academy Awards in 2016.
Rayka’s Oscar-winning short documentary, "Period. End of Sentence." was a 2018 Indy Shorts finalist and can be seen on Netflix worldwide, and is about a group of village women in Northern India who start a sanitary pad-making business in an effort to improve feminine hygiene and de-stigmatize menstruation. Along with the film’s release, Rayka helped co-found the non-profit “The Pad Project” to fight the stigma of menstruation and improve feminine hygiene worldwide.
Future projects include a short documentary on the Special Olympics, a narrative feature film based on her family’s experience immigrating from Iran to the United States in the 1990s, as well as a feature documentary further expanding on the topic of menstruation worldwide.
Rayka’s passion is telling human stories that bring awareness and action to little-known social causes. In both documentary and narrative, she brings a naturalistic approach to her storytelling, striving for honesty and intimacy on screen.
Bears Rebecca Fonté – Animated
Bears Rebecca Fonté is a transgender filmmaker, festival programmer, and journalist. They founded Other Worlds Film Festival after two years as the Director of Programming for Austin Film Festival. They also program midnighters for SF Indiefest and consult on festivals around the country. Their current short PRENATAL has played 45+ festivals including Sci-Fi London and Boston SciFi. Their last short, ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE, was selected for 70 festivals including Fantasia International Film Festival and Dances With Films. Bears Rebecca was a producer on Sundance Jury-Award Winning short THE PROCEDURE. Their feature thriller iCRIME, which they wrote and directed, was released on DVD by Breaking Glass in 2011. Their newest film, CONVERSION THERAPIST, just made its world premiere at Inside Out Toronto LGBTQ+ Film Festival. Bears Rebecca serves on the board of the All Genders, Lifestyles, and Identities Film Festival (aGLIFF) in Austin and represents district 6 on the Austin Arts Commission.
Lou Hamou-Lhadj – Animated
Lou Hamou-Lhadj is a director, animator, and writer at Pixar Animation Studios. He is best known for his work on the film "Borrowed Time," (2016 Heartland International Film Festival Grand Prize Winner for Best Animated Short Film) which he co-directed with Andrew Coats and released independently through Quorum Films, LLC. "Borrowed Time" was nominated for Best Animated Short Film at the 89th Academy Awards.
Megan Leonard – Animated
Megan Leonard is a producer and festival programmer based in Seattle, WA. She’s served on SIFF’s programming committee for ten years where she now leads the New American Cinema and ShortsFest teams. Additionally, she has programmed for DOC NYC, Indie Memphis, and Cucalorus. As a producer, her films have screened festivals around the world and received numerous Vimeo Staff Picks. Her film MIXTAPE MARAUDERS (dir. Peter Edlund, 2017) was nominated for Vimeo's Best Comedy of the Year and won Short of the Week’s 2019 Best Comedy of the Year Award.
Niki Lindroth von Bahr – Animated
Niki Lindroth von Bahr is an artist and animation director based in Stockholm. Her award-winning short films "The Burden" (2017), "Bath House" (2014) and "Tord and Tord" (2010) have been screened at festivals like Cannes, Berlinale, Toronto, and Sundance. Since it's premiere in 2017, "The Burden" has won over 80 awards, including the Cristal for Best Short Film in Annecy, Best International Short Film in Toronto, and Best Animated Short Film at Indy Shorts.
Niki got her master degree in fine arts from The Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm 2016. She is also a costume designer and has been working for artists like Fever Ray and David Bowie.
Paul Sloop – Animated
Paul Sloop is entering his 17th year as the lead programmer of short films for the Oscar-qualifying Cleveland International Film Festival. In addition to his role in Cleveland, he is also the Director of Programming for Film Pittsburgh which puts on the JFilm Festival, Pittsburgh Shorts, Pittsburgh ReelAbilities Film Festival and The Robinson International Short Film Competition. Paul lives in Mentor, OH with his wife of 18 years, Sarah, and is the proud father of six daughters.
Emmanuel Carter – Indiana Spotlight
Born and raised in Central Indiana, Emmanuel Carter’s passion for acting manifested at an early age. Growing up an avid cinephile in the 90s meant that Emmanuel was exposed to the work of some of the greatest entertainers of all time. Stephen Spielberg, Michael Jackson, Martin Scorsese, Will Smith, Prince, and Tom Cruise are among many of the great artists that enchanted his young, enthusiastic mind and sparked a desire to contribute trailblazing work amidst the likes of his heroes!
Emmanuel Carter believes in living a life of passion and honesty. Being true to oneself is his main objective. This ambition and mindset have led him toward incredible onscreen opportunities. He can currently be seen living out his dreams on TV shows such as For My Man, Murder Chose Me and Case Files: Chicago. His big film break came in early 2019 when he got to star alongside Malcom McDowell in the upcoming horror film Trick And Treats, which is set for a theatrical release next Halloween.
Emmanuel plans on showing the world that you can have and be anything you want if you are only brave enough to go get it.
