Film Independent Kicks Off 30th Anniversary Of Artist Development Programs; 30 Filmmakers Selected For Project Involve And Five Selected For Project Involve LAIKA

Film Independent Kicks Off 30th Anniversary Of Artist Development Programs; 30 Filmmakers Selected For Project Involve And Five Selected For Project Involve LAIKA

Film Independent, the nonprofit arts organization that produces the Spirit Awards, has selected 30 filmmakers for Project Involve 2023 and with a renewed partnership with LAIKA Studios, expanded the stop-motion animation track into a two-year program, selecting five filmmakers. 

Project Involve is a free nine-month program for writers, directors, producers, editors, cinematographers, programmers and entertainment executives from diverse backgrounds. During the program, participants meet one-on-one with film industry mentors, create short films and attend master workshops taught by top film professionals and industry networking events. 

Now in its 30th year, Project Involve fosters the careers of talented filmmakers from communities traditionally underrepresented in the film industry. Alumni include Andrew Ahn (Fire Island), Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Linda Yvette Chávez, Marvin Lemus and Aaliyah Williams (Gentefied), Effie T. Brown (The Inspection), Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) and Justin Simien (Dear White People).  

“We’re elated to welcome the 2023 Project Involve Fellows and with this amazingly talented cohort of filmmakers begin our fourth decade of cultivating groundbreaking and inclusive storytellers. Project Involve has reached another milestone and the program will continue to build community and provide a platform for our stories to be told for many decades to come,” said Francisco Velasquez, Associate Director, Project Involve.

The fifth LAIKA Animation Fellowship provides a production grant to produce a stop-motion animated short film in Project Involve. Additionally, each of the five LAIKA Animation Fellows will receive a cash stipend in recognition of their commitment to the program.

The PI 2023 cohort commences with a Fellow, Omer Ben-Shachar, being awarded the inaugural Cayton-Goldrich Family Foundation Fellowship. Additional donor-named fellowships to be awarded include Amazon Studios Film Fellowship, Los Angeles Media Fund Fellowship, Participant Fellowship and Sony Pictures Entertainment Fellowship. Each Fellowship provides essential program support to Project Involve and includes a $10,000 unrestricted cash grant for a selected filmmaker participating in the program. In addition, for the fifth year, the Panavision Fellowship will provide an outstanding cinematographer in the program with a camera rental package valued at $60,000 for use on a future project produced in the US.

Past shorts produced in the program include Dear Mama (2023 NAACP Image Award Nominee), Black Boy Joy (2020 NAACP Image Award), Lonely Blue Night (2020 AFI Fest Short Film Audience Award), Liberty (2019 SXSW Narrative Short Film Jury Award, 2019 Special Prize of the Generation 14plus International Jury for the Best Short Film at the Berlin International Film Festival, 2019 AFI Special Jury Prize – Live Action) and Emergency (2018 Sundance Special Jury Award, 2018 SXSW Narrative Short Film Jury Award). 

Past Project Involve Mentors include Janicza Bravo (Lemon, Zola); Destin Daniel Cretton (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings); Ava DuVernay (Selma, When They See Us); Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight); Alma Har’el (Honey Boy) Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk, Moonlight); Mako Kamitsuna (Pariah, Mudbound); Spike Jonze (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich); Charles D. King (Fences, Mudbound); Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Memento); Veena Sud (The Killing); Christine Vachon (Carol, Boys Don’t Cry); Forest Whitaker (ArrivalThe Last King of Scotland) and Bradford Young, ASC (A Most Violent Year, Selma).  

This year’s Project Involve Fellows by track are:  


Sydney Mills (Supporting Animator)

Olivia Valdez (Writer/Director/Lead Animator)


Kim Cohen

Wenting Fisher

Lakmé Iyengar (PI LAIKA)

Kris Kouke

Elisa Souza


Omer Ben-Shachar

Ragini Bhasin

Adriane McCray

Kristina Thomas

Felipe Vargas

Sunyin Zhang


Randi Atkins

Tiffany Lin (PI LAIKA)

Sarah Smith

Luodawei Xiao

Luqi Zhao


Jesus Garcia

Joyce Liu-Countryman

Jasmine Rivas


Karine Benzaria

Pinar Binay

K.D. Chalk

Nicole Crespo

Katherine Martinez DeLeon (PI LAIKA)

Yuky Shen

Donovan Tolledo


Imani Davis


A. Cooper

Terrance Daye

Nate Gualtieri

Vee Saieh

Belinda Tang

Tyler Young

Film Independent’s Project Involve is made possible by Lead Sponsor Warner Bros. Discovery and Principal Sponsors Company3, the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, Disney Studios Content, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, LA3C, LAIKA, Los Angeles Media Fund and Panavision. Supporting Sponsors are Amazon Studios, Cayton-Goldrich Family Foundation, Formosa Group, Los Angeles County Department of Arts & Culture, Participant Media, SAGindie and Sony Pictures Entertainment. Additional support provided by Endcrawl, Felker Toczek Suddleson Abramson McGinnis Ryan LLP, Final Draft and Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

Celebrating 30 years, Film Independent Artist Development programs promote unique, independent voices by helping filmmakers create and advance new work through Project Involve; Filmmaker Labs (Documentary, Episodic, Episodic Directing Intensive, Producing and Screenwriting); Fast Track finance market and Fiscal Sponsorship, as well as through Grants and Awards, which provide over one million dollars annually to visual storytellers.