Daniel Abatan

When Daniel Abatan was 16, he dropped out of school to complete his debut novel before attending Trinity College, Cambridge, where he received a BA in Literature. During these years, when he was supposed to be reading books, he worked as a film critic for the university newspaper and served as president of the Cambridge Filmmaking and Production Group. He also wrote and directed a play, published two award-winning poetry collections and worked in Paris with photographer John Haynes, who was compiling his Samuel Beckett collection for exhibition.

Unable to bear not making films any longer, Abatan dragged his family out into the wilderness and convinced them to act in his first short. Since then, as a Director at the AFI Conservatory, he has written and directed four narrative short films and a spec commercial, which Leica intends to use on their website. He hopes to continue making films that draw from his strong literary influence, while also finding new ways to use images to engage, amuse and help people find meaning.

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Sofia Astrom

Swedish-born director/writer Sofia Astrom spent her childhood years in Saudi Arabia and her adolescence in Sweden, and studied animation in Ireland.

Back in Sweden, she founded the successful animation company Astrom Pictures, and her animations have become a permanent part of Gothenburg Natural History Museum exhibitions. She later studied screenwriting and interned in the script development department at the Swedish national television network SVT, followed by an internship at Potboiler Productions in London.

Astrom recently graduated from the AFI Conservatory, where she was awarded the prestigious Women In Film scholarship from Tiffany & Co., encouraging her to continue her directorial work. Her AFI thesis film MACKENZIE, a coming-of-age story about sisters who are craving attention and dealing with anorexia, will commence its festival run in November 20 16.

As part of her thematic exploration of coming-of-age stories, Astrom is currently completing the feature screenplay "Snowstorm," about five teenagers trapped in their high school during a not-to-be-reckoned-with snowstorm. It's also about friendship, love and identity — with a bit of action, a little romance and a lot of heart.

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Dustin Brown

Dustin Brown is a director and screenwriter with a passion for telling character-driven, socially conscious stories. His desire to create film and TV projects that inspire social change grew as a reaction to the overly conservative culture of the small Southern town where he was raised.

After high school, Brown moved to Los Angeles, where he received his degree in Film Studies from Santa Monica College and became a member of their Film Production Advisory Board.

His short film SOLIDARITY, an intimate portrait of two undocumented immigrants in LA, screened in competition at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival Emerging Filmmaker Showcase, was a BAFTA U.S. Student Film Awards Finalist, an official selection of Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival and won numerous awards including the prestigious Kodak Student Film Scholarship.

Now beginning its festival run, his AFI thesis film CLARITY received the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Award for a film that "accurately and positively portrays science and technology."

Brown wrote his first feature screenplay at the age of 16. He has recently finished two other feature scripts, "Empire" and "Solidarity," expanded from the short, which he is currently pursuing as his feature film directorial debut.

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Michael Chan

Michael Chan was born and raised in New York City. Upon graduating from high school at 18, he enlisted into the United States Marine Corps from 2004 to 2008 and deployed twice to Fallujah. After the Marine Corps, he aspired to pursue a career in filmmaking and got his start at LaGuardia Community College. In 2010, he was admitted to the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts and graduated with a BA in Film Production in 2012.
He began his career at Marvel Studios as a visual effects post-production assistant on THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013), CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014) and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014).

Recently, Chan graduated from the AFI Conservatory with an MFA in Directing. During his tenure as a Fellow, he directed five short films and wrote a feature screenplay based on his short film CAVITIES, about a teenager who enters a life of crime after he is abandoned by his family. Chan's stories reflect both his experiences growing up in a broken home and his time in the Marine Corps. He currently resides in Los Angeles, CA.

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Camilo G. Collazos

Camilo G. Collazos was born in Cali, Colombia, in 1986. He graduated from Campbellsville University with a bachelor's degree in Science. He double-majored in Mass Communications with an emphasis in TV and Business Administration.

In 2011, he moved to Los Angeles, where he has worked at different production companies and participated in film projects between the U.S. and Colombia. In 2013, Collazos worked with Contento Films on the Colombian-U.S. coproduction CITY OF DEAD MEN. He was also the personal assistant of film director Brad Furman while working on the film, and a series of commercials made for the Youth Olympic Games.

His thesis film FLESH & BLOOD follows an inmate who must convince his estranged daughter to enter witness protection before he can take a deal to testify against a fellow inmate in exchange for early release.