Jordon Hodges – Indiana Spotlight
Originally from Goshen, Indiana; Hodges has been in LA for 9 years. He has brought two feature films back to shoot in Indiana: 2016's "Sand Castles" and 2019's "The Shade Shepherd." He served as lead actor, writer & producer on both. He is currently the Director of Programming at the Indiana based River Bend Film Festival, now in its 19th year.
Michael Husain – Indiana Spotlight
Michael Husain is a nationally recognized documentary director, writer, and producer. A winner of multiple Emmy Awards, he helped launch the long-running A&E documentary series "American Justice" and has created over a hundred hours of documentaries for The History Channel, HGTV, TLC, The Discovery Channel, PBS, A&E, and ESPN. For ESPN Films he produced and directed the 30 for 30 short “Slick, Nancy and the Telethon.” His independent film, "The Innocent" which he co-produced and co-wrote, was a Crystal Heart award winner at the Heartland International Film Festival. His film, "When The Kids Wrote The Headlines" was the 2018 Indy Shorts Indiana Spotlight Competition winner.
Teresa Sabatine – Indiana Spotlight
Teresa Sabatine has spent most of her career in television and film in New York, LA and Chicago. The bulk of her work focused on providing project development and production coordination for large-scale productions with a variety of studios, networks and production companies including; Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate, Sony Pictures Television, Nike, 20th Century Fox, CBS, NBC, HGTV, and Boy Wonder Productions; with project budgets ranging from $10M to $250M. 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 recently served as the first Film Commissioner for Film Indy and 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.
Keishana White – Indiana Spotlight
Keishana White is a long time member of the Indianapolis LGBT Film Festival performing many roles in the past and present including Co-Director, Finance Manager, Film Selection Committee member, and most recently Poppy the beloved mascot. She has a deep love of film and community and works to find ways intertwine the two. She has appeared in local short films as well as worked on many sets. She also was Co-Founder of a collective that brought many LGBTQI+ artists and musicians to the Indianapolis area in order to showcase the many different intersections of the community.
She is a Queer Afro-Latinx mother, grandmother, god-mother, wife, sister, daughter, sister, and friend to many. She currently resides, loves, writes, fights for justice, and works in Indianapolis with her spouse Kat, their cat Mary-Jane, and dog Raven.
Joey Chu – High School Film Competition
Joey Chu is an award-winning Filmmaker, Photographer & Graphic Designer from Hong Kong. The inevitable debates between cultures in her upbringing sparked her interest in international affairs and non-fiction storytelling. Her pursuit in documentary filmmaking launched her opportunities to travel to all seven continents, and to cover human experiences in places such as Cambodia, Nepal, Myanmar, Argentina, Brazil, Kenya and South Africa.
Joey was awarded "Best Director" and "Best Woman Filmmaker" for her work in "$30 To Antarctica" (Director/Writer/Producer). "$30 To Antartica" was also the Student Award Winner at the 2018 Indy Shorts International Film Festival. Based in Los Angeles, Joey continues to refine her artistry of merging quality filmmaking and authentic stories around the world.
Brad Condie – High School Film Competition
Brad Condie is an assistant professor of animation at Ball State University. He teaches traditional 2D animation, 3D computer animation, experimental animation, and figure drawing courses to undergrad and graduate students.
He has worked as a 2D animation assistant for Walt Disney Feature Animation and a 3D animator for Electronic Arts(EA) video games. Having worked in the professional animation industry for 17 years, he has worked on six feature films, animated short films, multiple award-winning video games, as well as educational media. He holds an MFA in Painting and Drawing from the University of Florida and a BFA in Illustration from the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California. His film credits include: "Pocahontas," "Mulan," "Lilo and Stitch," and "Brother Bear." He was an in-game character animator on The Sims 3 and 4. He has also served as a supervising animator for edutainment media projects.
He recently wrote, directed, and animated the award-winning 2D hand-drawn animated short film, "A Drawing", which was part of the 2018 Indy Shorts Indiana Spotlight Competition.
Jeremy Kemp – High School Film Competition
Jeremy is a film director and student at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Most of Jeremy’s success in film is in documentary, where he pushes the boundaries of the genre to create cinematic and enthralling shorts. Jeremy’s documentary short film "Middleweight" won the 2018 Indy Shorts High School Film Competition.
Carol Nguyen – High School Film Competition
Carol Nguyen is a 21-year-old Vietnamese-Canadian filmmaker based in Toronto. Carol’s films often explore the subjects of cultural identity and family. Carol is a three-time TIFF Jumpcuts winner and a two-time Grand Prize High School Film Competition Winner at Heartland Int'l Film Festival. In 2017, she was named an ambassador for TIFF's Share Her Journey campaign, where she strived to empower diverse voices and women through her own stories and personal experiences in the film industry. Most recently, she was selected as a 2018 Sundance Ignite Fellow and an Adobe Creativity Scholar. Today, Carol is continuing her passion for filmmaking at Concordia University in Montreal.
Tom Oliva – High School Film Competition
Tom Oliva is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the All American High School Film Festival. Tom has worked with young creatives for over 20 years, helping them harness their talent and pursue their passion for storytelling. Tom has produced films for AT&T, IMAX, Sony, Blackmagic Design, Jostens, Refinery 29, Music Choice, and Chegg.