Collazos enjoys working on dramas that follow flawed characters dealing with complex dilemmas and difficult decisions under adverse circumstances. His favorite film of all time is ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968).

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Nasos Gatzoulis

Nasos Gatzoulis was born in Cleveland, and at age six, moved to Athens, Greece, were he has spent most of his years since. He earned his BA in Political Science and Public Administration from Kapodistrian University of Athens, and studied film at New York College of Athens.

He started out as a camera assistant on Greek television shows. Then, he worked in the commercial industry of Greece, directing and editing music videos while making his own short films. Over the past nine years he has directed many shorts including SWORDFIGHTS, which screened at the Athens International Short Film Festival.

His AFI thesis project TIM OF THE JUNGLE, which he also wrote, is his most personal work so far. He is currently writing a vampire feature film, which just passed through the second round of the Sundance Screenwriters Lab.

His ambition is to tell stories that take place in unexplored worlds in cinema where everything is possible. He wants to penetrate the audience's minds with violence and humor, delving into the darkest and sweetest sides of humanity.

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Song Huang

Born in China, Song Huang developed his lifelong passion for visual arts from painting into an academic pursuit at college, where he received a BA in Creative Media with a concentration in Cinematic Art. This comprehensive approach to arts allowed him to incorporate multifaceted and interconnected disciplines into his filmmaking.

During college, Huang wrote and directed LOOKING, a contemporary love story told in first-person POV, which was showcased at the Hong Kong International Film Festival. Later at AFI, he directed four short films, including his thesis film ALOUD, about a silent choirboy's journey to find his voice. It received the EFILM post-production grant and is now being submitted to festivals.

As a young filmmaker who has worked in both Asia and the U.S., he developed a unique cross-cultural perspective and a particular interest in character-driven dramas that reveal everyday sadness. Currently, he is developing his first feature PLUM RAIN, a period drama about a family affected by China's one-child policy.

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Michael Gug Kongshaug

Michael Gug Kongshaug has directed music videos for established artists in Denmark and commercials for Philadelphia, Samsung, Unibet and UNICEF. His thesis film NO WAY BACK and debut short EXIT were shortlisted for Young Director Awards at Cannes Lions.

Inspired by his personal experiences with UNICEF, his feature script follows Oyana, a widowed African mother of two who is forced to hide and abandon her children in the jungle as General Tebugo and his Islamic militia show up at their school to slay her colleagues, and kidnap the children. After being left at the gates of a refugee camp, Oyana meets Sean, a photographer on the hunt for a story to save his career, and together they embark on a journey to save her children.

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Rena Ma

Born and raised in a small peaceful Chinese city by conservative parents, Rena Ma fought for years for the chance to study film after she said she wanted to be a storyteller at age five.

She graduated at the top of her class from Communication University of China, with a bachelor's degree in film, television directing and editing. She also completed a summer session in film production at UCLA while in undergrad.

Ma wrote and directed the play "Lucifer," which was a hit in one of the top theaters in Beijing. She then directed three short films, one of which was bought by the largest video streaming website in China.

Ma made the big move from Beijing to LA for AFI. After directing five films at AFI, including her thesis SATISFACTION GUARANTEED, she is eager to express her voice through filmmaking and share stories with the world. She wants to create a joyful and fantastical world for the audience to temporarily forget about their real lives through her movies. She is now interning as an in-house writer in the LA office of Huace Film & TV, one of China's top film and television production companies.

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Lucy McKendrick

Director/writer Lucy McKendrick is metaphorically unbreakable, yet literally brittle, having broken both an arm and a leg while at the AFI Conservatory. McKendrick hails from Melbourne, Australia, and in 2013, she was awarded Young Australian Filmmaker of the Year at the Byron Bay International Film Festival for her short film TOOMBAWORTH.

Before attending the AFI Conservatory, McKendrick worked as a director's assistant at Australia's top director's collective, Exit Films, alongside prominent filmmakers such as Garth Davis on big-budget campaigns. She has worked as an additional assistant director on major motion pictures such as Alex Proyas' GODS OF EGYPT (2016) and, in 2016, she received the opportunity to intern at Village Roadshow Pictures in feature development.

McKendrick is currently developing female-orientated feature comedies and dramas. Her scripts are somehow both autobiographical and totally nonsense.

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J. Casey Modderno

J. Casey Modderno is an LA-based director/writer. Born in Hong Kong and raised amid the New England hardcore music scene, Modderno entered the arts as a drummer in fast, angry and politically charged punk bands. His background cultivated a thirst for outsider storytelling. He craves tenderness and ugliness in equal measure and his work aims to cut right into the messy layers of the human heart.

Before receiving his MFA in Directing from the AFI Conservatory, Modderno attended NYU's Tisch School of the Arts undergrad program. While there, he wrote and directed DISGRACE, a short family drama dealing with adolescent sexuality and generational abuse, which received a Vimeo Staff Pick and played at festivals worldwide.

He just completed his AFI thesis film, PET RITUALS, which is an impassioned exploration of toxic love and punk music. He is developing two features: I WILL ALWAYS BE THERE…, a thriller about a family that unravels after an enigmatic and dangerous woman wins the admiration of their restless high school daughter, and ECHOES, a horror-fable about a lost town where ghosts roam free, whispering secrets into the ears of the bereaved.

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Rosita Lama Muvdi

Rosita Lama Muvdi is a Colombian director who believes we all have a monster lurking deep inside us and, every now and then, an uncontrollable hunger forces us to surrender to the darkness and allow our inner monster to come out and play. The darkness in female sexuality, the perversion in the mundane and viscerally penetrating emotional imagery are themes that are ever-present in her work.

After pursuing her BS in Film and Television at Boston University, where her film SOMBRA AZUL won first place at the Redstone Film Festival, Muvdi directed commercial and documentary work, which screened in Colombian theaters. Her fashion photography work has been featured in major publications like Vogue Mexico, among others. After directing CREEP DATE, a finalist at Miami International Film Festival's REEL Music Video Art Competition, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue her MFA in Directing at the AFI Conservatory, where she wrote and directed her thesis film LA SIRENA, a psychosexual fairytale about a woman who surrenders to her inner monster to avenge her broken heart.

She is currently developing LA SIRENA into a feature, as well as HER COLLECTION, about a 12-year-old girl who grows up to become a serial killer.

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Mia Niebruegge

Mia Niebruegge grew up outside of Milwaukee, WI. She received her BFA in Film Production with a minor in Film Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. After moving to Los Angeles in 2006, she worked in development, production and distribution on several feature films. Independently, she produced the award-winning short film APPLEBOX, and wrote and directed the short film STRANGERS IN A FAMILY. Before coming to AFI, Niebruegge coordinated post-production on the FOX drama series WAYWARD PINES and the ABC series GCB.

After 10 years in the industry, Niebruegge decided to pursue her dream of directing, and began earning her MFA in Directing at the AFI Conservatory. She co-wrote and directed the AFI thesis film SNOWPLOW, about an orphaned brother and sister trying to survive in a Los Angeles steeped in magic realism. SNOWPLOW is set to hit festivals this fall. Currently, Niebruegge is writing "Chickengate," a feature mockumentary about life in a small Midwestern town in which a wife and mom takes on the state's largest egg producer — and inadvertently the entire town.

Niebruegge focuses her storytelling on complex, real-world family dramas and finely realized observations of characters and relationships. She believes we can gain a better understanding of others and ourselves through film.

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Bo-You Niou

Bo-You Niou was born and raised in a small town located in the countryside of southern Taiwan. The area is known for producing master directors such as Ang Lee and Hsiao-Hsien Hou.

Niou received a very typical Asian-style education, always placing first in elementary school, which led him to being accepted into the region's best junior high and high schools. He eventually graduated from the most prestigious university in the country, National Taiwan University, with BAs in both Bio-Industry Communication and Philosophy before he decided to become a director.

After creating the web series PROJECT 10, which drew him into the world of storytelling, he collaborated with numerous international companies such as Citibank and Microsoft. In 2014, he came to the U.S. to pursue an MFA degree in Directing at the AFI Conservatory.

His thesis film, MANNERS OF DYING, is an adaptation of Yann Martel's short story about a warden who struggles with the morality of executing criminals.

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Joe Oppenheimer

Before becoming a film director, Joe Oppenheimer practiced as a criminal defense lawyer in England, specializing in international anti-corruption work. Drawing on broad life experiences, he delivers highly authentic and original dramas such as PLEA, the story of a plea bargain falling apart in a South LA juvenile court. Oppenheimer has a rigorous process anchored in research and character development. He immerses himself in the real world in which a story is set, fully embracing a character's status quo, rituals, systems, behaviors and parlance. With this knowledge he is able to achieve gripping specificity. He works with a combination of actors and non-actors to create dramatically realistic ensemble casts.

Oppenheimer's films, while foremost entertaining, give primacy to story. Themes of identity, family and justice recur in the work.

Oppenheimer was fortunate to recently receive a Kodak sponsorship for his short film THE RIDER, a redemption story set in a cowboy community in South Compton. With additional support from Kodak, the film's beguiling world will be realized in a feature by the same name.

Oppenheimer is a two-time AFI scholarship recipient.

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Santiago Paladines Guerrero

Santiago Paladines Guerrero was born in Loja, Ecuador. He studied film and television at Bethany College and the NHK in Japan. As Head of Production at Ecuavisa, an Ecuadorian TV network, he wrote and directed several TV shows and documentaries, including an eight-episode drama called PARECE QUE FUE AYER. In 2012, he wrote and directed ESTRELLA 14, his first documentary feature film, which was released in theaters nationally. While at the AFI Conservatory, he directed four narrative short films, three of which he also wrote, including the thesis film THE FARE, which tells the story of a young Ecuadorian immigrant who struggles with his past the day he meets a 14-year-old girl from his hometown. Right after completion, THE FARE won the prestigious Hispanic Heritage Short Film Award. Subsequently, he was invited to apply to the Sundance Labs, where he is currently in the final round with two feature scripts. He has dedicated his life to tell stories that search for humanity, connect with his roots and portray characters with a deep and strong need to find meaning in the world around them.

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Melissa Perez

Melissa Perez was born in Toppenish, WA. She and her family of eight moved to the Mojave Desert in California, where she grew up and first started making films using a home video camera. While studying Film and Media at UC Santa Barbara, she directed three shorts and won a Corwin Award for Best Directing for her short OVER AND OUT.

Upon graduating, Perez was selected as a writing and directing fellow for Outset Young Filmmakers Project by the Los Angeles LGBT Center and Outfest, which fully funded her short MY MOTHER'S ORPHAN. At the AFI Conservatory, Perez received the Latino Donor Collaborative Scholarship, the Women in Film Scholarship and the Holleigh Bernson Memorial Scholarship.

As the daughter of immigrants from Guadalajara, she draws inspiration from her family history, the struggles of working class families and the contradictions and silences within them. Her work often centers on themes of intersecting identities within family, mental health, religion and sexuality.

Perez is currently developing the narrative feature CALL ME ABE, a story about a 39-year-old Latino man with schizophrenia who struggles to find an honest job after learning his daughter cannot afford to stay in college.

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Max Sokoloff

Max Sokoloff used to skip his high school classes in San Francisco to go to the movies, hiding under the seats to see three showings of the same film. Since then, his passion hasn't wavered. He's written and directed a feature as well as dozens of shorts, which have been officially selected at numerous festivals including the Mill Valley, Los Angeles and Chicago International film festivals. He has taught at the NEA-funded SF Art & Film Workshop, where he mentored students, emphasizing collaboration and perseverance.

Currently, Sokoloff is finishing his thesis film as a Directing Fellow at the AFI Conservatory, LOCKDOWN, a drama about a high school misfit taken hostage by a classmate with a gun. In order to survive the perilous standoff, he must find common ground with the shooter.

Sokoloff is drawn to coming-of-age stories about youth forced into adulthood — often against their wishes, and often before they're ready.

He still watches the same movie three times in a row.

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Jackson Young

Jackson Young is from Dallas, TX. An alumnus of University of North Texas, he majored in Radio/Television/Film while minoring in Theatre. In undergrad, Young was one of eight selected within the major to write and direct a film. His film GOOD MORNING went on to garner praise and accolades at film festivals nationwide. Upon graduating, he matriculated at the AFI Conservatory to hone his craft in directing. Finishing his first year at AFI, he co-wrote and directed REAL NIGGA, which was well received by faculty and is on exhibition if you choose to tour AFI. Young's thesis film TROUBLE MAN was awarded the Bridges/Larson Grant for Excellence in working with actors and social responsibility.

His films tend to be underdog dramas of man vs. organization, represented by a diverse cast and layered with comedic beats. Young believes there are demographics unaccounted for in cinema, and his versatility allows him to reach all audiences by way of inclusion.

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